by Tomato 12:11pm Wed May 23 '01
Six Deaf activists who were arrested at a Wolverhampton protest for the reconition and legalisation of British Sign Language have today had their case dropped at full trial (after several months of pre-trial hearings with no BSL interpreters!)
Several minutes ago, the Crown Prosecution Service (otherwise known as the police) dropped all charges , saying that there was not enough evidence and it was not in the public interest to proceed with the case!!
Apparently a whole squad of cops plus cop video camera evidence and CCTV evidence (plus the protesters' own statement that they set out to block the road in order to make a point about communication and the unlawful status of BSL in this country) was not enough evidence...
Possibly it was far too embarrassing to proceed with the case, in the face of no interpreter for the previous court dates, (when it was pointed out that this was an example of the very thing that the Deaf activists were protesting about), and in the face of MASSIVE support from the deaf community for the arrested 6?
To proceed with the case would have revealed that the UK Government are currently acting in contravention of the European Union resolutions concerning recognition of the native Sign languages of the member states. [taken up by all EU countries except... the UK]
This also comes immediately after Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to the Forest bookshop, the largest stockist of Deaf literature in the country, which ended up lasting an hour instead of the original 15 mins, and was described by Tony Blair as 'the most interesting visit so far in this Election campaign.'
Blair knows we exist, now the Wolverhampton 6 have shown that Deaf people have the guts to stand up and fight for what they believe is right, and that Deaf people have the power to face down the police and be listened to at top levels of the court and law-making system.
We must all of us, each of us, keep putting pressure on people around us, on our political representatives, on these delegated by the system to 'manage us', on the so-called 'deaf' charities. We want them to acknowledge the importance of BSL to us, for all workers and teachers and medical staff and charity staff who work in the Deaf sector to learn it themselves, to acknowledge and respect our struggle for self-determination.
What you can do:
Notes for those not in the deaf community
BSL, the language of deaf people in this country, has no legal status. Deaf children are forbidden from using sign in schools, are not allowed to be taught in BSL, and come out of school with extremely low levels of education.
It doesn't have to be this way - this 'no BSL' policy was adopted by a movement of hearing medical and educational professionals aimed at the 'normalisation' of the deaf community. Before BSL was banned in schools, Deaf literacy was at 100%, deaf educational levels were on a par with their hearing peers and now deaf children leave school with an average reading age of 12.
Deaf people have also been effectively barred from qualifying to teach their own community - to teach deaf children, you need to qualify as a 'Teacher of the Deaf' - which is nearly impossible if you actually are deaf, (oral tests etc) and a knowlege of BSL actively counts against you.
The leading UK Deaf charity, the RNID, which is the world's biggest deaf charity, with 35 million pounds annual funding, and has almost no deaf people in their management, being more interested in employing them as cleaners or typists, and has very little interest in seeing BSL reconised, because, the horror, deaf people might actually become independent...
A sign of where their interests lie is their latest big advertising campaign has been to provide interpreters on expensive permanent standby at a shopping centre in Manchester, at a time when local deaf people have been crying out for more interpreters at vital places like hospitals, police stations, surgeries, court cases, as seen above.
Obviously it's more important to 'help' us deaf people buy the latest tampax or TV than to allow us an education or allow us to actually be able to defend ourselves in a court case or to teach the children of our community or to determine our own medical needs.