Dawn Hunter introduces an interview she conducted with youth in the Possilpark area of Glasgow, subject to a trial ‘dispersal zone’ order
‘I’m wondering, though, if there’s four police cutting about, can we tell them to disperse?’
Flattened tenements, graffiti-daubed shop shutters and the yellow moon of the local Lidl illuminating littered gutters and rusting gates: Possilpark appears the stereotype of a depressed Glasgow, still scarred by the heroin trade and decades of government neglect.
But for those of us brought up here, for all the problems, we know it as something more, a community which deserves better than crude policing and quick-fixes.
A trial ‘Dispersal Zone’ in one of Glasgow’s poorest areas has led to the targeting of young children. This is a transcript of a group discussion held in March with seven children, aged between 10 and 13, in Possilpark.
The dispersal zone, about one square mile, covered Possilpark, Saracen and Hamiltonhill. The additional powers were available to the police at the following times: Monday to Sunday 7.00am to 12.00pm; Monday to Thursday between 3.00pm and Midnight and Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 3.00pm and 3.00am each day.
Once a flourishing hive of industry, the closure of the Saracen Foundry in 1967 rendered Possilpark one of the poorest areas in the United Kingdom, with high unemployment, extensive drug use and rising street crime. The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation currently ranks postcodes in the Possilpark area as the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 19th most deprived areas in Scotland. After statistics in 2010 alleged 6500 recorded incidents of anti-social behaviour in only 10 months, Strathclyde Police said that in some streets in Possilpark crime levels had risen by 100 per cent in five years.
The answer? Strathclyde Police and Glasgow City Council saw fit to enforce a dispersal zone in the area from the 14 December 2010 until 14 March 2011.
The power to enforce dispersal zones was conferred on the police by the Anti Social Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004. A dispersal order provides the police with additional powers to disperse groups of two or more people where the officer has ”reasonable grounds for believing that their presence or behaviour has resulted, or is likely to result, in a member of the public from being harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed”.
Once asked to disperse it is a criminal offence for that person to return to the dispersal area for a 24-hour period. Anyone refusing to comply with the order is committing an offence and, if convicted, could be liable for a fine of up to £2,500 and/or imprisonment for up to three months.
The order came into effect without public consultation. Chief Inspector and Area Commander, Graham Clarke, said at the time: ”This is not about stigmatising young people. Anti-social behaviour is committed by all ages. This is a three-month window of opportunity for us to break the cycle and we are optimistic.”
But the public perception of the “Glesga ned”; the disaffected, truanting and tracksuited youth roaming the streets for trouble and drugs, would appear to have led to just that – the denouncing of the whole of Possilpark’s young people. More troubling still, shared stories and whispers of youth workers, parents and concerned locals abound that those frequently targeted by the police were in fact children of primary school age, obstructed from playing and socialising by police officers using disrespectful and intimidating tactics.
When given a chance, those who had had no voice and no choice in the constriction of their freedom, spoke freely, angrily and with defiance.
Dawn Hunter: Have any of you had any direct contact with the police regarding the dispersal order?
A: What do you mean lifted?
DH: Aye, have any of you been told to shift?
A: Every one of us probably. Every night you go out you see the police.
A: They just hassle us.
C: When you’re walking about they just stop you and question you.
DH: So what are you doing when this happening?
B: Just walking
DH: Always when it’s any more than two of you?
D: Sometimes when we’re by ourselves as well.
B: But there’s usually three of us.
Youth Worker: What do they say to you?
A: Where you going?
E: Where you going after this?
A: Do you know about the dispersal zone?
E: They ask you for your details.
DH: What details?
A: Your name, address, DOB, phone number, school.
F: What you had for dinner.
B: They book you.
DH: So they’re quite thorough?
B: Aye, they ask you anything.
YW: Do they ever split you up?
A: Aye all the time.
F: I was dispersed when me and my pals were walking home from school.
A: The police just walk about waiting to disperse us.
B: Even if we’re just walking to the shop or coming home from school, they’re just waiting to disperse us. Like if I have to go down the shops for my mum, I can’t go with any of my pals because we’ll get dispersed.
D: Me and three of my pals were walking home from football and a couple of older guys started shouting stuff and the police dispersed us but not them, because we were there.
