Yesterday morning saw the anticipated eviction of Dale Farm. With the failure of the final appeal on Monday, the site was in a state of nervous apprehension. At 7am this morning an £18m operation to clear the area began. All done in the name of greenbelt and planning laws.
Before the travellers bought Dale Farm, the site was a scrapyard. They built a neat little residential area and applied for planning permission. This permission – as is the case with 90% of applications from travellers - was denied. This denial contrasts with Basildon Council’s decision to sell off greenbelt at Vange School and at other areas including an enormous Homebase development on greenbelt land, and other developments on highly valuable land at Kent View and Northlands. A decision on a 500-strong housing development at Gloschester Park again on greenspace due to be taken on the 20th has been delayed, presumably to avoid direct comparison. Amazingly the property right next door to Dale Farm, owned by a self-styled “anti-traveller activist” successfully applied to have an illegal building extended, despite an unenforced eviction notice on other illegal dwelling places on the site.
Planning laws are routinely breached by corporate entities which take a calculated gamble that they can outmaneuver any attempt by councils to enforce the law. The government has also announced plans to lighten planning restrictions in a move which has been described as “carte blanche” for developers, while aides have secretly briefed developers on its contents prior to publication. This is not about the Greenbelt or planning laws, these are merely excuses. This is about the undesirable “other”.
The discourse surrounding Dale Farm exposes the underlying intention which Basildon Council could never openly state. People are openly talking about pikeys & gypos, about theiving and about “them” taking over. Any suggestion that this is ethnic cleansing is robustly countered as an accusation that the residents are “playing the race card”, that they “want more rights than the rest of us”. Although sometimes the latent racism does seep through the rhetoric – in 2008, after the Essex Racial Equality Council provided a community centre for the residents a Dale Farm, the leader of the council announced that it had done more to undermine race relations than any another body. For Basildon Council have a particular view of the relations that they would like between the travellers and the settled community, and equality undermines that relation.
The violence unleashed on Dale Farm is unparalled. Cancer patients have had the electricity supply to their breathing apparatus cut; people have been tasered on site; one woman has been taken to hospital with spinal injuries and legal and safety observers have been threatened as they tried to keep those locked on safe. This has been looked on with approval by sections of the population including a Conservative councillor who gleefully anticipated “human kerplunk” as people were removed from the defence tower.While the police accuse residents and protesters of violence and insist that tasers were deployed only as a defensive tactic (presumably when at risk from a notepad weilding legal observer) this is robustly denied by the residents
The only premeditated violence has come from the police — they knew exactly what they were doing when they started beating and Tasering people. This is not how a community should be treated by its own council. It’s illegal for us to travel, but illegal for us to settle down here. We’re getting hit by the police but we’ve got nowhere else to go.
Although the use of tasers is unprecidented in a public order situation, state violence against travellers is not new. In 1985, police charged at a convoy of travellers, beat them with batons and dragged screaming children from their homes so that they could watch them being smashed.
Occurring in an age prior to citizen media and the horizonal communications sytems that we have today, footage showing pregant women, children and people holding babies being clubbed was mysteriously lost after filming, while the narrative played out on television was that of brave police defending themselves against lawless travellers. Not withstanding Kim Sabido of ITN News described it as
…the most brutal police treatment that I have encountered in my career as a journalist…
There must surely be an inquiry after what has happened today.
There was no inquiry.
Roma and travellers are persecuted all across the EU, and Scotland is no exception to this. This racism is so ingrained and institutionalised that barely an eyebrow is raised. In 2008 Brian Donahoe, MP for Central Ayrshire, suggested organised state harassment as a solution to the gypsy “problem”, demanding
a policy of zero tolerance where-by the moment a travelling community set up camp illegally, they are targeted by all relevant organizations such as police, the education, social work departments, work and pensions, customs and excise and trading standards…… Inevitably some or all of these organisations would encounter illegalities or irregularities which would result in legal action.
By July this year, he had named his policy “The Tamworth Solution” based on the racist actions of an English Council while describing travellers as a “sourge” on “our” communities. Solutions to undesirable ethnicities have been devised before. We pledged never to repeat them, and yet we see ethnic cleansing being played out in the UK in 2011 on the televisions in our homes, while the homes of the others are destroyed.
Tonight 400 people, including many vunerable adults and approximately 100 children are homeless, two are in hospital and many more injured and traumatised for a piece of land that the council tarmaced over, dumped hardcore onto and let go to waste.