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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Teaching We Can Do Without

The RCMP Musical Ride

This past week I read an article in the Toronto papers the Canada's spy agency, Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the national police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have asked for access to the Toronto schools to "teach" the students. They seem to want to carry on some kind of public relations campaign on the students. They were particularly interested in addressing immigrant students, which they claimed had some kind of negative view of the police having come from countries where the police were not well respected. It has been suggested they are really wanting to spy on minority communities by convincing students to report suspicious activities within their homes and community to the police.

I am no admirer of the police and find giving the police such access to students very threatening.
I hope the school board turn them down, if not I hope they will insist that civil libertarian groups also have a chance to speak to students about their rights and responsibilities and the appropriate limits on police power and authority.

I have not always had a very negative view of the police. It has taken a lifetime to have early childhood positive views changed to a very negative view. I was raised on the PR campaigns of "our friend the policeman" and the slogan on all police cars that they are here to "serve and protect". I have learned that there are far to many times when these notions are untrue.

I can remember in grade school the police coming into the class to tell us how friendly and approachable they were. I am sure I sopped this up although my only clear memory is that the policeman carried a gun, which he would not show us and which was well hidden in a holster entirely enclosing it. ( I was always unnerved when I moved to the US and the police had open holsters that made them look like gunslingers).

It was during my years in the United States that I learned that the police were not always very friendly and that their main job was not to serve and protect me but to serve and protect the established order and private property. Being part of the generation which protested against the war in Vietnam and marched in favour of civil rights I came see the police up much closer than I did as a child. I saw police out of control beating protesters. I also was present when some thuggish looking police from the Police Benevolent Association (union) came to speak to a colleague of mine in Boston, who had the audacity to officially complain about police rough handling a citizen. In short, they threatened my friend and got what they wanted a withdrawal of the complaint.

My most shocking experience I witnessed with the Boston Police took place in the middle of the night. I lived in the heart of the Black community of Roxbury in those days. We were one of only a handful of white residents. I woke up in the middle of the night to flashing lights. There was some incident on the street near my place. I got dressed and joined my neighbours as the only white person on the street other than the police. There were as many as 10 police vehicles there which had at least two officers per vehicle. It turned out there was a woman in an upstairs apartment who had a medical emergency. They brought the woman down sitting on a chair. As they passed me I heard an officer say, "Where do we take this fucking one." It shocked me then and it shocks me now that this public servant who was one of our "friendly" policeman who lived to "serve and protect" was so hostel and disrespectful about a woman in distress. Of course, the whole scene was disrespectful. There was no ambulance (perhaps, that service would not come into a black neighbourhood) so a paddy wagon was used to transport the lady. It appeared that the police were afraid to come into our neighbourhood. They would always show up in force to intimidate the local people even over such a minor medical emergency. In those days in Boston, and I believe it is true today, the police were racist, dominated by the Irish and Italian officers, many of whom no longer lived within the city. This institution was hostile to the Black Community just as the school were. (This was the time that the book on the Boston School system was written, "Death at an Early Age". The police were little more than thugs in dealing with people they did not understand and cared not to know or understand, whether they be black or protesters , or drunks, or drug addicts or liberal white folk who thought there were better ways to serve the public.

When I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, I was one of many who had their phones illegally tapped by the New Haven police, which in those days was lead by a police chief who had been acclaimed as on of the countries "top cops" He went on to service with the FBI in Boston at the time that the Irish Mafia under "White Bulger" were being used as informants against the Italian mafia. Years after I left New Haven, I was part of a class action suit against the Chief Ahearn and the city of New Haven for the illegal wire tapping. My phone conversations with members of the Black Panther Party). We won and I received some money from the city and the former chief.

In spite of my growing negative view of the American police I can remember telling an American female friend on our way to Canada that the police in Canada were so much better than the American police. This is still probably true but they seem to be learning more and behaving more like their American cousins. Just as we crossed over into Canada in the middle of the night I was pulled over by the police on a supposed traffic violation. To the credit of the police officer he pulled me over a second time to just tell it was all a ruse. They were looking for a person wanted by INTERPOL. I have since wondered who the person was and how I could have looked like him, driving a Volkswagen with a red canoe on top with a woman and two children travelling with me.
Not exactly what you would think of as an international fugitive. Could there have been two of us in the middle of the night with hardly any traffic on the road.

Since returning to Canada I have become well aware of our own police shortcomings that I previously overlooked. Our much revered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a long history of abusing their power. I remember when they were found out to carrying out dirty tricks to make the FLQ appear more threatening than they were. As a result of the McDonald Commission they had the national security function taken away from them and CSIS came into existence. We have had the recent case of the police behaving badly with the outrageous actions of the police in Toronto during the G20 summit. The legal actions against the police are still unfolding. This was not the first such occasion but the worst of a long line of similar occasions when citizens exercised their rights to protest. It seems the police see their function is to harass protesters, frustrate them exercising their legal rights and to protect private property at all cost, with little regard for the peoples rights.Where are the police who are being friendly and serving and protecting the protesting citizens exercising their rights. It seems they cannot count on having police serving them.

