The police are like antibiotics.
I am very grateful to live in an age where a simple infection isn’t a death sentence. Likewise I understand that some form of policing is necessary to maintain civil society.
However, antibiotics have side effects, can cause problems more serious than the ones they solve, can accidentally create super-bugs that they are powerless to stop, or sometimes just straight up kill people on their own. Likewise, unrestrained police can stop being guardians of the public and become the thing the public needs to be guarded against.
So just like we need to ration our use of antibiotics, the police need strong external controls to stop them from acting like complete thugs and, oh, I don’t know, pepper-spraying unarmed non-violent protesters in the face or cracking the skulls of war veterans.
In spite of my love of detective fiction, I am not a big fan of TV police dramas (though I have watched a lot of Law and Order in my time). Almost every cop show at some point or another runs a plot that goes like this:
– Sympathetic cop solves heinous crime (child murder, human trafficking, what have you)
– But can only get vital evidence by beating up/illegally searching/otherwise violating the rights of the bad guy
– Who then gets off based on cop’s misconduct
– And this is a bad thing which adds to the cop’s existential angst, as well as reinforcing a belief in the inherent corruption and evilness of the world.
This type of narrative, where you see police misconduct through the perspective of the misbehaving officer (whose intentions are scrupulously pure throughout), and this is presented as the only way for justice to be done, functions as propaganda for police overreach. The protections that keep all of us safe from unjust prosecution are the villains in the story; you can’t help thinking how ridiculous and evil it is that a child murderer got away because of a stupid rule of evidence.
In real life, of course, there is no omniscient author who knows who really did it, and gruff but kindly policemen are fallible humans like everyone else, blinded by their own prejudices, willing and able to fool themselves as to the justice of their actions. As we all are, don’t get me wrong.
Only most of us don’t go around in riot gear armed to the teeth.
So think about that tonight, Toronto, when the police step into St. James Park. Don’t imagine yourself as one of the cops, bravely defending us from lawless communism (or whatever). Imagine yourself as one of the defenceless, unarmed, unresisting people, who have decided to take a stand for something they believe in. Even if you don’t agree with the protesters, imagine you are one of them – someone with an unprotected skull, face, and limbs, facing down someone in a helmet, gas mask, and armour. And then tell me that linking arms and sitting on the ground is such a crime – is such a threat – that it requires violent retaliation.