Sunday, April 02, 2006


The Knives Are Out

'The use of metal detectors to catch people carrying knives is to be extended by British Transport Police across the UK, the BBC has learned.'

'Operation Shield was launched in London two months ago to target those carrying knives on the Tube network and trains.'

(from BBC News)

This is the latest big idea - airport style security checks for people before they can board trains, ostensibly in order to catch people carrying knives. The scheme has been tried, and has been declared 'extremely succesful' by Alastair Darling, the Transport Secretary.

It hardly needs saying that I think this is an extraordinarily bad idea. To dispense with the disclaimer - obviously, no one, including me, wants people to get stabbed. Of course. However, this latest idea, like so many of the governments other ideas, treats the nation's citizens as criminals yet to commit a crime. 10,000 people were inconvenienced in the London trials, resulting in the capture of only 68 knives. This means that 68 or less - probably less, because I bet several people were carrying more than one knife - were potentially a risk, compared to an enormous number who weren't.

However, arguing about numbers is a politicians game. I am not a politician, nor could I bear to be one, so let us talk on a more ideological plane, for I would still argue against this measure if 680 or 6800 knives had been confiscated. I have a real problem with the entire idea of a nation's populace being seen as criminals-in-waiting. Brendan O'Neill touched on this in a recent article in the Speccie (subscription required - I think):

'Under the Blair terror, you can’t even take a piss in peace. The other day, standing at a urinal in a plush cinema in north London, I found myself staring at a notice on the wall in front of me. ‘Relax, go ahead and read’, it said. ‘No one knows you’re a wife-beater. You don’t look like someone who would hit a woman.’ The ad further advised that I should not flee the setting in which I had apparently been battering my partner, because ‘we will track you down’ and ‘punish you’.'

If you have been to a pub, club, restaurant, cinema, or motorway service station any time in the last few years, and needed the loo, then you'll know exactly what sort of signs he means. O'Neill finishes his article with this:

'There was a time when public information was about, well, providing information to the public. Now much of it seems dedicated to telling us how disgusting we are. These posters show us as volatile, stupid, thoughtless and diseased; women are warned to be wary of men, men to be wary of the police, and all of us to be wary of drinking one too many. There could be no more suitable setting for such an expression of suspicion and loathing of the public than in a stinking loo.'

Both the government and the police have no end of contempt for the public. We are all just one step away from being their next problem, and boy, do they want us to know it. Frankly, I think their attitude will only make the situation worse in the long run - after all, if you treat citizens like criminals, you can hardly be surprised if they start to act like them.

The most depressing part about it is that the Conservatives are only worse:

'Conservative homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer welcomed the move but said detecting potential bombers should be a top priority.'

'"We welcome any attempt to lessen crime on our transport system but the fact remains that 53 people were killed in the London bombings last year and we currently have no equipment of any sort anywhere in England that can detect explosives."'

So if they get in, not only will we all be potential stabbers, but potential suicide bombers as well. I can't wait.

This is so depressing. Airports are bad enough. I feel like a stray sheep in them. Show me your pass, sit down, stand up, move, don't move. Loathesome places. Now train travel is to turn into a living nightmare.
Oddly enough I have no wish to be stabbed either. I work on one of the toughest council schemes in Glasgow, which I believe is a world class centre of knife crime yet for the most part I feel perfectly safe. The reason being that the vast majority of people are pretty much harmless. The worrying thing about this type of legislation is that there is no logical stopping point.
Exactly. I'm not a big fan of the extent to which police stop-and-search powers go now, so it's quite depressing to see them extended.

Of course, the other similarity to that of the airport scenario is the time factor. However, everyone knows it takes forever to catch a flight, and so leave plenty of time. Now you can perfectly feasibly be on a rush to get the last train, and miss it because they're clowning around with your bags.

The whole thing is unbelievably depressing.
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