The Blanket


Billy Mitchell

Crucifixion was a barbaric form of punishment employed in the ancient world against political enemies, dangerous criminals and the marginalised outsider. Besides the obvious cruelty of physically brutalising the victim before driving iron nails through the hands and feet, crucifixion carried with it a public message stating the victim was regarded as the lowest of the low - a non-person. It was thus psychologically brutalising to both the victim and his family, relatives and peer group.

The beating that young Harry Mc Cartan endured prior to having his hands nailed to a wooden style was horrific in itself and was probably more physically damaging than the wounds caused by the nails. The nailing of his hands, so symbolic of crucifixion and all that it stands for in the human psyche, was more about psychological pain than physical pain. The message that someone wanted to send to young Mc Cartan and his family, and to other alienated young people, appears to be “you are one of them - a non-person - and this is what we think of you”. If that is so it is a sad indictment on our society for both Harry Mc Cartan and those who brutalised him are products of our society - a society that has in many ways reverted back to the intolerance and cruelty of ancient times. And all this in the midst of a so-called peace process at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

I don’t know Harry Mc Cartan. Like the majority of I know only what I have read in the press and have heard through the grapevine. But whatever Harry Mc Cartan’s is alleged to have done he is not a non-person. He is not an alien to planet earth. He is one of us. A product of our society - of our education system, of our social system, of our political system. If he is one of the hundreds of young people who feel alienated from the mainstream of social and political life and who express that sense of alienation through anti-social behaviour and petty crime, who is to blame? It is easy to blame him, and the likes of him, and certainly they must be held accountable for their own actions. But surely we have to look deeper into the heart of a society that is sick to the core. Of course that would mean looking at ourselves and at the social, economic and political mess that we have managed to immerse ourselves in - and for most of us that just wouldn’t do.

I can hear the “hang ‘em high” brigade muttering “bleeding heart liberal” under their breaths. Let me make it quite clear, I have no soft spot in my heart for those who prowl our streets and housing estates preying on the weak and the vulnerable, robbing and vandalising and turning our estates into prison-houses of fear. They need to feel the wrath and the anger of the communities that they harm but that wrath and anger must be controlled and channelled with a view to seeking behavioural change and social integration rather than in increasing alienation and social exclusion through the administration of cruel, inhuman and unusual punishment. They need to be shamed in the midst of society but that shaming must be positive, not negative. Positive shaming always provides a way back into the community for those have wronged it. Brutalising people who already feel alienated from us simply helps to perpetuate a vicious cycle of alienation, conflict and violence. And it most certainly will not make our communities any safer.

Rather that lift a pick-shaft, or gun or hammer & nails should we not be seeking out the reasons why so many of our young people exist on the margins of what we call ‘normal’ ‘respectable’ society. Indeed should we not be trying to define what exactly what we mean by ‘normal’ and ‘respectable’? In my previous article Addressing Organised Crime I argued that organised crime is first and foremost a community problem that demands a community response. It is the same with socially harmful behaviour and petty crime. Anti-social behaviour is generally carried out by disaffected members of the community against other members of the community. It undermines community trust and breaks community relationships. It generates fear within the community and frustrates endeavours to engage in sustainable community development. It is, first and foremost, a community problem and it is up to communities to address that problem. Outside agencies may help but the issue must be addressed from start to finish by the local community.

To look to the police, the social services and the criminal justice system is to look in the wrong place. They live and socialise in ‘other’ communities and their primary mission is to serve those ‘other’ communities. It is only when the problem is in danger of spreading from working class communities to those ‘other’ communities or when something like the Seymour Hill crucifixion hits the headlines that the statutory bodies will make a show of being seen to be doing something. If, for example, government bodies were really interested in helping local communities to address petty crime and anti-social behaviour they wouldn’t be holding back essential funding and other resources from community-based youth initiatives and restorative justice programmes, nor would they be subjecting community organisations to subtle forms of political vetting. If the leaders of ‘civic society’ were really interested - especially in loyalist areas - in addressing socially harmful activity they would be active in giving positive and practical leadership to local people. Condemning joy-riding from the pulpit or political soapbox and then condemning those who react violently to joy-riders is no substitute for leading your congregation or constituents in practical non-violent action on the streets.

Following another brutal beating of a young man in Camlough on Tuesday evening one nationalist politician remarked that such beatings would continue until the issue of policing was sorted out. The idea that, by implementing Patton and getting the Shinners to endorse the PSNI, we will have a police service that effectively addresses crime and anti-social behaviour in working class areas is a myth. It hasn’t addressed it in inner city areas and peripheral estates in other cities across the U.K. and other western ‘democracies’. Policing is generally designed to protect the interests of those who live in middle and upper tiers of society, and to control those who exist in marginalised working class communities. Implementing Patton will not change that, it will simply reinforce political support for the traditional notion that policing for the working classes is about control, not protection.

So-called ‘punishment’ beatings will continue so long as people believe that human behaviour can be changed or controlled by violence and exclusion. There has to be another way - a way that helps to heal broken relationships within communities and that gives all members of the community an equal stake and sense of worth within that community. The community restorative justice movement may well hold the answer, particularly if the philosophy of restorative justice is incorporated into the strategic programme of established community development initiatives. The development of class-based politics, where selfish individualism is replaced by social responsibility and mutuality, may also hold the answer. Those of us who look at society from a left-of-centre perspective need to open up a debate on the issue - a debate that will, hopefully, lead to positive action.

It is not a new beginning to policing that we need, but a new beginning to doing politics and the development of a true sense of community where each member is valued for his or her basic humanity and potential.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

7 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Our Community
Liam O Ruairc


Billy Mitchell


To The Beat of a Different Drum
Anthony McIntyre


Bring Back Stormont and Political Status

Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Pinnocchio Redux

Brian Mór


3 November 2002


Addressing Organised Crime
Billy Mitchell


Leading You Back To The Start
Anthony McIntyre



Carrie Twomey


Review: A Secret History of the IRA
Deaglan O Donghaile


Review: Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of Conflict in Northern Ireland
Buffy Maguire


Yes, Palestine Is Still The Issue
Aine Fox


Support & Solidarity
Davy Carlin




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices