Criminalising Trespass: Why That Sucks

Why are people coming together against anti-trespass laws? Trespass is a civil matter, which means it is between citizens. Making it criminal would mean that the state is involved, that trespass is so bad that the state must morally intervene.

The consequences are very real for people who would be convicted: criminal records, fines, prison sentences. People with suspended sentences could end up in prison real quick.

Symbolically, it is the state siding with landlords and landowners against disposessed land users. The war on the poor would have a new repressive weapon in its arsenal.

I’d like to list a few arguments against the criminalisation of trespass, in case the opening statement wasn’t enough to convince people. As we know, human suffering is only very rarely an argument in politics.

1. This law is meant as a repression against members of GRT communities

First of all, there is a clear argument against anti-trespass: it targets primarily GRT communities who are already among the most marginalised people, here and abroad. Leave GRT communities the fuck alone, and provide them with substantial infrastructure instead.

Historically, states such as the UK have always worked in favour of only a fraction of society, even if they claim to work for everyone. In reality, having a different life to the sedentary work-commute-home WASP model is made difficult by the very infrastructure of the country.

Rights are not just on paper, they need to be a reality. The right to a life according to cultural traditions of travelling should be guaranteed with decent infrastructure and public support instead of being criminalised.

2. Existing laws are enough

I don’t like this argument, because existing laws suck. But there is a legal point to be made here: there is already a lot of legal tools to make the life of trespassers difficult. More on this in an upcoming blog post. There is no need to bring in more laws.

It is common practice for governments nowadays to abuse the legal system for political gain. I believe this is the case here. Criminalising trespass in unnecessary. Even the police believe they have sufficient powers to deal with « issues » (and oh boy they do). So, from the broadest, most liberal point of view, criminalising trespass is nothing else than a political operation made to appease right-wing voters and show that Tories fulfill their promises, at the expense of the lives of people.

Anti-trespass is inconsequential political bullshit at the cost of making poor and marginalised people’s lives difficult. It is also a blatant misuse of the legal system, once again a mere tool in the hands of the executive power instead of an effective counter-power.

3. The « right to roam » argument

The Right to Roam campaign advocates in favour of an extended right to roam in England, for people interested in walking, exploring and enjoying nature in a less restricted way. They make a good point in differentiating people’s rights to a private bit of land and the delirious property rights of landowners:

« People have a right to privacy and personal security in their homes and gardens. But when the private wall of an estate extends around thousands of acres, the question becomes more prevalent: how much land does one person need exclusively? »

They make a case for the enjoyment of nature on one’s own terms, rather than the constant control we have to put up with nowadays in England. As they explain, apart from a tiny area in Dartmoor, wild camping is forbidden, making walking and hiking a sport for wealthy people who can afford to stay in designated areas.

Right to Roam strongly opposes the criminalisation of trespass. In the template letter that they advise you to send to your MP, they lay out their arguments.

  • Criminalising trespass would deter people from accessing the countryside, including travellers, peaceful protesters, the wider public and naturalists surveying the wildlife.
  • As a deterrent, it would reinforce the exclusion of many from countryside access, mostly BAME people (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) who are already less likely to feel welcome to roam the land.
  • It would also reinforce inequalities for travellers who are already marginalised.

Instead of wasting time on this measure, the government should rather reinforce people’s access to land, for instance by extending the right to roam to rivers and forests, as Right to Roam campaigners are already demanding.

4. A trojan horse for anti-protester measures

Anti-trespass measures are not only a danger to our enjoyment of nature, it is also a trojan horse hiding anti-protester measures.

The climate emergency is here. Various forms of protest are taking place against our rulers’ inaction and incompetence across the world. In response, governments everywhere have been trying to do everything they can to criminalise any form of environmental protest. In the UK, XR has been the most visible one. Despite XR being non-violent and police-friendly, the government has tried to paint them as an organised crime group, as if they were a guerilla or something. That says a lot about what is admissible to the general public.

More radical forms of protest, such as HS2 sites, are tackled even more strongly. Anti-trespass legislations are already used to bully and threaten activists whose only crime is to be present.

