Tag Archives: police

Robert Potato Peel Pie

Remember the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society?

Here’s a recipe involving the peel of a certain 19th C British baronet, with a little Hartley’s jam…

Cooking (reading) time: about 20 mins

I was intrigued that He Who Set Up England’s Police has just been in the news. Statues in Robert Peel’s honour are now an endangered species, for they may be destined to go the way of Edward Colston’s last Sunday (7th). I confess I laughed when I heard that the likeness of this unpopular 17th C Bristol magnate ended up in the Frome, in daylight and in front of a crowd.

His removal was long overdue. In 2007, at the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in Britain, residents questioned why this man from 300 years ago whose wealth came from the slave trade, whose contributions (except the almshouses named after him) to the city are no longer tangible, should still be sitting in the middle of it. The nearby concert hall was being renovated, and much of the populace asked why this venue and its street bore his name. Bristol – the city of Princess Caraboo, Hannah Moore and Dorothy Hazzard – has a rich history of memorable people and a recent heritage of musicians. So why – if the largest music venue in the city needed to be named after anyone – did they pick someone who lived long before this hall, and who has no connection to music, but plenty to an abhorrent and obsolete trade? I was surprised that the statue and the hall – now with a ridiculous gold extension – had survived thus far.

I am pleased that we are asking about who we give honour to and if it is right to still give them honour. I note that like Colston’s displaced effigy, much statuary in Britain is 19th century, sometimes several after the person’s life; and that as one person put it, it’s public veneration. I like Christopher Wren’s epitaph – that on principle, we should be able to look round and see what they did. Not that I necessarily esteem the bewigged polymath and possible Illuminati member, just the notion that I shouldn’t need an eerie graven image to remind of what you’ve done.

I realise how many of Britain’s statues are of war heroes and states people: those whom we perceive made us great. I also note that many of our historic townhouses are named after historic rich men who were also public figures. Each time, this wealthy ‘successful’ businessman was also a statesman – MP, sheriff or mayor, often repeatedly. This ancient correlation continues.

So as I meld back to Robert Peel, I want to have in mind who were revere and remember, and that today, wealthy business people still steer our cities and countries (as well as get the best properties).

Robert too was from a wealthy business family, made from cotton, in the north west of England before moving to the West Midlands. Bury and Tamworth, who have statues to him, are now asking if they want to keep them.

Conservative media point out that activists may have confused his father – also Robert Peel – who opposed the abolition of slavery act in Britain because of the loss of revenue it would cause. Presumably he saw himself in that category, since cotton manufacture involved slave plantations. It’s said that we don’t know whether son was like father, and that Bobby jnr was too junior to have made much input to his father’s late 18th C decisions. Fair… but I thought that it wasn’t due to slave support that Sir Peel II was now on the not/wanted list: it was his police record.

It’s well known in Britain that Robert Peel set up our police, although I didn’t know the story. I thought that literally he was the first superintendent of the force, or perhaps even took on the role himself as a lone officer. Robert Peel didn’t do policing though: he created it. He was an MP and later prime minister in Britain, dying in 1850; and he was titled – 2nd baronet. He went to what we might call privileged educational establishments and lived in a hall. He founded the Conservative Party.

That doesn’t make him the enemy, although I confess that I baulked at reading this about him.

Peel is called the father of modern policing (note the paternalistic term), because by setting up the Metropolitan Police in London, he paved the way not only for the rest of England to have its own forces (Scotland already had one) but his example was followed in America.

So what did our example inspire or unleash on the world?

Bobby left us with 9 principles of policing which I’ve seen adopted in America as well as here – a sort of 10-1 commandments for law enforcement. Pro-police writers remind that Robert’s reforms cut hangable offences by 100 – so how many were left, I ask? – and working hours and child labour. So he did do some things right, or at least, better than his forebears. He also saved the country from its existing state of martial law enforcement; his ‘Peelers’ only had truncheons (wooden batons), not swords and guns, and their uniform was deliberately different from the red coats of the hussars, so that it was clear that a Peeler was not a soldier.

Can I stamp on this notion put about that we in Britain still call police ‘Peelers’. The only time I’ve heard that term used is when it is prefixed by Potato.

I’ll comment briefly on just four of those nine principles.

Note that police around the world are not keeping to these.

1) proportion, and persuasion first; never use more force than necessary

so no brutalities then, such as the ones that sparked all the riots recently or the abuse I read of today by an officer to another woman, allegedly seeking drugs

I agree to the first clause, but I wonder about the second ever being so; it is widely misused

2) police cannot usurp the judiciary – so no killing suspects and dispensing with trials

But the judiciary is not sovereign and untouchable, nor incorruptible; it too needs reform

3) Impartial upholding of the law – so no prejudice; but impartial can also lead to blind pernickityness; and the law itself needs much scrutiny (and will get it from me in another piece)

4) police are the people, and vice versa: that citizens are assumed to uphold the law and enforce it where they see it being broken

This makes assumptions about citizenry. We can’t opt in or out and we rarely have much say about the laws created, nor do we always agree with them. So whereas Bobby was expecting high standards of his namesakes, and society, I find that a bind which actually goes wrong…

Firstly, there is what kind of person joins the police – which is a topic to come back to…

This principle also gives support to the prevalent push that we can handle our problems without police – fodder for another article…

I want to focus on what was happening in England during the time of modern police forces’ inception. I remind that many US writers have commented that slave and immigration control were connected. I heard that London – England’s first force – was about custody of cargo.

So, I wondered, did England’s other contemporary great dock city – Liverpool – follow suit?

The banner photo on this blog is of Liverpool.

I recalled a snippet from a book on Liverpool’s docks by Ron Jones that made me want to investigate.

The official police in Liverpool seems formed by an act of parliament in 1835; although, as elsewhere, they existed in some form previously. This means, they were 6 years after London’s.

I wondered why it needed a central government act to create them as well as the docks I’ll soon get to…

In August 1819, the Peterloo massacre occurred in Manchester, a rival town in the same county which produced much of the goods that Liverpool got rich on shipping. A large (size unverified) crowd met to discuss equality and universal suffrage – for not even all men could vote yet. Their banners even included the word ‘love’. But over 2000 soldiers on horseback set upon what’s normally described as a peaceful crowd, and hacked at these unarmed civilians with swords. They wanted to charge the speakers, such as Henry Hunt, with treason (which was dropped), they set on journalists, and rushed through an inquiry. I watched Timeline dramatised TV based on the transcript of the inquest of one man, Lees. The trial was held, not in a proper court or a public space, but a pub in the next town. The witnesses – cotton workers, the mainstay of the town – were terrified as the magistrates were also their employers and landlords; some had even been part of the yeoman who attacked. As London lawyer, Mr Harmer, acting for the deceased’s father, made progress in showing the corruption and violent intent of the soldiers and town leaders, the coroner shut down the case.

