The people/savages/animals in those cages in Hillsborough paid just £6 for a ticket to go and watch their favourite local team. The terrace tickets were the ones which appealed most to people of limited means – young people and the poor. That’s why they were in cages. Indeed, the vast majority of victims were under the age of 30, with 37 of the dead being teenagers or younger. There’s no independent evidence that these people were dangerous or ill-behaved in the lead up to the game – they were just young, working class, and mostly male, so viewed with great suspicion by Police.
It’s precisely the same drive that allowed people to suffer and die in the New Orleans Superdome while Police fretted about non-existent riots. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, certain sectors of our society are viewed as an untrustworthy, trouble-making underclass – rather than brothers and mothers and children who are pleading for help and needlessly dying while the authorities sit blaming them for their own predicament.
And just like in New Orleans or Ferguson, the news media at Hillsborough were complicit in perpetuating the myth of a scary, violent mob. This was a narrative created well before the tragic deaths of those 96 people, one that still carries on to this day, and one which exists only to make their lives look less valuable to society at large. If you paint people as angry and dangerous – if you believe it – then even their sheer terror will look still dangerous to you. After all, the judge could instruct the jury that George Zimmerman had a right to “stand his ground” against blows from an unarmed Trayvon Martin. But no heed was given to the notion that the dead teenager may in fact have been standing his ground against a violent, armed, creep who was following him on a dark night. Both of these young men were scared – only one of them had a rational fear.
The sad ease with which we have accepted this reality is part of the reason why the Hillsborough verdict is so groundbreaking: a court has decided that the Police had a duty of care and willfully left people in harm’s way. Why? Prejudice. From the Police’s perspective, they seemed to believe that they had to protect the real people from the mob that was dying. If we could see a similar verdict meted out for New Orleans or Ferguson, it would go some small way to righting the vast wrongs of our world. Black lives matter? Weelllll, not yet.
These are hard choices which don’t sit well with those of us who are not part of that underclass. Instead of admitting that life just isn’t fair, we still cling to the notion that anyone in our society will rise to the limit of their talents. In the Western world, we believe that we live in a meritocracy, which means that by implication we can assume that those on top deserve to be there… and those on the bottom…
The Atlantic did an interesting piece on the illusion of meritocracies last year. It’s well worth a read.
The fact is, since the social and economic change that laid waste to the 1980s, the Western world has continued to grow more and more unequal. Unequal societies are dangerous for everyone, and at least some people on the top rungs already know this. But in the meantime, there is huge profit to be made in exploitation. We justify this by tacitly implying that those who suffer the most are inherently lacking in character – in fact, it’s the only way we can justify it. Because if all men are created equal, then they all deserve equal opportunities, equal education, and equal protection under the law. They are not savages. They can have a beer at a football game. They can fight back against the guy who’s stalking them. These aren’t reasons to kill them.