With anti-trespass, corporations who don’t give a shit about the environment would be able to call the police on protesters almost immediately, without having to apply for a ban on trespass through the High court. It is a law that would make it easy for them to remove even the most peaceful protesters. Civil disobedience would be impossible.

Funny how very few people seem to care about the right to protest. Almost everyone agrees that the environment should be the N° 1 priority, yet when some people finally have the courage to stand up and defend it at the cost of their safety, well-being and personal lives, even Labour and the Guardian are there to criticize and practice good old tone-policing in a pathetic attempt to seem respectable in the eyes of voters who will always hate them no matter what.

Shouldn’t we be a bit more grateful that some of us are not completely defeatist and actually trying something? Shouldn’t we at least support the people who are making a difference, when we don’t have the ressources, ability or courage to do so, instead of making their lives more difficult?

5. Rough sleeping will be criminalised

Criminalising trespass means criminalising squatting, rough sleeping and illegal encampments by travellers or migrants.

We need squats to house people. It seems obvious, but squats are homes. It il already bad enough to be evicted every two weeks or so. Anti-trespass would criminalise squatters further, making our lives harder and tougher. Squatting is already precarious and dangerous. Don’t make our lives even more difficult.

Anti-trespass would also criminalise anyone who doesn’t have a house, by choice or by necessity. Sleeping outside would be criminal, having a nomadic way of life would be criminal, being a migrant would also be tougher than it already is. Many of us don’t have the right to social protection, because these are only for UK nationals.

6. Criminalising trespass is an attack on counter-cultures

Squatting is one of the rare forms of political action that create a true power dynamic with authorities and landlords. The government will only help you if you behave like a good poor person, if you accept to be an eternal victim. If you stand up for yourself and exercise your human right to seek shelter, they will smash you. Their ideal citizen is a powerless husk of a person.

To squat means to reclaim the right to use vacant space. It is a protest against private property. When personal property turns into private property, it becomes an unfair enclosure and privatisation of much-needed space. There is a housing crisis, with millions struggling to pay rent, and thousands being already homeless. Meanwhile, many buildings sit around empty, whether they are unused assets, or simply on the property market. Fuck that.

Squatting is an act of self-determination, an affirmation of autonomy, mutual aid and self-organisation. Unique forms of community life develop within squats. People who would be rejected from anywhere else find shelter and community in ways that respect their autonomy, instead of turning to patronising social services who force you into a way of life you didn’t choose, when they don’t simply exclude you.

Criminalising squatting also means criminalising a counter-culture that has given the general public cultural icons such as Green Day and the Clash, to mention only the most famous and mainstream. Countless other artists have found in squats a unique type of space for creation and for living.

Anti-trespass is also against the free party movement, like all other previous partial criminalisations of trespass. Authorities and conservatives hate raves and free parties with a passion that is truly frightening. Anything that is a manifestation of people’s livelihoods in a capitalist social order that requires you to shut up and work is criminal in their eyes. To them, art is unnecessary, raves and free parties are nuisances, squatters are parasites, protests are needless and violent. Anything that disturbs their quiet, boring and cruel accumulation of wealth should be crushed with full force.

Yet free parties are an affirmation of freedom, of the right to have fun, to enjoy and celebrate. Whatever meaning people find in raves, they are very popular. Thousands go to raves. Raves will go on, even after the criminalisation of trespass. The consequences will be harsher but the party won’t stop.

Conclusion

To sum it up, here are the arguments against anti-trespass:

  • It targets GRT communities
  • There are already laws in place
  • It threatens the right to roam and to enjoy nature
  • It serves hidden purposes, mainly against protesters
  • It criminalises the lives of rough sleepers
  • It criminalises squatting
  • It is an attack on counter-cultural practices

Basically, this anti-trespass law would affect only vulnerable, side-lined people, while benefiting only landowners, fancy countryside homeowners who are « made uncomfortable » by GRT communities (a bullshit way of saying they are racist and want them gone), and Tories wanting to seem tough by bullying minorities.

These are the reasons why you should resist anti-trespass. Talk about it around you, raise awareness and take action: join a campaign group or start your own.

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