However, it is often seen that this event was key in bringing about change, although not the revolutionary ones which were hoped for and feared, and not all immediately.

It did lead to the setting up of the [Manchester] Guardian newspaper, Britain’s most left wing daily broadsheet, and an important voice of supposed free and thorough journalism.

In 1831, riots occurred, notably in Bristol and Nottingham. Some of the fuel to the literal fires – the custom house, mayoral and bishop’s residences in the former, and ducal castle in the latter were burned – was the refusal to pass the Reform Bill. This Act is behind George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, which describes the ‘rotten boroughs’, meaning that Members of Parliament were not representative of the population, by any means; it was a bribable boy’s club with easy to keep seats. The bill took up some of the issues that those Lancastrians of 12 years before had met about. But also, the city corporations also were seen as corrupt and self serving, as was especially felt in Bristol, Nottingham, and in Liverpool. The rioters’ quarry were people who had helped block this important bill for greater fairness. It was enacted the following year, and ‘rotten boroughs’ were no more.

Sadly, many of us feel that our government is still mainly self serving and not representative, and are effectively bribed by the wealthy elite.

Several accounts of these riots – such as you might read in a guidebook – don’t tell you that the soldiers again set upon their people. They’ll instead tell you how much property was damaged.

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The Police and Albert Docks

Many readers, perhaps those not from Britain too, will recognise that place. It’s famous – the Merseyside Metropolis has made it so. They are the synecdoche for the whole of a huge system, mostly designed by one man, Jesse R R Hartley Hare*. I wonder if his statues and plaques are on the Unpopular List? (*Hartley Hare is from kid’s TV; and J R R Hartley wrote a book on fly fishing).

Much of Ron Jones’s book, like others, boasts about the wonders of Liverpool (yes, I am already a fan) and its docks, but I realised that my values have changed. I’ll write a report on my travel blog. In short, Liverpool was built on the wealth that its port gave it, but it was a very divided city. The story I recalled was that when Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, came to open the much vaunted groundbreaking dock in his name in July 1846, many of the half a million who came to greet him couldn’t afford shoes.

There were other significant visitors to Liverpool that year. Lots of them. They came from the West. Unlike the Prince, they weren’t guests of honour. They’d come in hordes, in desperation, due to a potato famine that they saw their neighbouring country as having contributed to.

These Irish families – already destitute, tired, stressed, displaced – were squeezed into tight ghettoes. 20,000 citizens – that’s about a tenth of Liverpool at the time – were sworn in as special constables (ie plain clothes police for a particular s/reason) to help control these asylum seekers.

Not to welcome or support them, but contain them.

Now I’m not assuming that there was no trouble from these immigrants, any more than I’m supporting the rioters of the previous decade; but I am questioning how they are portrayed and how much their treatment added to the ‘social problems’ that we conveniently and patronisingly file them under.

I’d like to point out that these immigrants were white, and the same ethnicity as the indigenous people of Liverpool.

In Ron Jones’s book, I noted a comment which wasn’t critical but which should have been, and is very timely. A local lecturer, Dr William H Duncan, spoke out against the diseases that he said were rife in these Irish cramped lodgings, and said that they endangered everyone else in the city, morally and physically. This man then went on to be the first chief health minister for the country.

I very much take issue with this, which used health of others to demonise these Irish and other poor people, and use ‘infection’ as an excuse to control them and knock down their homes. The book doesn’t say what happened to the residents.

I’d like to say – and remember, I am very fond of Liverpool – that a city which is very cultural today and famous for certain musicians especially – was actually slow to get culture. At Albert’s visit, it didn’t even have a theatre yet, a lifetime behind more provincial towns. Even its classy residents who lived in terraces or mansions far from the stinky water which gave them their wealth celebrated key events not long before with bear and bull baiting. So the rich too engaged in activities which were considered morally dubious. Yet here was one putting moral fibre next to illness and equating the two. Familiar?

What did those new docks really mean?

I wonder if Jesse Hartley will join the not-so-wanted list. Of his day, I can see that he could be a hero, and that the wealth he helped amass for Liverpool (not even his native town, he’s from Yorkshire) would make him celebrated. As an engineer, architectural books keep telling me that Jesse’s work was extraordinary. But I can see that actually his work was short sighted and he seemed a hard, driven man, although because he achieved things, we overlook that. I’ll analyse what he built on my other blog.

I want to ask WHY Jesse Harley created so many new docks, on top of the 18th Century set which saw so much slave trade. A Liverpool superlative it should not be proud of is that it was Europe’s leading slave port; and it sent at least 10 times the human cargo ships that Bristol and London did. When Albert Dock opened, the slave trade had been outlawed in Britain for 40 years. Yet the port thrived on the produce it had made, and the produce of domestic slavery which continued in America till c1860. I was also surprised to learn that in Britain and its empire, slavery needed a second act, passed in 1834, to actually grind it to a halt, which wasn’t immediate.

Whilst we celebrate the names of those to whom we attribute slavery’s abolition, perhaps even they need scrutiny. William Wilberforce didn’t advocate immediate emancipation – he said slaves needed to be prepared for freedom. Resocialised, don’t you mean? Sometimes, they had to work for a generation first.

There is another very evil fact about slavery that I’ll end with. I had to walk round my home to take it in.

But my point for now is that Liverpool’s connection to slavery was around the time that policing began, and so did those new docks; and at a time of unbridled trading worldwide – two acts in the 1830s and 40s meant its ships could travel without restriction, and its profits were therefore unfettered.

What of the local workers – in factories and docks? Would they be considered working under modern slavery conditions?

I was also learned why these warehouses were built. London had a new kind of dock. Liverpool was encouraged to get some too. These enclosed docks where you could moor right by the secure warehouses meant that

1) the rich merchants lost far less of their goods to theft (or fire) 

2) the HM customs people could check and collect more easily.

Ah. Now we know why central government was involved.

And you’ll note that Jesse Harley’s designs included not only a huge wall (see why thoughts on walls here) to keep out, but police booths. Note their arrow slit motif and castle-like quality.

I don’t support looting, but I do wonder if some of the looters were those who couldn’t buy shoes.

Liverpool was also a port where people sailed for a new life to America. If you’ve seen The Golden Door, you’ll know it wasn’t such a land of the free and opportunity – more of a work force advert. Customs in New York were utterly brutal and degrading, in the name of health. But this also meant that further immigration occurred in Liverpool – mostly outgoing.

