06/24/2005 06:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Eastward, NO! A letter from London

For some reason bad public policies seem to travel east. Draconian tax and social services cuts, xenophobic immigration policies, three-strikes-and-you're out laws, curbs on affirmative action -- all these started with benighted California initiatives and spread out across the country. Here in England this week, the export version of bad U.S. race and crime policies is on display -- most distressingly, the demonization of young people, particularly young people of color, that swept the U.S not long ago. (Remember juvenile "predators"?)

The British have quaint, innocuous-seeming euphemisms for everything, and the growing reliance on "quality of life" laws -- calling to mind Rudy Giuliani's crackdown on squeegee men and other menaces to society -- is here called "Asbo", for Anti-Social Behavior Ordinances.
You won't be surprised, given the history of such laws in the U.S., especially city curfews, that non-white kids are most affected.

"We must not become an Asbo land, where it is a crime to be irritating and a crime to be a child." said Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty (an ACLU-like British organization), commenting to the Guardian on the figures that more children than adults are subjected to Asbos.

At the same time, another government report details the consequences of U.S.-style "zero tolerance" policies in the U.K. From the Guardian:

"The number of youngsters permanently excluded from schools in England for disruptive and violent behaviour rose by 6% last year, the government revealed yesterday. New figures showed that 9,880 pupils were permanently excluded in 2003-4 - up from 9,290 in 2002-03. Teenage boys (typically aged 14) accounted for the vast majority, while black children were nearly three times more likely to be punished in this way than white youngsters."

Naturally, as in the U.S., the bureaucrats who run the schools have made common cause with teachers' unions to boot out kids who are troublesome, who just happen, in a heavily-white nation, to be mostly not white:

"The schools minister, Jacqui Smith, said: "The government has made tackling poor behaviour a priority. We want a zero-tolerance approach to disruptive behaviour, on everything from backchat to bullying or violence. I fully back heads who decide to remove or prosecute anyone, parent or pupil, who is behaving in an aggressive way."
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Schools will not tolerate the deteriorating behaviour of a small number of young people. They will act to protect the right to an education of all other children."