The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Every Picture Tells A Story

There is no doubt that non-violence does not have the immediate appeal which quick-fix solutions appear to have – Breda O’Brien

Anthony McIntyre • 13 April 2004

Newspaper photographs showing the victims of the gratuitous violence stalking West Belfast streets, even without the accompanying text, tell a story which makes for gloomy contemplation. Whatever about the enhancement that the ceasefires may have added to the quality of life in Belfast’s more impoverished communities, for a substantial number of people fear and trepidation still accompany them throughout their day. Their lot amounts to new sources of misery having replaced the old ones. When the forces of the state were on the rampage - killing, torturing, wrecking and raiding - the communities had a fallback position; resistance from which they could acquire a sense of their own empowerment. But today, confronted with, not a new menace but one that has taken centre stage - the phenomenon of anti-social behaviour - there is a palpable sense of frustration born of impotence. Many within the communities feel utterly disempowered by what they regard as ‘the enemy within.’

Doubtless, there are some critics who would, with good reason, feel that such a negative characterisation is a step too far. But its usage is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to West Belfast or indeed Ireland. The type of debates, discourses, polemic and rhetoric that revolve round the issue of anti-social behaviour have figured prominently in working class communities across the world. And however people choose to depict those engaged in tormenting their neighbours, we hardly need an editorial or a front-page lead to persuade us that the people who inflicted the injuries on the photographed victims splashed across the papers constitute a serious threat to those round them.

While not the most grievous act of wanton violence to afflict the Ballymurphy community since the start of the millennium, the savagery of the attack on local republican Patrick Adams at best lends itself to a mind numbing torpor and at worst to a vengeful anger. Either way, even if those infuriated by the assault do not wish to see it repaid in kind on the attackers, their threshold for disapproval towards the employment of reciprocal violence against those responsible is lowered considerably. It runs against the human grain to turn the other cheek; it is the exception rather than the rule among the tormented who find it within themselves to caution restraint when their tormentors are forced to eat what they dish out to others. People who have acquired a sense of how to respond to threats to the community are loathe to sit inert while thugs put it up to them. But such sentiments, if licensed to run at their own speed, can only result in victim’s justice, where a victimology not in the least informed by broader sociological perspectives becomes the prism through which anti-social behaviour is interpreted and remedied - ultimately unsatisfactorily.

Something of the manner in which a skewed victimology is constructed is already visible in the attempts to create a dominant public discourse about anti-social behaviour. Those behind the creation of this ‘official community narrative’ including local newspapers, politicians and community workers are not without vested interests to protect. And it is to be expected that they will discursively shape a community in a manner that best protects their own interests. Their depiction of the community and its problems is neither necessarily accurate nor complete. As was once written, ‘until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.’

Patrick Adams has contributed more to his community in one day than the thugs who brutalised him have in their entire hedonistic lives. That he was a victim of their viciousness is beyond dispute. But it is ill-conceived of public representatives to seek to explain the anti-social phenomenon by criminalising an extended family network because of the actions of a minority of individuals. There is not just one family in this community which has more than one of its members displaying a predilection towards the self-gratifying use of violence. Moreover, if those who are selected to ‘properly’ speak about and thus define the nature of the problem are salaried employees comfortably perched in the locus of community control, while those they identify as being the source of the problem are unemployed and marginalised, then the new administrative forms of disciplinary power mushrooming within the community - financed by the state because they pose no threat to the state - will never address the social and economic inequality that separates the definers of community morality from those they seek to discipline. The employed managerial strata sitting in judgement of the dole queue will produce plenty in the way of self-serving cant and little in the way of justice. Capping this is the existence of a regime of silence when violence within the community dovetails with the interests of those who have created the very discourse which defines the problems and classifies the perpetrators, while at the same time ignoring other problems and different sets of perpetrators. Nobody for example is called an anti-social element and subjected to a punishment beating if they pay their workers £2 an hour, defraud the local centre of money ostensibly put in for the benefit of the community, or engage in domestic violence.

Despite the image of West Belfast that the powerful and prosperous within it wish to promote, the area is no Manichean universe where the forces of ‘good’ are made up of those employed in funded centres and the ‘bad’ are the unemployed from the streets.

This in no way is to mitigate those responsible for the attack on Patrick Adams. The forfeiture of any claim they may have to reside here is in the eyes of many a sanction too mild. On seeing the photographs of Patrick Adams the first thought that crossed my mind was to irrationally question the human essence of his attackers. And regaining a sense of reason was made no easier when reading the beaten man’s words: ‘they were all kicking, beating and biting me at the same time … they were like a pack of wild animals, kicking and biting me.’ The man or dog question seemed an appropriate one to ask. What type of creature bites into a person’s ear with the seeming intention of severing it and leaving the amputee scarred both mentally and physically for life? Who would contemplate sending a father and husband home to his wife and children covered in bite marks and other injuries? Were it to have been dogs, the Community Watch would have faced demands to snare them and put them down.

While their biting tactics might lead people to assume that Patrick Adams’ assailants were no better than dogs, the fact remains that they were community members. So, whatever the attraction of a response that might be adopted when confronting dangerous animals, while easily applicable, is hardly appropriate. But within communities where due process has long played second fiddle to the quick fix answer, proposed solutions such as the punishment beating quickly make up ground on the inside track when other options don’t seem to hit the spot. And if its attraction as a form of community justice is to be eradicated sooner rather than later the process of its withering away will be aided greatly if people like those who maimed Patrick Adams make the first move and cease punishing the community in which they live.







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

29 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Pragmatic Politics
Liam O Ruairc


Hard Times
Brian Mór


Every Picture Tells A Story
Anthony McIntyre


Demonizing Will Backfire
Sean Mc Manus


Tangled Wed Which Stretches from the New Lodge to Iraq
Eamonn McCann


Glossary of the Iraqi Occupation

Paul de Rooij


The Letters page has been updated.


23 April 2004


It Hasn't Gone Away You Know
Anthony McIntyre


Brian Mór


We're on the One Road
Tommy McKearney


Easter Week in Derry and the Lazarus Complex
Eamon Sweeney


Time for the Dead

Mick Hall


POWs and the Challenge of Partnership
Aoife Rivera Serrano


'A Real Sensuous Pleasure'
Liam O Ruairc


The Letters page has been updated.




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