So yes, police were about keeping ‘rabble’ quiet and money in the right places.

I’ll also briefly touch on the fact that Catholic Emancipation happened at this time, and some further Church of England strangleholds on public office were released to non Anglicans.

Is it an accident then that policing was created in this era?

My shocking final fact: HMRC tweets that modern British tax payers helped end the African slave trade – we were paying for the compensation to the slave OWNERS til 2015!

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Why I’m An Abolitionist

Not just of slavery – take that and being anti-racist as a given – but of the police and all enforcement, worldwide.

I’ve been thinking about police for some years. I began a piece about their reform three years ago in which I quickly saw that I needed to ask deep and fundamental questions about the whole of society. And by that, I meant globally. I realised that police are key to the kind of world we live in. And by that, I mean that how they treat us is how safe and free we are.

If you’re expecting me to say: good policing means an orderly, safe world – you’re wrong.

That wasn’t what I was going to say at all.

I may begin sharing my work from June 2017, for the time feels right. There is a worldwide hunger for police reform after the horrific death of George Floyd 2 weeks ago, but sadly he is one of so many that have been brutalised by the force we have to pay to supposedly look after us. Policing isn’t just an American issue, or an issue for those countries that we dismiss as being far away and undeveloped and run by despots. Those people matter too. And they might be your country. Even if you think your country’s police are safe and reasonable, I ask you to think again.

Here is a big point to make early on: that I will not use the country specific talk of so many. American friends and readers, you are especially bad at this, as if you are a synecdoche for the whole world. You aren’t, but right now, the infamous horror on your soil is opening a platform for all of us; and I hope that the strength of feeling against this disgraceful and horrific act is going to open the way for real action on something that has been mooted for a long time.

I am also going to make a point early on which has to be made carefully, for I do not wish to alienate readers at this stage, nor to ever sound as if I in any form tolerate racism or belittle that.

I do not.

However, I do clearly state that I ABHOR ALL FORMS OF INJUSTICE and that for me, there is a bigger bottom line here than racism. My friend said: the attention’s on that fire because that’s where it’s burning at present. And I see that the Black community wants us to look at the fire, because they want us to see what’s been done to them – again. And we witness that with you in anger and sorrow.

But I want to look at fire itself – at this flammable liquid and who’s pouring it.

I am concerned that in the understandable ire and strident voices against the many incidences of racism and the disproportionate amount of police related suffering among non-caucasian people, that there is a new imbalance and set of otherness.

When I began my piece, almost three years ago to the day, I knew that otherness – the concept of people or things being different to you – was the absolute fundament of all else. This basic decision about whether this other form is similar or not to me was quickly followed by, so how shall I relate to or treat them? And that for many, that equalled fear, resentment, treating as less than, abuse.

But there is also a subverted version of this which is being seen via the speaking out, as if those belonging to the other group are all corporately guilty and are ‘other’ to the victims.

Those of us who stand – and I hope that is all of us – against the brutalities of police abuse and against racism, but who are not black, can feel that our solidarity and care must be qualified and earned. What would I or you know about prejudice, brutality, and suffering?

Well, in my own case, more than you might be assuming. I realised that it was possible to stand so vociferously in my own groups’ pain that I wouldn’t let outsiders in, even those who wanted to join with us and stand with us. I could make them feel bad for not having it bad (enough). I could assume the happiness and ease of their lives as compared to me and mine.

I would also like to say – I am on a controversial roll now – that I note that ‘Black’ is often used as a synecdoche for all those ethnicities which aren’t ‘white’ – a description I don’t like. In Britain, we called non ‘white’ BME (Black and Minority Ethnicities), and there’s a new set of initials coined, again leading with B for black. But what about Asian (a wide and diverse group), native American, Australasian; Inuit, Latin… (another broad group who seem to have a new name), Romany, Jew…forgive me if I’ve missed a group, especially if it’s yours. We are many. We are one. We all matter.

I know that black and Asian people and others are disproportionally targeted for police searches and arrests.

But that oft-quoted fact seems to have the horrible logical upshot: that more of the rest of us should be subjected to arrest and search.

NONE OF US SHOULD BE.

I want to abolish stop and search. I want to abolish enforcement targets. I want to abolish spying, weapons, and customs.

I want to abolish the police. Why does only America seem to say this?

I did a little research – it sadly didn’t take much looking – to find negative police incidents in every country I could think of. I don’t know if the beating of a Romani in Romania in April got much international coverage. It should have. “Police brutality” searches get pages of internet search results, as does “police corruption”. Searching “police + bullying” seems to be designed to bring up how to handle bullies, and how to involve the police if you are being bullied. And yet, it was through US churches that I came across a call – and not a new one – to stop calling the cops.

How else might your issue be addressed?

I’ve long felt a discomfort with calling the police. I know that they can worsen a situation, and for some people, it can mean being taken into a system that harms you, or even kill you. There’s the phrase: suicide by police. I keep seeing the statistic that over 1000 people are killed each year by police in America alone. I did a little research and was sickened to learn that these deplorable figures in the US are not the world’s highest. I’m unsure how these deaths by law enforcement were classed – direct shootings or other violence, or did mistreatment in custody resulting in death also get counted? How many of these fatalties are reported and made public? I’m reluctant to quote Wikipedia, but according to its chart, Brazil had 6000, Venezuela 5000 deaths by enforcement each year; the Philippines 3000, Syria was similar to America; India and several African countries were in the hundreds – Nigeria had 800. China isn’t on there! Interestingly Canada is around 30 a year, unlike its neighbour. Much of the rest of the West – Australia, Malta, Scandanavia, Britain – claims less than 10 deaths each, perhaps a single incident, or none. But I know that in the last couple of years, police shot and killed a suspect at a busy London railway station, as happened at Amsterdam in 2018. Thus this high drama risked many people, and the supposed bedrock of democracy – the judical system.

I give you some examples of corruption and brutality, although it’s heart rending and stomach churning. The couple who called the police over their car being burgled as they changed a tyre and the moustache twiddling policeman who implied, give me the expected bribe and I might actually show some interest. The kettled protesters in many demonstrations and the violent clashes and cruel treatments, held for hours. The man who reached for his papers in his car’s glove compartment, and was shot dead because police assumed it was for a gun. The family watching video games at home – also shot. The young women who had sex with 2 officers in exchange for her freedom – who walked free from court. The immigrant told to give a handjob in return for her papers to remain. The organised chronic infiltration of environmental protesters, even entering sexual relationships and having children with them, only to dump their ‘partner’ once the operation was complete. The police who ran drug and child abuse rings, paid huge salaries tax free and given legal exemption whilst ‘peacekeeping’. I could go on… that was just a snippet of some cross-country examples which I could bear to type. None of those were hearsay. And all of those were in the West.

