Racism, Humour & Police Oppression

The affairs at Old Trafford yesterday between Manchester United and Liverpool have made many headlines, mainly for things that did not happen as part of the football match. The media have focussed on incidents involving, Patrick Evra ( Man U), Luis Suarez (Liverpool) and the interview between Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool Manager) and Geoff Shreeve ( Sky TV). These however, whilst of some interest are as nothing compared to the incredible actions of Greater Manchester Police in oppressing legitimate expression of free speech.

Before I go any further, let me state that I am not a fan of Manchester United, nor am I a fan of Liverpool, nor despite what some may think am I connected with the Klu Klux Klan.

The whole situation goes back to 15th October 2011 when  the 2 sides met at Anfield (home of Liverpool) in a league game. These are normally high profile games with no love lost. During the game Suarez repeatedly racially abused Evra. Suarez was charged by the FA over his behaviour and was convicted and given an 8 game suspension. The judgement of the FA was rather lengthy at 115 pages long. Hardly a knee jerk finding of guilt by a kangaroo tribunal.

Immediately after the original incident and before the FA disciplinary hearing, the Liverpool players all wore t shirts whilst warming up for their next match proclaiming Suarez is innocent. This is interesting as Liverpool and Suarez chose not to appeal against this decision.

BBC Report on Judgement of Disciplinary Case

Judgement of FA Disciplinary Commission

The behaviour of Liverpool FC, and especially Luis Suarez & Kenny Dalglish was very unsporting and despite not appealing the decision repeatedly claimed Suarez was innocent and should not have been punished. The reputation of Liverpool FC has been diminished by this behaviour.

Ironically, the first game for which Suarez was able to play for Liverpool again was away at Old Trafford in the return fixture. Given the usual animosity between the 2 clubs and their followers, this game was going to be high profile and very tense.

Before the game the 2 teams lined up for the traditional handshakes. For whatever reason Suarez chose not to shake the hand of Evra. This was a deliberate snub. It was not a sporting gesture and I do not condone Suarez for this. Evra however behaves like a spoilt petulant child.

Enter video caption here

It is noticeable that all the subsequent media criticism is of Suarez, but no one seems to have mentioned Evra’s reaction.

There were subsequent incidents at half time. I did not see these and cannot comment on those. I am not aware if these clips are available on YouTube or elsewhere. Evra celebrate the man U win rather exuberantly, especially in front of Suarez. He has been criticised in some quarters for this.

Enter video caption here

Having seen the footage, including this above clip, it seems to me that the celebration was not aimed at Suarez, but was a reaction to a win that clearly mattered to Evra, perhaps because of the handshake incident. Evra does not do much to approach Suarez. Suarez perhaps should be looking at his own earlier action that clearly spurred on Evra in the game.

Then after the game there was an incredible interview between Kenny Dalglish and Geoff Shreeve of Sky Sports. This is here thanks to the Daily Telegraph

Daily Telegraph

Today, obviously after pressure from the club’s US owner, the club, Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez have been forced, clearly grudgingly, to apologise for their behaviour yesterday.

SUAREZ APOLOGY

“I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong.

“I’ve not only let him down, but also the Club and what it stands for and I’m sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened.

“I should have shaken Patrice Evra’s hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions.

“I would like to put this whole issue behind me and concentrate on playing football.”

LIVERPOOL FC STATEMENT

“We are extremely disappointed Luis Suarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra before yesterday’s game. The player had told us beforehand that he would, but then chose not to do so.

“He was wrong to mislead us and wrong not to offer his hand to Patrice Evra. He has not only let himself down, but also Kenny Dalglish, his teammates and the Club. It has been made absolutely clear to Luis Suarez that his behaviour was not acceptable.

“Luis Suarez has now apologised for his actions which was the right thing to do. However, all of us have a duty to behave in a responsible manner and we hope that he now understands what is expected of anyone representing Liverpool Football Club.”

DALGLISH APOLOGY

“Ian Ayre has made the Club’s position absolutely clear and it is right that Luis Suarez has now apologised for what happened at Old Trafford,” said Dalglish.

“To be honest, I was shocked to hear that the player had not shaken hands having been told earlier in the week that he would do.

“But as Ian said earlier, all of us have a responsibility to represent this Club in a fit and proper manner and that applies equally to me as Liverpool Manager.

“When I went on TV after yesterday’s game I hadn’t seen what had happened, but I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool Manager during that interview and I’d like to apologise for that.”