DH: How often is this happening to you?
A: Every corner we turn.
E: Every time the police see us.
DH: Well there’s a lot of police out there
E: Aye, it happens all the time.
A: Its calmed down a wee bit though.
YW: When it first happened there was big horse wagons out in the streets and the place was crawling.
A: They had dogs and everything out.
B: Every time you turned they were waiting to pull you up
D: We got booked for shouting at each other in the street.
YW: Do they tell you where to go?
G: They don’t care as long as its outside the zone.
YW: So if they told you to move on, and they told you to move up to Westercommon, is that alright by them?
G: Aye, if you’re getting dispersed they tell you to get out of the zone.
D: Sometimes they just let you walk on, but you can’t take a certain route.
E: Aye, sometimes they let you walk by.
B: But if you get dispersed, you can’t be in a group at all, even if you’re going home.
D: See if you want to go out in a group on a Saturday, you have to wait until after 5 o’clock on a Sunday before you can go out otherwise you get the jail for 6 hours.
F: Me and some of my pals have been told just to get right out of an area altogether
D: Aye, excluded, that’s called.
DH: That’s called an exclusion?
D: Aye so if you stay in the jungle [semi derelict and mostly residential area just outside Possilpark’s main thoroughfare Saracen Street] because of the dispersal order the police just stop you even if you’re by yourself and you’re walking down to Possil.
A: I’ve been pulled up hundreds of times for breaching the exclusion because I stay there…
B: I was walking home from school through the jungle, listening to music on my headphones and the police were like that “what are you listening to?” and I said “the Stereophonics, how?”
A: Aye, that is a criminal offence!
B: Anyway, I was like “what’s that got to do with anything?”
E: I don’t know why they’re bothered about what we’re listening to.
DH: You’ve said they ask you about what they’re listening to; do they ask you anything else like that when they stop you?
G: I think they stop people sometimes for the sake of it.
D: Aye, cause they’re bored.
F: I must be in about ten of their books all at the one time, seriously.
D: So then all of the police have your details and are just waiting to do you in again.
YW: So if they’ve already got your details they’ll pull you up again?
D: Aye definitely. They already know who you are.
DH: So you’ve all been pulled up by the police quite a few times?
B: All of us.
DH: So how does that make you feel when the police are stopping you and what they’re saying to you?
A: Aye, pure raging because they’re pure cheeky to you sometimes.
H: Aye they think they can say what they want to you and you’re not going to say anything back.
A: I said to one of them “Are they boots hard?” and she turned round and said to me “turn round and I’ll show you”. She was a pure cheeky bitch.
DH: One of the police said that to you?
F: They think because we’re young they’re going to say anything they want and we’re not going to say anything back because they’re police.
A: Aye they can swear at you and all that and you cant give any back to them
E: Aye right mate.
B: They make me feel really disrespected.
DH: You said they made you feel quite disrespected?
B: They treat us like we’re not part of the scheme and that we’re just out for trouble, when all we want to do is just play football and hang out with our pals.
DH: Do you not think they make a difference? Have they picked out who’s actually causing trouble?
D: They’re pulling up all of the wrong people.
G: They’re just pulling us up because they don’t go near the people they’re meant to.
B: Aye, and they don’t have anything better to do, they just pull us up for the sake of it.
A: It doesn’t make any difference. It’s made everything worse.
DH: So you think there’s still a lot of people on the streets anyway then? It doesn’t make any difference?
DH: What have other people been saying about it? Older people?
E: Older people think its brilliant.
DH: So older people thinks it’s good?
F: My mum doesn’t really care.
E: My mum started chasing them down the street in her dressing gown!
DH: So generally, people who are much older think it’s good.
A: All the wee grannies think it’s brilliant.
DH: Do you think the police are targeting you more specifically a bit younger? Because the dispersal order is supposed to be able to target anybody.
G: They don’t bother stopping everybody. See if a group of older people were to be walking by, the police wouldn’t bother with them, but as soon as its us…they’ll say stuff.
E: Because they think we won’t fight back.
A: Because they think we’re stupid.
F: The police are rude to us, there’s just no need. We’re normal people and so are they, so why do they act like this?
DH: Do you think that this has made a difference in the way you feel about the police? The way you talk to them?