I note that some tabloid British newspapers sided with Trump and the mayor of Minneapolis against the strident calls to abolish the police. I was really interested in this call, which the council of Minneapolis have supported, and that another US place which was considered unsafe – Camden – stopped its police force, and instead created a community based safety system, and seems to be better for it.

But I want to go further than replacing one set of prefects with another. I don’t simply look at official crimes statistics to see if it’s worked.

Calls for the police’s removal seem to be followed by calls for other systems, and I am against systemic control. When we speak of decriminalising cannabis or prostitution (sorry, I won’t call the commodifying of physical love ‘street work’), it usually asks for regulation which means official licensing, and that the government financially benefits from these trades.

I’m asking about the very way that we organise ourselves and who has control.

I am very clear who should not have it.

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I’ve felt uncomfortable with the police for some years – at least 10. I consider it a good day if I don’t see any. I’ve always hated customs and border controls, which puts me off travelling, and I am concerned about internal travel. Why I am anxious about this journey, I ask myself. If I am anxious taking a walk, what am I worried about?

Ah. Doing something ‘wrong’. That some official, especially during the lockdown, will tell me that I have committed a misdemeanour and am liable to be punished. I have the wrong train ticket. I crossed the road in the wrong way. I didn’t touch my smart travel card on the right place. I’m eating or drinking something outside when I shouldn’t be. I’m wearing or not wearing something that I should be. I don’t have permission from the authorities for something, like holding a meeting or playing music, or having a stall or allowing my customers to drink outside my premises. And now, that I might be deemed to be ill or walking unnecessarily, and even barred from buying food that I need, or be forced to give my genetic material to the state, or be taken away and incarcerated, or worse, for not doing those things.

Or for refusing to comply (be meek) when told off for allegedly doing any of the above.

The year I really got uncomfy with the police was the year that I started this project. There were at least three incidents of terrorism in the world at that time, and I want to say that all of them mattered – not the ones in the West or in my country more. But in May 2017, a terrorist bomb was detonated at a pop concert held in an arena in central Manchester. Immediately following this, Manchester cathedral did bag searches! Canterbury cathedral had armed police in the grounds – two hander rifles; and there were suddenly armed police at other places that I would never have expected them (police in Britain had hitherto usually been unarmed.) Everyone I knew reported having seen them. In provincial, safe towns and cities. Outside the zoo; the library; at the railway station. And everyone going to a concert at an arena in my city had to be searched. Well, with these terrible people about, it’s necessary, sighed one ticket holder. A large annual market in a small town now has a huge police presence.

My thought was: this spreads fear and compliance to the provinces. We’re not just to think that these abhorrent attacks happen in our capital or largest cities. I note that London, Berlin and Paris each had them in recent years. And as well as being the centres of political and economic power and greatest populace, these cities are the hub of creative ideas and free thinking. It was suggested to me that Berlin’s horrific incident sent a message to a chilled, liberal, egalitarian city: It can happen to you too. When it happened in Manchester, it says: it’s not just the capital that can suffer this. None of you are safe, so all of you will need to make sacrifices.

My fear after these atrocities was not Will This Terrorism Come Here but What Erosion Of Civil Liberties Will Happen Next? Of course I was sad for those who suffered – please take that as a given. Of course I would not like such an event near me, although I realised that one in my city, a mid sized historic low crime area, would serve the Population Control By Fear agenda well.

Happily, those armed guards didn’t seem to last, but the police got new powers and ‘toys’.

Because of this heightened discomfort, I read Norm Stamper’s Protect And Serve: How to Fix America’s Police. I was more interested in reforming police per se, but at that time, I couldn’t find other books. You can see my review on Amazon, but I generally disliked the book and was disappointed. The subtitle said alot [sic]: he, as a long serving ‘cop’, was pro-police and had a fix-it mentality. He praised the ‘tools’ – that’s those ‘toys’ – which are a disgrace, and I fear are very common among police internationally.

If both of us were stopped and asked to empty our pockets, who’d you want to let enter?

He had: spray, two guns, numchucks, a taser, two sticks, plus surveillance technology.

I have no weapons and no spying devices whatever.

So even when police stop people who are found with a weapon, is their one knife as bad as all this?! Sometimes people have knives for legitimate reasons, and are not planning to harm. Knives are widely used – in mediaeval times, even monks carried them. Now I’m not suggesting that we all do, but I’m making the point that knives have multiple and good uses. All the above list have only one – to harm, if not kill. And we know that these are (mis)used, and not seldom.

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In 2017, I wanted a new kind of police. I’d long queried army and security agencies.

But now I query them all. Or rather, I don’t query, I assert: NO.

I looked into why we have police.

The answer is that they were created – usually in the 19th century – to protect government and their lobbyists’ interests. They were to stop rioters; to keep looters from cargo. At the moment, we’re especially being reminded that the American South’s forces grew around catching and returning slaves, and that many forces have a link to immigrant control, and controlling poorer people, who are often from non-white ethnicities.

I think we need to again go broader and deeper, and say: why do any of us need this force?

Disadvantaged’ covers a wide kind of person, and I know that poverty and mental illness aren’t situations that can always be easily spotted. I could add many more groups, such as the so called neurodiverse, who also can be picked on by the police, and with tragic results.

Injustice goes after whoever is different. We are back to ‘other’ again. And often other is misunderstood, and seen as a threat. And how you deal with threats is to control them.

I want us to back up a little and take in that police took over from the army and private watchmen, and that they are about controlling ‘rabble’ and protecting property. They are the servants of the ruling group. It is about council revenue acquisition under the guise of enforcing the law.

I have an essay about why the rule of law is unjust. I will just say here that for law to work, it uses fear. There’s the final punishment and that of going to court as a deterrent; and then there are the people who are our first contact, those on the streets, those who pull us into that system. Note that police groups are known as a FORCE. I’ve not heard fire brigades so deemed.

It really has struck me that police have come out of a fear and materialism based culture. They say that they keep us safe, but I wonder if they’re brainwashed into believing that, or just trot it out?

We don’t believe it.

What is truly being safe? We are told, during this pandemic, to keep safe, but I recall a card I loved.

Two butterflies; one in a net, one flying outside. The latter says:

You are safe, but I am free

I know which I’d rather be. The flying butterfly is in many ways safer as well.

When I walk about, am I scared of burglars or gangland war? For some, yes, that is a very realistic concern and it is not impossible that I could be attacked, or that my home could be.

