Gypsies, Travellers & Roma under Bigger Tory Guns

‘UK Johnson government launches anti-Gypsy/Traveller/Roma measures’, Paul Bond, wsws.org, 28 December 2019

“Among the repressive legislation in the Queen’s Speech of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government are racist measures targeting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities.

The proposals for the Police Powers and Protections Bill include: “Potential measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales, and the introduction of new police powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments.”

At present unauthorised encampments are a matter of civil rather than criminal law. The change is aimed at faster dispersal. The pro-Tory Daily Mail enthused that it “could give police more power to break [encampments] up instead of local residents having to wait for councils to take action.” [snip]

“Without enough authorised encampments, the proposal to allow police to seize Travellers’ caravans—their homes—and destroy their property would effectively criminalise the existence of GRT communities.” [snip]

“The proposal to criminalise trespass and give the police greater powers to seize property and possessions was first floated by Home Secretary Priti Patel early in November. Her consultation outlined the proposals on criminalising trespass and making it illegal to stop alongside or on a road. It also outlined proposals that the police could force Travellers to move to a transit site in a different county, rather than locally, as now. It also proposed banning Travellers from the local authority area for one year rather than the current three months, which would serve to cut off access to homelessness support.

Patel resorted to familiar racist tropes, referring to “reports of damage to property, noise, abuse and littering.” The charity Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) noted that this focused on “the behaviour of a minority, yet tar[s] all Gypsies and Travellers with the same brush.” If this were truly Patel’s concern, FFT pointed out, there is already ample legislation to tackle it. Two-thirds of police forces contacted by FFT said that lack of adequate site provision was the real issue.

Patel’s proposal to make it a criminal offence for Travellers to stop anywhere without prior permission clearly criminalises a whole ethnic group. She sought to give police power to seize the vehicle of “anyone whom they suspect to be trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it.” She said she wanted to “test the appetite to go further” than her predecessor Sajid Javid’s proposal to “lower the criteria… for the police to be able to direct people away from unauthorised sites.” The police would be authorised to intervene in the presence of two vehicles rather than six, as now.

In 2011, Patel herself acknowledged, “There are not enough authorised sites. If travellers had authorised sites they wouldn’t need illegal sites.”

FFT, commenting on Patel’s consultation, explained, “Criminalisation of trespass would not make unauthorised encampments and nomadic Gypsies and Travellers disappear; it will however compound the stark inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers and raise serious questions about compatibility with human rights protections.” [snip]

“According to the government, money is available to councils to develop authorised sites, from the £9 billion Affordable Homes Programme. No councils have done so since that programme began in 2016. The government has also made £2 million specifically available to help councils “crack down” on unauthorised encampments, indicating where their true priorities lie.

Demonisation of Travellers and Gypsies has resulted in a spate of racist violence and attacks. Caravans were set alight on Traveller sites in Leicestershire and Somerset this year. Recent council discussions in Lincolnshire have been accompanied by threats to firebomb any new site.

Anti-Gypsy racism is endemic within the Tory party. Last year, one council chief in the West Midlands, Mike Bird, called Travellers “parasites” who cause “misery and mayhem.” In 2014, Berkshire councillor Alan Mellins was suspended after saying that Travellers refusing eviction should be “executed.”

Three years ago, Tory MP Gary Streeter called for Travellers not to be classed as a vulnerable ethnic minority. The press have often evaded accusations of racism by not capitalising Gypsy or Traveller, claiming they are not racial terms. Streeter called Travellers “intruders,” likening them to Genghis Khan.” [snip]

“Anti-Gypsy racism and legislation must be opposed. They are the thin end of a wedge of more general repressive measures confronting every layer of the working class.

This is underscored by the overlap with the anti-Semitism witch-hunt launched against Labour under Jeremy Corbyn seeking to defame and criminalise anti-Zionist opponents of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians.” [snip]

“More than half a million Gypsies were murdered during the Holocaust.”

From thoughtco.com’s  ‘European Roma (“Gypsies”) in the Holocaust; the Story of Some of the Forgotten Victims of the Nazis’, Dec. 4, 2019

A Brief History of the European Roma

“Approximately 1,000 years ago, several groups of people migrated from northern India, dispersing throughout Europe over the next several centuries.

Though these people were part of several tribes (the largest of which are the Sinti and Roma), the settled peoples called them by a collective name, “Gypsies,” which stemmed from the (false) belief that they had come from Egypt. This name carries negative connotations and is today considered an ethnic slur.

Nomadic, dark-skinned, non-Christian, speaking a foreign language (Romani), and not tied to the land, the Roma were very different from the settled peoples of Europe.

Misunderstandings of Roma culture created suspicions and fears, which in turn led to rampant speculation, stereotypes, and biased stories. Many of these stereotypes and stories are still readily believed.

Throughout the following centuries, non-Roma (Gaje) continually tried to either assimilate the Roma people or kill them. Attempts to assimilate Roma involved stealing their children and placing them with other families; giving them cattle and feed, expecting them to become farmers; outlawing their customs, language, and clothing; and forcing them to attend school and church.

Decrees, laws, and mandates often allowed the killing of Roma people. In 1725, King Frederick William I of Prussia ordered all Romas over 18 years old to be hanged.

A practice of “Gypsy hunting” was common—a game hunt similar to fox hunting. Even as late as 1835, a “Gypsy hunt” in Jutland (Denmark) “brought in a bag of over 260 men, women, and children,” writes Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon.

Though the Roma had undergone centuries of such persecution, it remained relatively random and sporadic until the 20th century when the negative stereotypes became intrinsically molded into a racial identity [<a great WEB DuBois link], and the Roma were systematically slaughtered.”

The London Gypsies & Travellers website is here; on Twitter.

The Friends, Families and Travellers website is here.

The Traveller Movement (A national leading charity working in partnership with Irish Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities challenging discrimination and promoting inclusion) on Twitter

(Priti Patel at the lectern)

(cross-posted at caucus99percent.com)

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