I don’t know how much of a shock this will come to you as — perhaps none, because you are deeply prejudiced people, subconsciously guided by your inner fascist. So, an ‘activist’ called Vicky Osterweil has caused a bit of a stir in the USA with a book advocating the looting of private property as a means of redistributing wealth and dismantling capitalism. Violence and pillaging enables well-informed, politically aware activists like Vicky to acquire worldly possessions without recourse to the reactionary and frankly tiresome notion of working for a living.
No shock or surprise in any of that to me: you can probably do a degree in Radical Looting these days. The revelation instead is that Vicky was writing the same sort of stuff some years ago under the name Willie Osterweil. Since then, Osterweil has dropped the Willie, perhaps both in a titular and very real sense and now lives in a ‘trans-femme lesbian’ relationship with a woman called Sophie Lewis, who refers to Vicky as her ‘wusband’. I only found out about this by digging around after I had seen a photograph of Osterweil which… you know, without being unkind, sort of aroused my suspicions. I was immediately struck by the inverse astonishment to that which once famously possessed Aero-smith: Lady looks like a dude! Does it matter, really? I suppose not.
In my straitened, illiberal and Manichean mind, people who advocate looting and some of those who wish to change their sex are possessed of mental challenges relating to the denial of reality. Much as are white activists who, like Jessica Krug, pretend to the world that they are black and even scream ‘White trash!’ at their white neighbours and ask them not to do white stuff such as jogging. In short, people like that are not quite right in the head.
Of course, they are not the only people who are not quite right in the head. For example, it seems to be a requirement if you wish to run the West Midlands Police Force. In the early hours of Sunday, a man ran amok with a knife in Birmingham city centre, stabbing as many people as he could. Seven people received injuries and one young man, Jacob Billington, was killed. The leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward, expressed his outrage and added: ‘There is no room in Birmingham for this level of violence.’ Au contraire, Ian. There was loads of room. The murderer was allowed to wander around unimpeded for two hours before the fuzz decided a spot of intervention wouldn’t come amiss. Perhaps those who contacted the emergency services should have left out the stabbings stuff and simply reported the man for breaching social distancing guidelines.
Nor did the police release a description of the perpetrator immediately (a photograph was issued later). I wonder why that could be? Although I’m not allowed to wonder why that could be, because West Midlands Police said it would be ‘inappropriate to speculate’. It is never inappropriate to speculate: it is the means by which, as the evidence builds up, we struggle our way to conclusions.
However, having told everybody not to speculate, senior members of the force then did precisely that. Chief Superintendent Steve Graham, for example, informed the public that there was no reason to believe the stabber was motivated by hate. No indeed — it is far more likely he was motivated by beneficence, brotherly love and comradeship. Then the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, got in on the act. Jamieson is an old Labour party time-server who keeps threatening to retire from public life but never actually does. He pronounced that the violence was ‘almost inevitable’ and that people had ‘a lot of pent-up feelings’ on account of the pandemic.
It’s down to that mischievous Mr Covid, then. It is a miracle, isn’t it, that you and I have managed to resist the temptation to go out stabbing people to death these past five months? The temptation was always there, but somehow we overcame the urge.
The police and various authorities always bring more problems upon themselves and upon the rest of us when they try to ‘dampen down’ speculation, especially when something like this happens. We have come to not trust the police and still less the elected politicians and the BBC when this sort of situation arises. We suspect they are not telling us the truth and we think that because on previous occasions they have not told us the truth — and we recognise a pattern in their evasions and obfuscations. A stabbing spree which allegedly occurred because the perpetrator felt a little bit tetchy about lockdown is certainly towards the more imaginative, and indeed stupid, end of institutional dissembling. But it is not much more far-fetched than the official description of a murderer in a previous instance: that of ‘a Norwegian’ with ‘mental health issues’. We have been lied to too often.
The local speculation — which for perfectly good legal reasons I cannot discuss here — may well be very far from the truth, of course. Stabbing people has become a sort of glorious British national pastime, a kind of modern equivalent of bowls or wife-swapping. Wander down the back streets of any big city and sooner or later you’ll see someone being stabbed, if you are not stabbed yourself. Earlier this week there were 12 stabbings in 24 hours in London, including one of a 79-year-old man. As a consequence, Section 60 orders have been established in various London boroughs, allowing the police to stop and search anyone they want even if they aren’t wearing pantyhose over their faces and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’.
Here’s a suggestion as to how we might reduce knife crime: let all of our major cities be permanently under Section 60 measures and let the coppers use their discretion, as used to happen before we worried that it might hurt some people’s feelings.
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