We have a name for government licensed home attackers: bailiffs. (Sometimes they’re even attacking and pillaging on the behalf of the government)

And now, for some of us, we have home attacks in the name of health.

I am more concerned at being stopped, harangued – not by ‘criminals’, but by the very people who define what crime is. For I, like many of us, don’t fit, stand out, do or are something which the establishment doesn’t like. Let us find our unity, not demarcation, in that and go from there into an adventure of new possibilities and an equal, caring world.

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I’ve much more to say, which will include my thoughts on why I don’t admire Robert Potato Peel; how we can avoid using police and what a world without police could be like.

I end by reminding that we are all valuable, all deserving of going about freely and without fear or bullying. We’ve recently seen the extreme of police bullying in those murders, but bullying starts with the milder end – the right to stop, interrogate, search, take something from you, watch you.

I believe that we must burn this candle at both ends and stop both.

I remind again of our solidarity as beings, however we self describe and whatever groups we affiliate with. Let our anger at evil acts not cause division and tip the seesaw the other way.

Let us remember too – and I find this harder – that our enforcement workers are people too, and fellow citizens. If any are reading this, please ask how being a good, decent and loving being fits with the tasks you’re given and the very ethos of your work’s existence.

If it were my world, you’d all be having new employment with immediate effect.

It’s all of our world and I’m not trying to rule it (I believe in facilitation, not ruling anyway), but I’ll be sharing my thoughts – which I’ve actually worked on for many more years than three – on how I suggest and invite to build something better than what we’ve all endured for so long.

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What would Wonder Woman do?

About the terror attacks this week and what happened next

 

I’d like to emphasise that’s Kabul, Baghdad and Coptic Christians as well as Manchester.

I predicted and worried about this – that more attacks bred more attacks and more armed police and less freedom; that the death penalty has got in though a side door and that the trial by jury at the heart of democracy is being eroded. It’s not just Canterbury and London now – they’re in all the county towns, at stations, zoos, outside libraries.

I don’t feel safer – I feel more wary. It puts me off doing things. I feel relieved if I’ve not seen armed police or been somewhere that expects me to be searched – a world sadly familiar to those in the Middle East and to Black and Asian men respectively.

Fighting suicide bombers with guns doesn’t make sense – they are planning to die and will detonate rather than let you kill them. Shooting them in the torso is just where their bomb is. So what are the guns really for?

Guns are bullying, cowardly weapons that give you power over others, often from a distance. They easily get misfired and when we live in a panicked environment, we can make paranoid mistakes.

Officers in Britain – who’ve been largely unarmed till now, like the population – were wary of stepping up to the arming call, afraid of investigations if they misuse the gun.

Good – but why only just investigations? If I carry a gun on the street, let alone use it, let alone kill someone, I’ll be in prison both sides of the trial; I may stay there.

So why should police expect to be above the law that they are (ugly word coming up) enforcing?

Now that children have been targeted, police are more willing it seems. “It’s the best way I can protect myself and the public,” one policewoman said. Note the order of that.

Many words have been poured out in sympathy already, and take mine as a given, but I will focus this post on something less said, which needs to be.

Before I say it, I’d like to return to an old friend of mine, one who featured early in this blog 6 years ago, and who’s getting her first big screen outing released today – yes I’m going! (‘Twas brilliant).

Yes I am wearing long boots with a heel in her honour, and guess which 3 colours?

Let us contrast her way of dealing with problems with the police:

(Note these are general WW principles and change between comic/screenwriters)

 

1) Wonder Woman doesn’t fire bullets, she deflects them

-significant morally as well as operationally

Wonder Woman is only armed with her truth lasso

(Ms Gadot has a sword but she thought guns dishonourable)

Her plane is purely for transport – it doesn’t drop bombs

She befriends animals, she doesn’t use them as weapons

 

2) Wonder Woman works with the authorities and is respected by them, but she is independent and she is not part of a huge force

Unless you count the Justice League, but they tend to be outnumbered by rather than outnumber their opponents. Unlike police who overkill, literally; a whole squad after one person (even not dangerous ones) which wastes resources – and police claim they don’t have enough

(Don’t start me on police using foodbanks on ‘only’ £20k… try living off £30 a week!)

 

3) Wonder Woman is approachable Unlike po faced armed officers who we’re afraid to say even good morning. Wonder Woman retains her humour. She doesn’t yell, especially not at the general public

 

4) Wonder Woman is compassionate A quality not in the police and army much; it’s why their personalities and training mean that they’re not the right people to handle many situations entrusted to them. Wonder Woman’s someone you’d cry on. Not most PCs

And she knows the difference between being tough and strong

 

5) Wonder Woman is not dressed to kill or intimidate

Her face isn’t covered; no mirror glasses, no bully boy armour

 

6) Wonder Woman has a global view, inside (since she’s living among us) but outside (since she’s alien). She can point out our follies and since she’s so old, she has great wisdom, watching nations repeat mistakes for millennia

She’d also see what’s really happening, the even more despicable terror

 

7) Wonder Woman doesn’t kill or use unnecessary force

She does her own undercover work; she doesn’t use assets

 

8) Wonder Woman knows when to talk instead of fight and can transform would-be crime doers. Wonder Woman believes in redemption and forgiveness

 

9) Wonder Woman thinks for herself. Hannah Arendt would approve – for she knows the peril of taking and giving orders without question

 

10) Wonder Woman

makes a hawk a dove

stops the war with love

changes minds (and hearts)

and changes the world.

 

It’s the far more effective way – not retribution, not meeting violence and fear with more.

Not weak, fluffy, unreal.

 

No wonder Ms magazine cover emblazoned: “Wonder Woman for president”.

I’d like to her preside over a lot more.

 

Finally….

I was reminded this week of James Alison’s book On Being Liked and his first essay in it Contemplation of a World of Violence, written in autumn 2001. He points out that such acts are given sacred meaning and that we are sucked in collectively, policed as to what we can say (a new heresy) and given specific behaviours in response.

He encourages us to not be drawn into that, but to One who can show us a new way to see, one who subverted violence by seemingly giving into it and then overcoming it to say I’m nothing to do with this system; there is another way to live.

The One is not Wonder Woman this time.

 

 

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Is the poppy our most sacred symbol?

Reading about previous year arrests for acts that seemed to denigrate the emblem, I am wondering if the same would be true of a key religious symbol, or a national flag. I know that Christians have had various attacks – such as Francis Bacon’s crucifix in a pot of piss, or an episode of Jonathan Creek, or even you could say, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Did they spark off arrests and complaints in the way that teenager from Canterbury experienced last year, or a Muslim the year before?