H: You can’t talk to them any more.
B: Some times it’s best just to keep your head down and let them say what they want.
E: But you can talk to some of them.
DH: Is there very many you can talk to?
B: But the thing is, see when they’re being cheeky to you, you don’t want to talk to them. You don’t give them any answers. See if they speak to you like a human, then I’m alright with them.
A: But I’ll no stand for any cheek.
E: Aye there’s one of them, what her name?
E: Aye, D****, she is pure cheeky.
DH: So what kind of activities is this stopping you from doing? Like walking home from school, walking back from here, what?
F: We got pulled up for standing at the bus stop on the way home from school.
D: Aye see is you’re walking along the road at night going to get a big game of football, that’s it, the police will pull you up.
DH: What about if you were to leave here tonight in a group?
G: We’d get split up.
H: We’d definitely get pulled up.
B: We got pulled up and dispersed leaving here last week so we did.
D: Aye usually after this we’d leave here in a group and go and get something to eat or something like that but we can’t because we’ll get pulled up by the police.
DH: So you’re basically not allowed to be anywhere in the streets, even if you have a decent excuse?
D: Aye, they’ll be like “hurry up and disperse”.
B: Or “hurry up and go home then”.
A: But then I just walk even slower!
E: Then they start following you and make you feel pure jailbait.
F: I’ve had them follow me nearly all the way to my door!
DH: So, see the other people you know; people from your classes at school and your pals from your street and people from here, how many people round about your age do you think are being affected by this?
B: All of us.
DH: You think this affects all of you?
A: Well I’ve heard of wee weans at 6 being told to disperse.
B: Aye, and because of that people from different schemes have started coming down here.
DH: People from different schemes are coming to Possil?
DH: What have they started coming here for?
B: To cause trouble, start fights and that.
G: There has been a lot of people starting to come down here.
D: Aye because we’re not in groups they come down here and wind us up, and start stuff.
DH: Has there been any problems arising from that?
B: Usually its because they know you’re not going to be cutting about with your pals.
D: You don’t know what’s going to happen.
A: I’m wondering, though, if there’s four police cutting about, can we tell them to disperse?
DH: My pal said the very same thing to me driving down. That’s a really good point.
E: Aye exactly!
A: I’m going to try that.
B: Get out your wee notebook.
DH: You said it feels like you’re just not allowed to have pals…So how has this affected the way you can hang about with your friend?
B: I’ve hung about with the same people for ages.
(Several) The same.
A: Aye the same.
E: I’m not going to let it bother me.
F: Aye, they can try!
DH: So you don’t let it interfere with your pals, its just a wee bit more annoying? What are they asking you to do? Go and walk about yourself and all that?
B: Aye, I think they just want everybody to stay in until its finished.
DH: Do you get louder then when you see the police?
A: Aye, because we know they’re going to pull us up anyway.
E: There’s no point in saying nothing.
B: It’s mental, there was five of us and we were going out to the bowling and we decided to stop and get something to eat and they stopped us all and searched us.
E: Remember when we got searched?
DH: See when the police search you, do they tell you why they’re searching you? Do you tell you what piece of law they’re searching you under?
B: That’s never happened to me.
F: They just come up to you and do that [makes gesture indicating “spread arms”].
DH: How many of you have been searched? Put your hands up.
DH: 7 out of 8 of you.
B: I had some money on me for something to eat, because the club was paying for the bowling and the police were like that “that won’t pay for your bowling, where are you really going?”
DH: So you have to explain yourself?
(Several) Aye constantly.
DH: When they stop you and search you then, they don’t tell you why they are searching you and then when they search you they question you about what you have on you?
A: What if they’re paedophiles are something though and they’re searching you?
A: No, I read a thing in the newspaper about people dressing up as police and they were actually paedophiles and no I’m quite scared, especially when they want to search me.
YW: Do you think they’ve done the dispersal at the right time of year?
G: There’s nobody about, how can they say they’ve done it right?
A: Aye but we can all have parties in the summer now!
E: Everybody that’s left, all the junkies and that, they’ve said after the 14th of March they’re going to have a big party at the beer garden [a bandstand on Saracen Street known for public drinking].
H: I think they’ve done it so it’s much easier.