However, the above is the minor issue about what happened yesterday. What is the really worrying thing is the behaviour of Greater Manchester Police (GMP)

Police seize Manchester United fanzine Red Issue for printing ‘offensive’ Ku Klux Klan mask

February 11, 2012

Police seized ‘offensive’ fanzines bearing Ku Klux Klan-style masks ahead of this afternoon’s clash between Manchester United and Liverpool.

All copies of Red Issue magazine – which was distributed outside Old Trafford before the match – were confiscated just before kick-off.

One man was also arrested for selling T-shirts with a similar image.

Tensions were running high before the match, the first between the two clubs at Old Trafford since Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing United defender Patrice Evra.

Police swooped after finding the fanzines contained a cut-out of a spoof Ku Klux Klan-style mask bearing the slogan ‘Suarez is innocent’.

Officers feared the images would stir up violence at an already-tense match.

However, the decision to seize the magazines provoked an angry reaction from some fans, with many posting messages on Twitter to point out that the use of the image was intended to be satirical.

The fanzines and T-shirts are unofficial fans’ products which are not endorsed by Manchester United Football Club.

Match commander Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts said: “Shortly before kick-off we were made aware that a Manchester United supporters’ fanzine being sold outside Old Trafford featured a potentially offensive image.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public.

“Officers have also been made aware of a t-shirt on sale outside the ground that is also deemed to be offensive.

“We are also seizing these items and anyone found wearing one will be required to remove it and hand it to police.

“At this stage we have arrested one man in relation to the t-shirts on suspicion of a racially-aggravated public order offence and we will be continuing to work with the clubs to minimise the impact of the image, which we consider to be offensive.

“I have taken this cause of action as both items are potentially offensive and we cannot be in a situation where hundreds or thousands of people were displaying offensive images at a football match.

“The consequences of taking no action could have resulted in public order incidents inside or outside the ground.”

A United spokesman said the club had co-operated fully with police

Manchester Evening News Report

Now, why am I getting so worked up over this story? Well, firstly, Red Issue ( the fanzine) in question is a long established magazine. To quote from Wikipedia

Red Issue is a fanzine aimed at Manchester United supporters. The fanzine has been published monthly during the domestic football season since February 1989. The content of the fanzine is satirical – featuring jokes at the expense of Manchester United’s own players in addition to their rival clubs.

So, its being going for 23 years and is on sale outside the ground every game. Fanzines are published by the fans for the fans and are wildly satirical and very partisan.  They traditionally take the mickey and poke fun at their rivals.

Since the Suarez incident arose last October, there have been numerous images circulating on the internet and in print, such as

klanfield

lfc team kit

lfc team picture

Now, I don’t know about you, but since October, I have not noticed mass violence caused by people from Liverpool as a  result of these pictures. In fact some of these pictures were sent to me by Liverpool fans. There have not been mass arrests or seizure of computer equipment by GMP (or any police force) since these pictures were produced.

 

So, what prompted GMP to act to seize all copies of Red Issue on sale at Old Trafford on Saturday? Were they inciting people to murder Liverpool fans? Perhaps they were issuing weapons with every copy sold?

 

Well, the answer is that on the back page of the fanzine sold to a target audience of Man U fans, they published the picture below

 

suarez

Yes, a spoof of a cut out KKK mask poking fun at the attitude of Liverpool FC towards Suarez’s racist behaviour. Now look closely at the picture. see the thumb, it gives you an idea of the size of the mask. Its not even as if the mask could be worn. However, civilisation ( so far as it even exists at all ) in the North West would collapse if these pictures were allowed to be distributed.

 

According to GMP

Match commander Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts said: “Shortly before kick-off at today’s (Saturday, 11 February 2012) match between Manchester United and Liverpool, we were made aware that a Manchester United supporters’ fanzine being sold outside Old Trafford featured a potentially offensive image.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public.

“Officers have also been made aware of a t-shirt on sale outside the ground that is also deemed to be offensive. We are also seizing these items and anyone found wearing one will be required to remove it and hand it to police.

“At this stage we have arrested one man in relation to the t-shirts on suspicion of a racially-aggravated public order offence and we will be continuing to work with the clubs to minimise the impact of the image, which we consider to be offensive.

“I have taken this cause of action as both items are potentially offensive and we cannot be in a situation where hundreds or thousands of people were displaying offensive images at a football match. The consequences of taking no action could have resulted in public order incidents inside or outside the ground.”

