Friday, November 26, 2010

Police Violence goes Merrily on. . . . .

So once again the Ottawa Police are under a cloud and an investigation begins into the violent conduct of some of the officers. It seems that almost every couple of weeks in this country there is another video or revelation about the violent acts of police officers. Why is that? Well, I contest that there are simply too many incidents for this to be a few bad apples in the bin. The officers are so often violent because there is a terrible culture of violence in the police departments in this country. And this culture goes to the very heart of the departments, with chiefs and recruiters, whether knowingly or not, promoting this culture. It is rooted in the kinds of people that departments recruit and the kinds of policing that they practice. And the culture is perpetuated by the fact that there are almost never consequences for officers who are caught practicing outrageously violent behaviour. There is no real independent investigations of police violence in the entire country and the police almost never come down on their own. And to make the situation much worse there is a prevailing perception among many citizens that when police are caught on tape practicing political oppression and violence, the victims of the violence 'probably deserve it.' So there is really no public pressure to change the culture of violence. Just this week the Police have been cleared of wrong-doing in the G20 incidents. This is much like the government of Burma clearing their military for the wholesale killing of Buddhist monks. We all know that the G20 is another typical example of the operation of a police state, but like all police states they will not blush or flinch about their outrageous oppression, wrongful arrests, wrongful incarcerations, and total suspension of civil rights. And I know that there will be people out there who simply reject the comparisons, sure in their beliefs that everything is different here. That is just naivety and the blind belief (surprisingly common in even the worst police states) that one's country could never be guilty of oppression. Even at the height of his madness, Stalin had a remarkable number of genuine supporters. The road to dictatorship is often gradual enough that many simply fail to notice and it is usually accompanied by a shift in ideology that justifies the worst abuses in many peoples' minds.

It is time for a federal law that mandates genuine arms-length investigations into cases of police violence as well as community input into processes of recruitment. A good friend of mine who had been in trouble with the police once visited me when I was living in Leeds in Yorkshire. We stopped to ask a police officer for directions to somewhere and my friend was genuinely shocked at how friendly, personable and helpful the Bobby was to us. It was a completely different experience than he had ever had here in Canada. I told him it was because most of the English police departments practiced community policing efforts which radically effected the kinds of recuits they got and the ways in which they interacted with the public. The British police can, or course, be as brutal and violent as other police forces, but efforts at community policing is a very good start to undermining the police-state on the ground where most people live.

Make no mistake, if the power of the state to trample civil rights goes unchecked, eventually none of us will be safe - even the ones who think they are good, law-abiding citizens.

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