The end of the first story seems to be that the Kentish offender was let off as he agreed to meet war veterans to apologise. It seems a resocialisation went on – is that what restorative justice is? It recalled an episode in prison drama Bad Girls where a character who had accidently killed through an angry practical joke was made to face her victim’s family. Is a poppy burning photo on social media with an alleged crude comment on a par with that act of irresponsible manslaughter?

It felt like this young man had to also face his elders (and betters) and be turned into the kind of citizen that’s appropriate, or desired. Orwell had another word for that.

Whether offence can be an offence is interesting to debate and a hard line to draw, but for any of us with a faith or who support for anything that’s unfashionable and unpalatable to those around, we might feel it unfair that our deeply held beliefs are not a police matter, and yet ones that are a political tool are. It reminds of what I wrote in the summer about the homophobic comments of a pastor about the local Rainbow Pride parade – horrid, hurtful (I’d argue more than poppy burning as some gay people carry an almost suicidal guilt burden and fear of persecution, but our soldiers are venerated) – but rightly a police affair?

Along with the Holocaust, the poppy is a matter to tread carefully on. I note that it’s an offense to trivialise or deny the Holocaust in Germany now. Yet I feel the reasons behind this German rule are different to our poppy ones; one is a kind of rehabilitation programme, a keen (in the sharply felt sense) appropriation of past guilt in an attempt to atone, but it’s also the reverse of whitewashing or glorifying the horrors of war. The Poppy is something else…

I’ve read several online comments about the poppy as well as attended services yesterday.
I agree with the well penned words of Harry Leslie Smith in the Guardian, a man who was born shortly after the first world war and fought in the second. He explains why this is the last year he’ll go to the cenotaph and wear a poppy, although he will continue to remember the war and his friends and colleagues privately. I was surprised by how many younger people disagreed with him and will continue to wear the red flower, using phrases like “gave their lives” and “honour”, saying the Poppy shouldn’t be commandeered by the politicians as a tool to steer our thinking about today’s wars and ourselves as a nation, or shunned because of it; its meaning and the donation go to better things.

But I looked at the British Legion website and I find it hard for anyone to claim that they aren’t part of the jingoism, that the political meaning of a poppy is nothing to do with an organisation who has changed its strapline to “Shoulder to Shoulder with those who Serve”. The people chosen to say “Why I wear a poppy” all had loved ones in wars, describing in emotive language the loss, bravery and sacrifice, and the use of debt and respect for their part in freedom preserving battles.

Reading the White poppy people (Peace Pledge Union) website is quite a different experience. The fact I recall most is that their annual budget is the same as the chief of British Legion’s salary. The white poppy, as its centre says, is about peace and ending wars. The red poppy isn’t now the encapsulation of 60s protest song “Where have all the flowers gone”: it’s more Rupert Brooke than Siegfried Sassoon.

I suppose the Christian cross is a symbol that can mean many things, as can the St George’s Cross. The stars and stripes might mean the worst or best of what America stands for. But if the exclusive people who made my national flag had a particular slant and my donation to buy one went to them, I might think about whether I wanted to adopt that symbol, whatever its genesis. I’ve heard feminists reclaim the cross, but they don’t pay a patent to wear one round their neck. If all cross necklaces came from a specific denomination with a particular mission, expressed in particular words…

I reluctantly agree that as Big Brother Watch says, freedom of expression means the right to offend and do crass and unkind things. BBW fought against the arrest of the Canterbury young man, though I am also not saying what he did was a good thing. But I note I would be afraid to say so if I did, and that is wrong. There are no holy wars or crusades. Much of war is coercion, money making and power wielding (or returning power) and it is an exercise in encouraging one’s citizens to overlook other issues by telling us there is a greater enemy than our own establishment, and that we must unite and be obedient, even unto death, and to speak against it becomes not just offence, but civic and secular blasphemy.

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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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Police commissioner – why I’m not voting

There has been some talk that voting should be compulsory. Yes people died to allow all to vote – but it is an opportunity – it should not become a requirement, with further policing to force us.

 

As I’ve said before I suspect the lack of turnout is the belief that voting doesn’t work: that first past the post system does not mean our choice will even count; or that all the candidates are much the same – and none of them are who we would like or who will make a positive difference.

 

Many people in Britain feel that voting for their local police commissioner is not something they want to bother going to the poll booths for. Candidates mostly stand for a political party and the ones I have read of do not impress.

 

What I fear this move is about is creating pleasing seeming statistics, and more “tough on crime” talk. It could make life hard for both the police and the public.

 

What policing should be about:

‘Police’ is an unfortunate phase, a verb that means to nose and control. What we need is a body who helps keep us safe through laws only needed for protection – and not the powerful few. Laws should not be excuses to collect revenue for governments through fines. They should not be nannying, controlling punitive rules. We should not fear or distrust our police, who should not be curtailing freedom of expression.

 

The Green Party, who did not want this to come to vote, put questions to the candidates, including public accountability and the right to peaceful protest.

 

Nationally, we read regularly of police brutalities to protesters; and in the last week, there has been news that questions the behaviour of undercover police.

 

My local force has recently blasted front pages with their sprees of raids, and threaten more; their ‘message to criminals’ is, when finally deciphered, is aimed at minor crimes and a show of strength. Raids should be about emergency  rescue, not minor drug dealers. It also publicly sent messages to potential kerb crawlers, displaying their car number plates.

 

Meanwhile, it made reporting crime (which was largely down to their lack of doing their duty) more trouble than it was worth and failed to follow up a complaint for inappropriate behaviour.

 

I think many of us have mixed stories of the police, and as we pay for them through council tax, they especially need to be accountable to us and doing something worthwhile.

 

As there is no space on the voting form for ‘none of these’ or ‘I don’t want this’, I am saying it here, and making clear what kind of police force we expect and need, and making a stand against the force we often actually get.

 

I hope the prediction of under 15% turnout is true – do not we have a law that there needs to be a minimum proportion for a vote to count? Most of us don’t want this imposed on us – isn’t that a voice in itself?

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Whistleblower

is a 2010 film starring Rachel Weisz about the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac.

It’s the flip side of My Age of Consent post on Socyberty (link in previous post). I want to make clear that I take abuse very seriously. Whereas some young women manipulate older people and it is inappropriate to call what might be unwise and unhealthy relationships child abuse, this film is clearly a story of what is.

In fact the legal ages are irrelevant, as what is happening is horrific and wrong for anyone of any age. It would not be less shocking if these were over 21s, and no less horrible for those that suffered.

I am not going to make any explicit comments here, should anyone be alarmed. The film too conveys horror without detail.