 

Are we at the stage where banter and humour between football fans is a crime per se? Should we all sit like at the theatre and applaud politely whenever the opposition score. Perhaps not applauding their goal is potentially offensive as well?

 

If Northumbria Police follow the lead of GMP, then on 5th March, I’m confidentially expecting 3500 S*nderland fans to be arrested or their red & white striped shirts to be seized at the derby game at St James’ Park as they are “potentially offensive” to the 50,000 Newcastle fans at the game and the thousands in the pubs around Newcastle that afternoon.

Interestingly, in their on line report of the story, the Guardian prints a link to the picture – Guardian link to picture

 

Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts is the dangerous individual at GMP who wants to supress the right to freedom of speech. His actions meant that all copies of the magazine were seized, causing considerable loss to the publishers. GMP claim they are in consultation with the CPS. I’m willing to bet money that no conviction will ever result if indeed any charges are ever brought.

 

Lets consider the evidence, a photo taking the mickey out of a footballer and his club? What offence is made  out? Perhaps under S4 or S5 of the Public Order Act 1986

 

4A Intentional harassment, alarm or distress.E+W

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—

(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

(2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3)It is a defence for the accused to prove—

(a)that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or

(b)that his conduct was reasonable.

5 Harassment, alarm or distress.E+W

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

(2)An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.

(3)It is a defence for the accused to prove—

(a)that he had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, or

(b)that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or

(c)that his conduct was reasonable.

 

So, the Prosecution would have to prove (amongst other things):

 

Red Issue or its publishers/ distributors etc.  intended to cause a person harassment alarm or distress – probably not easy , if possible to prove, given the intended audience and the things fans expect to see/ hear at such a high profile game. However, it is a defence by subsection 3 if the defence prove ( on balance of probabilities) that his conduct was reasonable. Given the history of fanzines, this is a very easy thing to show.

 

The above is not meant to be a detailed legal analysis of the law but a brief look at some issues.

 

This action by the police is a serious affront to freedom of speech. By its very nature all humour is poking fun at someone or some group. If we allow this action by GMP to stand unprotested, then it is the death knell for all humour as it is always offensive to someone.

 

In this particular case however, it was not just simply gratuitous hatred aimed at Liverpool fans or the club, but it was a very cutting satire at the racism of Luis Suarez and its seeming condoning by Liverpool FC. It could be argued by some that the actions of GMP are a condoning of racism.

 

Back in the early 2000s, there were numerous protests from comedians against a bill introduced by David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary. That bill was worded so widely that comedians telling jokes, especially re religion or race could be arrested and prosecuted. The government of the day made it clear that comedians were not covered by the aims of the legislation. Yet GMP are arresting people for humorous publications.

 

Could I end by reminding GMP of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides  at Article 10

    ARTICLE 10

     

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

  • The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

  •  

    Where this story apparently gets even worse is that GMP and or Manchester United were refusing admission to the game is people were in possession of this fanzine and refused to hand it over to the police!

     

    Saturday was a sad day for civil liberties in England. This is an issue that may just seem to affect a few Manchester United fans and the publishers of Red Issue, but it is far more important for each and everyone of us. Do you want to be arrested for telling a joke in the pub or forwarding on a text message?

     

    Fight for freedom – the freedom of us to express ourselves, by humour.

     

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    About spen666

    I'm a 40 something football fan and cyclist. I've been a football fanatic most of my life and have completed the 92 football league & premier league grounds Added to this numerous non league grounds, a number abroad and you start to get the picture. I took up cycling in around 2000. Although my father was a former World Vets Champion, I got into cycling accompanying my son to ride in London. This was followed by my commuting to work each day into Central London. Then doing some Sunday rides, then some audax events (www.audax.uk.net) and then a week's cycling holiday in France with a friend. From there, I got more and more into cycling and in 2009 completed LEJoG and in 2010 rode in the USA with the Police Unity Tour. I completed blogs for those events at www.aminearlythere.blogspot.com and www.bothesidesofthepond.blogspot.com Feel free to read them and learn more about me. I live alone which suits me as it gives me time at weekends to pursue my interests of cycling and football. (Well what did you expect me to say? That I'm sad at being single?) I'm currently looking for my next challenge. Any suggestions gratefully received.
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    One Response to Racism, Humour & Police Oppression

    1. Pingback: Racism, Humour & Police Oppression–An Update « Bobby Shaftoe's Gone to Sea

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