Austerity, and online petitions have much in common. Both are dominant online topics, and both have a polarising effect on opinion as to whether they can ever truly yield successful outcomes. Petitions seem to be becoming the reposte of choice for those affected by the worst effects of austerity, and today I read about a case that exemplifies this brilliantly.
Abdulkarriem Al-Faisal is a 19 year old boy living in Hackney. He was arrested last bank holiday after breaking into his sixth form college. He climbed through an unsecured window which set off the alarm, and was arrested at the scene. He received a police caution. Looking at it on it's face value, what possible reason could anyone, even the mother of this alleged 'criminal' have for starting a petition calling for Abdulkarriem Al-Faisal to have his police caution revoked and for the Metropolitan Police to apologise?
Abdulkarriem has learning difficulties, a cardiac condition, and Down's Syndrome. He had left his favourite baseball cap in his classroom and was desperate to get it back, taking it upon himself to go to college because he didn't understand the concept of a bank holiday. He isn't a criminal, he is a vulnerable, confused boy who left his house without his parents realising. After two hours of searching, his frantic parents reported him missing, only for him to turn up in a police cell, where according to Abdulkarriem and his family, he was kicked, restrained face down, detained for more than 9 hours, forced to accept a police caution, and his solicitor was denied access to him.
In addition to being confused and vulnerable, Abdulkarriem is a victim of apparent poor judgement by the responding officers and the custody sergeant on duty. He is a victim of what appears to be a Metropolitan Police Service which is as unfamiliar with a suspect's basic legal rights as it is with the 2009 Bradley Report which highlighted profound deficiencies in the way in which police services dealt with vulnerable suspects, and the 2010 report compiled by the National Police Improvement Agency on behalf of the Association of Chief Policy Officers (ACPO) giving guidance and best practice on police responses to people with mental ill health and learning difficulties.
Not only have the Metropolitan Police allegedly failed Abdulkarriem by not dealing with him at all appropriately in terms of arrest and detention, he was allegedly forced to sign documents accepting a police caution despite a obvious lack of mental capacity to make such a judgement, That caution will remain on file for years, and which leaves a vulnerable and disabled man with a criminal record.
Is Abdulkarriem the only victim in this? Not at all. I see the police, and wider public services as victims also. Against a backdrop of vicious cuts, they are pushed to do more, integrate further, and implement change, despite enduring pay freezes, and budget reductions of 20%. The 2009 Bradley report recommends mental health professionals are based in every custody suite. This costs money that the coalition government refuses to pay. Initiatives of this type also take partnership and integration between police forces and mental health trusts, alongside the formulation of new national guidelines against which these plans would doubtlessly be assessed.
The problem with current governmental strategy of dancing obediently to the tune of spivs and speculators is that it creates a foodchain of victimhood. The government has pumped billions of pounds into the economy, but have done so almost exclusively in the interests of the elite echelon at the very peak of affluence. The reach, scope, and manpower of essential public sector functions have been sold off, sacrificed, and in some cases decimated in order to skew the economic picture to falsely paint the profiteers as pathfinders to recovery and hope, rather than the harbingers of excess and destitution that the global financial crisis showed them to be.
The experiences of vulnerable people like Abdulkarriem may well represent a failure to meet the needs of a small minority, but they also act as a weathervein for the effectiveness of the public sector's ability to serve society generally. When the morally rudderless, millionaire mouthpieces of all major political parties talk of 'deficit reduction' it is actually terminology used as code for the diversion of funds away from the sections of society whose needs are dictated by vulnerability, disability, and poverty, and towards the sections of society whose needs are dictated by avarice, power, and personal connection.
Despite what we are told via the media, there is a choice. We don't have to hand tax cuts to the very wealthiest. We don't have to punish the poorest for the crimes of the filthy rich by hiking VAT rates and attaching unaffordable price tags to the most basic tenets of justice. We don't have to consign the poor, the disenfranchised, and the vulnerable to an existence of being dismissed as insignificant, unproductive, and too expensive. Whilst it is understandable to throw mud unconditionally at the Metropolitan Police with regard to their questionable conduct over Abdulkarriem, we cannot in all good conscience condemn them for inflexibility in the face of social and moral demand of our elected representatives starve them of the funds required to do it.
To indemnify ourselves as a society against this type of occurrence in the future, we as electors must take the lead. We need to make it clear that funding genuinely inclusive, modern public services that can respond to the needs of all, regardless of learning difficulties, disability or emotional vulnerability must always come before the funding of ridiculous and offensive bonus pots for bankers and speculators. Only then will it be right to fully set the weight of culpability upon the shoulders of the police.
Abdulkarriem fell between the cracks of a police service unable to meet the needs of the disabled people it serves. Clearly, the effects of this experience would appear to have been magnified by the approach of the police officers who apparently dealt with him so poorly. However, those cracks have been made wider by public services being pulled in every direction by a feckless austerity. Yes, I did sign the petition, and yes, l do believe that Abdulkarriem's caution should be revoked, the police officers involved retrained, and their conduct investigated. I also believe that apologies should be made. Not only by the Metropolitan Police to the Al-Faisal family, but also by the clueless government and political elite whose condemnation of the poor, vulnerable and disabled, as well as those whose job it is to provide the public sector safety net upon which most of us rely, and which defines our priorities as a society.