One one level, I am impressed by the film. It is based on the memoir of an American former police woman who was sent to Bosnia in the late 1990s as a peacekeeper, and who uncovered wide spread trafficking overlooked and often used by personnel of international military, law enforcing and peacekeeping organisations.

First of all, I want to back up. Why is an alien country going into one already torn with civil war, to have a foreign military and police help them sort out their problems?! What right does another country have to go barging and interfering, setting themselves up as world police?! Do any of these countries exemplify a perfectly just, libertarian society? No!! In fact as I shall write in the future, I don’t think democracy is the best system; I am intrigued by Isonomy as suggested by a former lecturer. (This could end up going back into another summer of Wonder Woman, who upheld democracy – see my earliest posts). And I feel that the US particularly* is not in a position to show another country how fairness works; there’s enough corruption at home without spreading it to a land limping after years of guerrilla warfare.

Spreading that corruption is exactly what seems to be happening.

Even Kathryn’s contract was dubious – $100,000 for 6 months work – tax free. After the global financial problems and cuts, such pay makes me livid – why should anyone work even indirectly for a government and be exempt from contributing with such a high salary?! “Is this even legal?” Kathy asks in the film. It shouldn’t be.

Next, there is legal “immunity” for those working for the various organisations. In the film it is called Democria, a British registered international company recruiting army and police officers. There should never be immunity – if you’re wrong, you should be brought to justice.

I feel like I did after the Valerie Wilson Plame film, Fair Game – that I both admire the person for sticking up to a powerful system and telling the world what’s really happening; and dis-ease for their jobs. As much as I don’t support the work of the CIA, the peacekeepers (ironic title) are another shadowy force supposedly for the good of civilians. Anyone reading this very much will know my thoughts on the irony of suppressing liberty to protect it, of opaque organisations off public radar who want to hold secret courts  – yes I opposed that British proposal. (See https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/justice-is-restored-but-the-chickens-are-gone)

The verb ‘police’ is one I am uncomfortable with. Although I have seen police strap lines claiming role is support for the public, practice is one of non action when needed with heaviness when it is not.

Kathy wants better recruitment and training for those doing her work – and clearly she took her police role seriously and genuinely, as I’m sure many others do. But that shouldn’t be a surprise – people shouldn’t be getting through the recruitment net who don’t. She recognised the need for better cultural understating in her role, but I really feel outsiders should not be there, especially as she’s shown the UN to have serious corruption at its core. She claims some officers were actually running the sex rings, while the organisation wouldn’t allow inquiries.

Death threats are are sure sign that she’s right. Officials have made statements that Kathy is wrong, even that she deserved her dismissal… but why the threats if she was erroneous and had a genuine reason to be sacked? Why would she make such a thing up, and go to such a risk, especially if it only over sour grapes for a job loss?

I was pleased that the book has been published and a film made, with many well known actors keen to be involved, as well as being an opportunity for a first time director. But I can’t see that the Whistleblower got an airing in Britain, or perhaps as widely internationally as it might have been. It wasn’t nominated for any of the usual film awards, though it did get some humanitarian type ones. I can’t find a British release date for it, and I have checked my own film magazines and brochures – I don’t think it came to my city nor was it picked up by the major cinema chains. I found it in the library, a single copy, unlike the mass orders of some new films.

I am writing this partly to say, this is a film that needs to be seen. This is an issue that needs to be known – but what can be done to stop it?

And I am also voicing my mixed views. Portrayed by a favourite actress, it was easy to sympathise with the actions of Kathryn. Reading more about her, I felt conflicted and this is as much about keeping out of other countries and the immunity/tax free corruption as it is the atrocities being inflicted on young women.

*PS that was not meant to be an anti US diatribe. You know I criticise my own country enough!

Someday, I shall write an article called “Things I love about America”.  Several individuals will feature, including dear friends.

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Justice is restored but the chickens are gone

by me

I have been researching for my next post and I wanted to get it right. I have views on Poppy Day which passed before I had consolidated them. I had read various stories relating to war and the secret service, but also felt frankly afraid to voice them.

You will notice by now that I write against harmful systems and for justice and liberty. I am against control and propaganda. What I have to say this time particularly concerns those, linked by my unlikely sounding title.

‘Justice is restored’ refers to a missing statue. In that same town, something else that’s a known local feature has disappeared – the wild chickens who refused to move when their home became a roundabout on a busy bypass.

I saw a local news headline that ‘justice has been restored’, but then I wondered about that in larger terms. Each time I pick up a newspaper, I read something else which makes me angry because justice is being evaded or distorted. The people meant to protect justice curtail or suspend it for the citizens they are mean to be servants of. Policing of riots and protests; secret courts; laws coming in by a government we didn’t choose to make it ever harder for the public because of actions by rich people who are still rich. I suspect whatever country my readers are from, you can relate to this in some way.

I read Robert Harris’ wartime code breaking novel Enigma and again felt anger at the secret service. It may be fiction, but it is based on some truth. The public are recruited by a crossword competition; in the book Hester is told to sign the Official Secrets Act and stick to it or the gun on the desk beside the form will be used on her. She has not yet volunteered nor understands how her cryptic puzzle solving skills will be used or what threat she may be under. Tom is also recruited in an underhand way that leaves him little choice. He is threatened by security service officers who appear in his home to scare him off something he accidentally discovers.

It struck me that in the name of protecting democracy, secret services go against the very values that the countries they serve are built on: openness, honesty, trust; protecting the public so that we can go about our lives freely, without fear. I am always appalled when I read of how much control the military and government exerted in the war. What system can be worth fighting for when refusing means that your own side turns on you? Why does an army find the resources to harm conscientious objectors from its own people? In the 1970s TV series, Wonder Woman turns a Nazi through demonstrating that the German army did not care for its own and were happy to kill them. Wonder Woman implies that hers is the better side for its contrasting ethics and treatment. I did some wondering of my own.

After being shocked again at the Katyn forest massacre of Polish prisoners of war and how that the British knew but pretended not to, I decided to watch the Polish 2010 film Katyn to see what they had to say on it. I was horrified at how anyone could shoot thousands of men and dump them in a mass grave, as I was to see a country’s own police demand entry and haul its own people out of their homes to concentration camps in Sarah’s Key. Note none of this was Nazi doing.

Nationalism frightens me when it threatens to make us hate other people and to incite acts of cruelty against them. It is one thing to be proud and loyal of one’s country, another to use that to create otherness instead of brotherness (girls included). The world is our neighbour, not just those with the same passport.

I am struck by the propaganda about war in my own country and am wary of how public statements may be used to influence peer pressure and curtail dissent.

