Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Is this a hoodie I see before me?
Last time ‘fashion policing’ actually occurred in Greece, a slightly deranged dictator dispatched policemen with measuring tapes onto the streets of Athens. His name was Pangalos and he objected to short skirts. This time things are more sinister because fashion policing is coming from a democratically elected government trying to outlaw the hoodie. Because trouble-makers wear hoodies you see. Ergo hoodies mean trouble.
Justice Minister Dendias clarified that sporting a hood is not a crime in itself. But if someone is caught breaking the law and wearing a hood at the same time, they will be punished more severely than if they had made a different wardrobe choice.
Is it true that vandals often pull hoods tightly around their faces in order to make identification harder? Oh yes.
Is it true that Athens has experienced a spike in vandalism since December 2008, and that many of the culprits wear hoods? Oh yes.
Is it true that the government has been unable to curb, control or even understand the wave of violence and has thus been ineffectual in every way? Oh yes.
Hence the hood legislation.
It could have been worse. Apparently loud voices in parliament demanded that wearing a hoodie was outlawed as such. This time they were not listened to. Just.
But this law is bad enough as it is – elevating a wardrobe choice to the factor that turns a misdemeanour into a crime in sentencing terms, regardless of context, the severity of the acts committed and the existence (or not) of prior convictions.
And I can’t help but think that this will only help play the statistics game.
Surely the vandals have broken the law already. Hood or no hood they should be arrested. But they are not. Because the police can’t or won’t find them.
How is the hood law going to help with that?
Well it won’t of course. But it will give the police latitude to arrest fringe elements in protests or demonstrators who dare protect themselves against tear-gas – a riot police favourite. The hood law will allow the police to look busy. And it will lead to the harassment of anyone kitted out in ‘criminal attire’.
You think I’m reading too much into this?
Well, if the Greek government can read your character through your wardrobe choices, I can read political intent in legislative reform if I want to. And I have a bit more than a jumper to go on. As the hood law is in good company.
As part of the new bout of legislative frenzy, ‘insulting’ public servants – which includes shouting out chants against the police or parliamentarians – is to lead to automatic prosecution.
Now that’s a blast from the past.
Greece used to have laws that banned citizens from insulting the authorities.
Greece also used to have a dictatorship.
Getting rid of those laws, allowing citizens to protest and, if they so wished, to chant against the police or their government was a huge step towards democratisation. And now it’s being revoked ‘in light of recent events’ according to the Justice Minister.
What events would those be, sir?
Would they have anything to do with the death of a 15-year old boy?
Do I need to remind anyone that the policeman who shot Alex in December 2008 claimed that Alex and his friends taunted him and his colleagues?
In light of recent events, I hardly need to ask myself whose side the law is on.
It wasn’t on Alex’s and it’s not on mine.
It’s not on yours either, unless you are a policeman.
You see, the police need our protection and support now, in light of recent events.
I swear I am not making it up. I am quoting the Justice Minister verbatim.
We cannot yell at the police or insult them, in light of recent events.
We need to protect them from the cowards protesting with their faces hidden.
Thus spake the Justice Minister trying to whip up some rightful indignation.
I for one am not feeling any of that.
I’m too busy being horrified at the government’s blatant disregard for the basic premises of the rule of law and democratic freedoms.
I’m too busy being furious at the government’s evident confidence in their ability to fool us. They think we can’t see through their inability to understand and their unwillingness to act. They think we can’t see the difference between noise and action.
They think we can’t understand the difference between the ‘who’ and the ‘why’.
But we can.
And we can see no-one is addressing why these young people are so desperate, so angry. Why they are out on the streets, wearing hoods, setting things on fire.
So go on, arrest them.
But while you are not thinking about the why, you can keep on arresting and they’ll keep on coming. That’s how it goes. The dispossessed have nothing to lose.
I don’t want to point out the obvious here but the vandals are breaking the law anyway. If they are not yet arrested, it has nothing to do with the existing legal framework.
So these new pieces of legislation are doing two things: mocking us and gagging us. And I don’t much like either of those.
‘We must protect the police’ said the Minister of Justice.
Well, no, not really.
On a good day, they must protect us.
On a bad day, like the ones we’ve been having recently, we must be protected from them.
How a bit of legislation doing that, mr Prime Minister?
Or are you too busy banning yellow T-shirts next?