I: If it was in the summer time it would have been much harder for them.
A: Nobody’s going to listen to them anyhow.
DH: Do you think the police and the council decided to have the dispersal order in the winter, when its easier to police, so it’ll be easier to get an extension?
YW: They’ve decided to do it this year because it’s so much easier for them, and because they want to use their money before the end of the tax year.
DH: So it’s a financial decision then?
YW: A CSO I spoke to told me that the only reason the dispersal order was in place now was because they wanted to use the last of the money before the end of the tax year so that the police didn’t get their budget cut. That’s what they said to me.
A: I think they’ve done it now so they can keep it in the summer.
E: Aye, I think so too.
A: We should get a protest on the go!
DH: Have any of your families said that they’re sick of you getting pulled up?
F: My granny complained, my dad complained, my mum complained…
DH: Who can they complain to?
F: Haha, the police!
G: I think they’ve just took it too far, I mean look at us, as if we’re going to walk about slashing people!
B: Maybe they should have tried another area, there’s worse areas than us.
A: Aye, what about in the town, you don’t see them in the town breaking up groups of people there.
DH: See the dispersal order, what do you think police should be doing? Possil does have street crime and other problems…
D: Pull up the people who are actually doing stuff and not us.
YW: Do you feel like you’ve been pushed further away from them rather than working with them?
B: Some of them I don’t want anything to do with.
DH: How do you feel about the police now?
G: I cant stand them.
B: They’re a joke.
D: They never bothered me before but now…
F: I never had any bother off of the police in my life before this all started and now I’m getting booked left right and centre.
B: If they actually just took the time to talk to you instead of cornering you, two at that side of the road and two at the other just waiting to book you.
DH: So the dispersal order has made your relationship with the police worse?
DH: What do you think about the people who decided there should be a dispersal order on Possil?
F: Who done it anyways?
DH: It was the police and the council.
B: Why this scheme?
E: Why us?
B: There’s plenty of places that are worse than here.
DH: So you wonder why they chose Possil?
E: Aye. I mean, this place had really calmed down before the dispersal, it’s not like it used to be.
B: I mean, this is a bad area, but it’s not the worst. I remember the first night they were here talking about it and they just made me confused because I didn’t get why it was happening here. They didn’t really explain it too much.
DH: So you’re wondering why they chose this scheme. What else does it make you think about the council for choosing this scheme? The council is supposed to be there for everybody, they’re supposed to make decisions for everybody, and I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth, but do you feel like Possilpark and you guys in particular are being blamed, scapegoated, for the problems that this area has?
G: There should have been a vote for the people in the area about the dispersal order.
E: Aye, like everybody over the age of 12 should have been allowed to vote about it.
B: Aye definitely, we should have had a say because it’s gave us a bad name.
F: It was on the news and all that, and people think that everybody from Possil is scum now.
A: Aye the people on the telly didn’t need to mention street names.
DH: How does it make you feel about the area? Does it make you feel as if the things people are saying about Possil might be true?
F: They say Possil is a dump and all that.
DH: How does that make you feel, because you all live here?
YW: I just feel that the people who this was targeted at, the people who were selling drugs and all that, they’ve all just moved up the road. See when you see what the police are doing to the young people in Possilpark, I just feel so sorry for them, I really feel for them. Because I’ve seen what it’s done to these kids and how their attitudes have changed and how much hassle they’re getting. And the only reason they’re being lifted is because everybody that this was aimed at leaves the area to Lambhill or whatever, to cause trouble and these kids are the only ones left cutting about the streets. There was no real information about the dispersal order, as far as i’m aware, and now people are expected to live with it for as long as the police decide.
A: I didn’t know anything about it.
DH: Do you have anything else you want to say about the dispersal order?
B: Why us?
E: Aye, it better no come back!
YW: I think that they’re doing to young people is that they’re pushing them away from authority, they’re stopping them from being involved in the community, and it sets off a chain of events which leads to kids like these becoming the type of wee neds that do hang about the streets drinking and taking drugs and slashing people.
A: And my attitude has changed.
DH: How has your attitude changed?
A: Because I never used to bother with the police, I used to quite like them. But see if they’re going to lift me now, I might as well give them something to lift me for.