Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Anyone want to join a mob, burn someone and quench their bloodlust? Ched Evans is available. But be quick before you forget what it’s all about and Corrie starts

When most of us hear the phrase ‘mob rule’ or ‘mob violence’, I suppose we think of bygone centuries when folk rioted over the price of bread. In more modern times we’ll reflect on crowds threading through the suburbs of Arabian city streets, burning flags – usually the Stars and Stripes – and calling for death to this or that Satan.

But our modern times have also brought us more modern ways in which the mob can express itself fury and wreak as much damage as possible. I don’t much like mobs, although ironically – and inadvertently – I more or less organised one singlehanded (you can find and account of what happened here). And it was after

I witnessed how a bunch of otherwise rational, even decent, folk can turn almost in an instant and demand blood in their self-righteous fury that gained a very healthy distrust of mobs of any kind.

Courtesy of the net – the ‘information superhighway’ of yesteryear which, its proselytisers pledged, would democratise the world – the mob has now taken to ‘cyberspace’ – another buzzphrase we hear rather less these day now that it isn’t just the cool geeks but all of us who boot up, sign in, and check our email even before we have our daily morning piss. So if you want to organise a rabble of any sort, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own living room.

Here in Britain there is an ongoing campaign to ensure one Ched Evans, a professional footballer (soccer player – keep up you Yanks), one-time Wales international and convicted rapist never again is signed up by any club to earn his daily crust hoofing a ball from here to there. If you want a little background, you can choose the following sites: his trial and his release from jail two years later after serving half of his sentence (don’t ask, it’s one of the quirks of British life, in this case our justice system, which so delights foreign tourists, that and our bloody beefeaters, which has them arriving here in their thousands every month. Quite a few of them leave again, too).

Evans had played for Sheffield United and his club indicated that it would be prepared to take him back. And that’s when the mob gathered. ‘You can’t have a convicted rapist playing for your club’ the screamed, and when various ‘celebrities’ joined in and added their two ha’porth the bandwagon really got going. Sheffield caved in, so Evans was forced to try to find a berth elsewhere. Most recently he was lined up to play for Oldham Athletic, but the mob was having none of it and so Oldham, too, caved in and withdrew their job offer to Evans.

Evans and a fellow footballer Clayton McDonald were charged with rape after a very drunk 19-year-old woman had sex with them. They the act was consensual. The jury returned its verdict on McDonald first and found him not guilty. They then found Evans guilty and he was sentenced to serve five years in prison. He still insists he was not guilty and it is partly that continued insistence which has infuriated some.

In his sentencing at Caernafon Crown Court, Judge Merfyn Hughes told Evans: ‘The complainant was 19 years of age and was extremely intoxicated. CCTV footage shows, in my view, the extent of her intoxication when she stumbled into your friend. As the jury have found, she was in no condition to have sexual intercourse. When you [Evans] arrived at the hotel, you must have realised that.

The BBC’s report of the case goes on to record that Judge Hughes said the sentence took into account that there had been no force involved and the complainant received no injuries. He also said the complainant was not ‘targeted’ and the attack had not been ‘premeditated’. All in all the rape was not quite as nasty as some we have heard of. That doesn’t, of course, excuse Evans’s actions,

This is what members of a mob look like when they wear ties

but it does put them on some kind of context. I like to think that I would have – or rather as my shagging days now seem well and truly behind me make that ‘would then have’ – made sure the girl arrived home safely so that she could sober up at home. I wouldn’t have wanted to have had sex with her.

On the other hand I have also been in situations where sex was clearly there for the asking (I am thinking of one quite specific instance involving the extremely drunk Icelandic wife of a Time news editor who somehow ended up in my taxi home after a Christmas party, somehow came into my flat with me and made it very clear that she was mine for the asking. But she was so drunk – and I wasn’t exactly sober – that I left her in the sitting room to sleep off her torpor and I went to bed alone. That didn’t, however, stop her husband from putting two and two together and making five and that was the end of my run of subbing shifts on The Times.) I don’t doubt that other men (and woman) would be rather less scrupulous.

. . .

The case broadly elicits two main lines of argument: the one side is saying that for a club to employ Evans again would be wrong as he would be ‘a role model’ for young boys and having him play again would send the wrong message.

Others retort that Evans was subject to the due process of law, was convicted, served time and has now been released. Certainly he will always be a convicted rapist but he should be allowed to move on. At this point I should admit that I subscribe to the second point of view, but this entry is not about the rape, Evans’s conviction, and not even about whether he should or should not be signed professionally by any other club. Coincidentally, as I write this – in a slack period at work – the very topic came up with everyone chiming in and adding their two ha’porth. One colleague pointed out that a convicted rapist wouldn’t be re-employed by as a teacher and would certainly not get his job back here at the Mail.) This piece is about the mob mentality which can take over and which, in my view, is nothing short of mob justice.

When in the past few days it emerged that Oldham Athletic was considering signing Evans, the mob was revitalised and a blogger who uses the online pseudonym Jean Hatchet has organised a petition to send to Oldham Athletic urging the club to change its mind. You can find it here. Jean Hatchet had previously organised and petition urging Sheffield United to drop its plans to take Evans back. There is a certain self-righteousness about mobs, whether
they operate in the street or online, which I find nauseating. And there is a certain self-righteousness about Jean Hatchet’s petition which I find equally nauseating.

So far, according to the BBC, she has attracted 45,000 signatures. I urge you to read some of the comments appended to the petition page: in my experience a great many people do think about what they feel. Unfortunately, and equal number spend more than a second reflecting on an issue. (There was a celebrated survey reported in The Economist in which people were asked whether or not they agreed with a certain US foreign policy. Then those who said they did agree were asked what that policy was. Sadly, very, very few of them knew.)

So here’s my rule of thumb: if a mob is in favour, I’m agin it.

Several centuries ago mobs were often inclined to burn people, stone them to death, lynch them or, if they were feeling a little more benevolent, merely tar and feather them. And I’m sure that everyone of that mob would have regarded him or herself as upstanding and moral. I’m not a Christian by any means, but I think Jesus Christ hit the nail on the head when he urged those ‘without sin’ to ‘cast the first stone’. There is another very interesting piece on the BBC website which examines the legal issues in this whole affair. You can read it here.

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