The head of Britain’s MI6 gave a speech about how secrecy is necessary for our country and the rest of the world to go about safely. Yet I don’t feel safe – not because I especially fear terrorism, but the shadowy world of government endorsed crime fighters. I am appalled that the tax office can use spying and that financial safety is a reason to for secret intelligence  – along with that much used slippery phrase ‘threat to national security’.

To complete my trilogy, I watched Fair Game, from the memoir of Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA agent (starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn). She was deliberately outed after her ex-diplomat husband Joe spoke out that he found no weapons of mass destruction and therefore the basis of the 2004 Iraq war was spurious. They fought a long battle against the CIA and the US government. I am unsure exactly where she stands on some issues – in her DVD commentary she does not comment on the question: ‘have you killed people’ or that the CIA bound and beat recruits as part of a training exercise to find their breaking point. Or that she recruited people by manipulation and stealth and that they were not protected by the agency but killed.

I did like her line: security should not stop freedom.

If people fear police and military and security agencies more than terrorism; if liberty is curtailed in the name of keeping us safe, then security ‘services’ are no longer morally or operationally justified as it is acting against their very raison d’être. I read that there have been calls to abolish some secret services. I wonder if any such an agency is really necessary or the best way to combat these problems.

A service built on secrecy and deception is not sound and clashes with the morals and codes of many faiths and ideologies. It involves falsely presenting oneself not only to the adversaries but to one’s own loved ones, meaning isolation for employees as well as anyone who is recruited or who accidentally has a brush with one.

Just as a faith and its true believers are more than and separate to the official church, a nation is not its government, its laws or its leaders and figureheads. These organisations do not get to say what it is we are defending or believing in.

A national interest is not something than an agency or minister defines.

You can’t have equal opps laws and boast of your diversity on one hand whilst enforcing conformity on another.

I am glad of the attempts by the intelligence agencies to be accountable in my country and of the laws which govern them. But then we don’t chose or scrutinise the ministers that call into account or make the laws. Democracy means ‘rule by the people’ but many of us in those kinds of societies don’t feel we get to do the choosing and have the input that so titled society ought.

The  ‘C’ of MI6 speech speaks of enjoying public confidence – which it needs. But stories about Guantanamo Bay, like those on the Canadian Homes Not Bombs site, and Britain’s foreign secretary’s ideas undermine that. I believe that is just part of what many of us are speaking out against. (I have also seen Friday’s news about US police and Occupy protestors).

If secret services fight threats to economic stability that harm the public, I consider they ought to be busy – at all those who caused the recession and its effects. There’s more damage done there by our own  supposed legit institutions than terrorists.

And lastly to those chickens. What do they represent? Freedom despite control. Not being part of the regime. A reminder of nature and how we try to dominate it. A Unitarian hymn at first shocked me by its triteness – but there’s something affirming about ‘the grass that breaks through the concrete’ and the chickens that roost despite the tarmac and concrete built round them. I see those chickens as a symbol of a simpler, more natural life, a refusal to let human bureaucratic control spoil their lives. Their absence therefore concerns me.

After calls to remove them, they were poisoned and attacked and then were rehoused reluctantly by the man who had been feeding them. I know what I infer from that.

And my final word for today on security:

To paraphrase what the Governor of Oregon said today regarding execution:

“I do not believe that these made us safer and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society.”

http://www.chickenroundabout.co.uk/

You can even buy a board game of it!

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A better way to deal with riots

Just a week before the riots in London began, I watched a TV film I had long wanted to see. Although hard to gain a DVD of it, it can be found on You Tube. It’s the 2002 ITV modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, written by Andrew Davies and starring Keeley Hawes, Eammon Walker and Christopher Eccleston. It begins with rioting youths in London sparked by a death caused by police.

How Othello dealt with those riots is in stark contrast to how the real life Met are taking on the looting going on this week. Othello faced the crowds alone. His speech won them round and made him the new Police Chief Commissioner. He could see that there was a reason for the rioters to feel angry, and he held true to his pledge to investigate. He discovered that the death which set off the riots was a racial attack by police, and the matter went to court, as he vowed such behaviour had no place in the police force.

I am appalled to read today that the police use of plastic pellets have been authorised with water and gas being considered. To meet violence with violence is strategically and psychologically unsound. It only serves to escalate matters and the only peace comes with subjugation by an act so terrible that wounds continue to bleed for far longer than the fires rage. We ended the last world war that way.

I am not surprised at rioting as the tightening pressures of cuts after recessions, the exposing of various professions, an increasingly unpopular leadership by a government not voted for all mount public tension. I do not advocate violence at all – but that means on both sides. Those (sadly few) newspapers who ask why are there riots are better than those who call names and fuel the fires literally by some frankly shocking invocations. But asking why isn’t getting those questions to the rioters. It needs the police and prime minister to call a ceasefire and find out what is at the bottom of all this, rather than try to contain through weapons and toughness. It concerns me that leaders cannot see this and use such incendiary strategies that cause further harm.

But what they harm the most is their own image and public faith, because these riots seem to come out of an all time low relationship with our authorities, and the response by them serves to make that low greater. Trying to control angry citizens will ultimately lead to a loss of power – for those who hold power by force never retain it.

I’d exhort the police to watch Othello and try that response to quelling the riots by those methods instead.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSWlj8Ik7gI

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Policing protesters

Police heavy handedness is all too common a feature of our broadsheets. Today’s Independent and Guardian reported how protesters in the spring at a London department store were held for many hours and had their homes searched under the terrorism act; over 100 people face trial. There is rightly an outcry from many quarters. I am alarmed and angered that the reasoning is wasting of ‘court time and resources’ as one MP put it, or police time. What matters is that the freedom to peacefully protest is being taken away; and that bullying tactics make this not a free country. This is abuse of power, of law, and an assault to liberty.

Protesting againsta company’s tax evasion is nothing to do with terrorism. That should be tightened to a very slim definition of those using death or the threat of death to make a political point – such as bombings, hostage holding, siege by gunpoint. It is not for people camping out in a commercial premises who had no intention of harming anyone. The phrase ‘national security’ needs to be tightened to mean the above or foreign invasion. The MI5’s other remit, of threats to the economy, should be scrubbed as economy is not part of our national security and comes across as being more concerned about finance than liberty of its citizens.

When, like so many other countries, we are faced with insupportable cuts to deal with a so called debt caused by greedy and irresponsible financiers and our own government’s mistakes, we do not want our already heavy taxes being spent on taking away free comfortable livin. It makes one wonder what other  will be eroded. We want the right to speak up against losses to pension, student support, and all the other services that are suffering. And anything else that matters to us. Conflating demonstration with terrorism means the means to speak out is receding. That is not democracy, it is tyranny.

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