What the police did to a young Muslim

“Yo yo Jay”

“Bless, yeah, bless” Jay replied. Gold and platinum chains, sparkling watch and close cut beard that looks like it had been painted on masked the fact that Jay still lives with his Mum. The day job feeds his drug habit, alongside his ego.

“How’ve you been, man?” I enquired. “Yeah, alright. Focking man parked his car in my place yeah, had to punch man in the face”. I take the inevitable deep breath I do every time we meet. “Fuck’s sake, Jay.” I exhale, “what is it?”

Now Jay is one for stories. My favourite of his was when he was arrested for having enough weed on him to qualify as a dealer. He insisted that it was planted as punishment for kicking a copper who wouldn’t leave his home. His proposed defence was to take the judge a sample of his weed so he knew he didn’t sell crap like the police planted.

This time, though, it was a parking complaint.  A neighbour had parked his van in Jay’s spot. So Jay blocked him in with his car. “Man knock at my door yeah, tells ME to move. I says yeah, but in my own time.”

Now Jay isn’t one for the niceties in life. Polite society isn’t his thing, a fact compounded by his obvious learning difficulties. “Man starts bothering me, he ain’t even lived there long, so I says you got no right here.” Of course he decides the best course of action is to punch his neighbour in the face.

“Then man say he’s gonna call feds, call feds on me yeah!”

“Shit” I replied, trying to feign shock, “and then what? Did he?”

“I told him if he’s gonna call the feds Ima smash up his phone yeah… call them on me?!”

“Ah, so he didn’t?”

“Yeah, he focking did yo”

“Shit” I replied.

“Yeah, so I snapped his phone in two”

“What? After he’d called the police? Dude, that’s…wha…” my head sunk into my hands “mate, you can’t…dude you …I mean, why punch….ohhh….go on”

Now the curious thing is that everything makes sense in Jay’s head. He’s a really good hearted person and has a strong moral compass, it’s just for reasons that aren’t his own, the magnet is wonky: “So the feds arrive, yeah, and I’m like, yeah I punched this fool”

I take a deep breath and close my eyes tightly, “dude you shouldn’t…. yeah, go on”

“Fockin idiot tells ME to move my car!”

“So they arrested you?”

“Nah, then they go, like, ‘Did you bust his phone?’”

“And you said no?”

“Nah, I told them I snapped it”

“Dude, this is crazy, you should have said…I mean, you’ve admitted it. That’s what will go to court, you’ve no defence man. The judge won’t agree with you that punching someone because they’re a fool or smashing their phone because they called the police for protection is okay…Oh God man, so what are they charging you with?”

I wonder how common this is. He’s a good person, not a bad person. His misplaced sense of honour and frankly truncated reasoning means things get settled with fists. The easy way to avoid this is just to be polite to him, but, if he feels confronted, the anger comes out. Whatever that makes him, it is not a liar. He simply cannot lie, evidenced by him innocently outing some of the most awkward statements imaginable with some regularity. You explain why he’s wrong and he changes.

So the police were faced with an altercation over a parking spot. Several crimes were committed, including common assault, criminal damage and something from the array of threatening behaviour laws. The evidence: a black eye and broken phone, alongside a full and frank admission.

“Police charges? Nuttin”, he offered. “Man got a new fockin phone, yeah, so he’s happy, yeah!”

“Eh? What? You mean…”

“Yeah, spend 200 dollar on new phone for the prick, there and then”.

I was taken aback. From what I could work out, the punchee as it were, hadn’t sought to press charges, and the police – who are quite capable of being reasonable on occasion – dealt with it there and then. They calmed the situation down, and suggested Jay paid for what he had broken.

I don’t doubt he would have faced a custodial sentence. It wouldn’t have done him any good. He’s ripe for manipulation, to get a sense of meaning and belonging from big men. Prison would have wrested away the last vestiges of connection to community and people who care about him. It would not have addressed his learning difficulties. Prison would have turned him from a well-meaning but haphazard boy into a monster.

Indeed, had it not been for his assault police conviction his attempts to get meaningful employment would have succeeded and he would have had the self-respect, dignity and income to avoid criminalised means of earning enough money to survive.

The worry of course is that the drive to convict, the mechanisms to measure performance by conviction rates would have placed bureaucratic ends above what is good for people and the communities in which they live. As Pete Woolf said to me recently, the current system forces the police to remove to take ownership of an incident away from those involved in it. But every now and then reason prevails. And no, he won’t do it again.

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