One of the most disturbing things for me in recent years is the use of police
tasers. When they were first proposed they were to be used to replace lethal force, (the use of guns). In effect, they have proved to be another lethal force. Citizens are dying from their use in situations where guns would not be acceptable , including such things as impudent detainees, prisoners in their cells, protesters, the mentally ill, the handicapped who would not move fast enough, etc. It seem the taser often replaces skilled police work whether it be calming distraught people with talk or even the proper use of a night stick.

I am a very law biding person ( in most things). I try to avoid contact with the police. I certain am not one to try to antagonize them. I have had little personal contact with them over the years. I have never been arrested. I have been investigated by the police, which in itself is very disturbing and something I would not write about on my blog. There were years when I did have a lot of contact with the local police. These were the years I had foster children, who always seemed to by teenagers who had had come to the police attention. My only visible hostility to the police is that I will not let them come in my house if they are armed. As a result, I have had many a cold conversation with the police in sub zero weather on my front porch. I let no one in my house with a gun. I don't like them and I don't own one, which makes me an oddity in my rural area where most people have guns and many hunt. One of the few times I ever called the police was when a neighbour theatened me with a gun. The police came and spoke with him and reported back to me that, "You have a really unreasonable neighbour." No action was taken. I certainly did not feel well served or protected. I have known a couple of policeman personally over the years , whose professionalism I admired but could never be friends with them, given my disdain for their profession and its shortcomings.

Finally, the police far too often show a disrespect for people's civil and political rights. Are we getting our views about the police from TV dramas which are little more than propaganda programs. it is the accepted view of the police who play rough, fast and loose with the legal restraints on their behaviour and disrespect of human and civil rights, where they suggest that if the law was not so constraining they would dispatch the bad guys with no regard for rights. Worst still is where police protect their own when they break the law. This blue wall, so often depicted in dramas actually exists and police fail us all by not coming forward and give evidence against fellow officers. Time and time again, we see this. If properly trained the police should understand their first loyalty is to the law and the community and not to their fellows officers. More of them need to step up and give evidence against police behaving badly. A recent example in Canada is the revelations of the culture within the RCMP that allowed the harassment and sexual assault of female officers throughout their years in the force. Even when complaints were made little or nothing was done. Where were the fellow police officers who must have know this macho sexist culture within the force was wrong. They failed to step forward.

I do not want the police in our schools trying to convince impressionable children the Truth" of an idealized view of the police. Our youth deserve to know the whole of the story, warts and all.

CSIS is supposed to be a more secretive organization than community police so I do not understand why they want to talk to children about their organization. I suspect they have motives other than teaching. This might be a subject for the civilian agency that oversees the activities of CISIS. The RCMP has not need to improve its public image, in spite of it's history of misbehaviour it continue to be held in high regard. I am not sure why. It historic origins for the agency that brought respect for law and order to the vast western development of Canada. For most of us our best image of the mounties is seeing them in the red surge dress uniforms on formal occasions, quite willing to have you take your picture with them. And then there is the musical ride in all it's elegance which most recently performed for the Queen. It is a Canadian icon that guarantees glory and respect for the RCMP no matter how often them behave badly on carrying out their policing function.

If CSIS and the RCMP really have no need to teach our young, then, we are left with the suggestion that these two federal policing organizations really want to have access to our children so they may have influence over them and spy on immigrant communities. I find this very distasteful. I can see immigrant communities seeing this not dissimilar from the police states they have left to come to Canada.

The best PR that the police could have if they did their job skillfully, respectful of the law and the public,. . . all of the public. The respect they desire and require must be daily earned by the police in personal and public behaviours. We have a right to demand this of them as public servants.


At 4:04 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

I'm sorry to say that I, too, have little respect for the police ... in your country or mine. Again, like you, it was not always that way and I'm sorry that I've become so distrustful but it's a fact.
It always frightens me when I see small minded people (no matter where they are found) in positions of authority. It doesn't take much to bring out the demons in them.

At 3:40 p.m., Blogger Owen Gray said...

What you write about, Philip, was underscored yesterday by the Police Complaints Commissioner's report on the G20 summit.

You're comment about guns reminds me of my late father. He commanded an anti-aircraft battery during World War II. But he refused to buy a gun and he refused to have one in the house.

As a kid, I asked him why. His answer was simple. "I had enough of them during the war," he said.

At 8:03 a.m., Blogger Navigator said...

I too have come to hold police in lower regard. Perhaps I clung to the idea of serve and protect a little longer than you did. But the tazering to death of the Polish visitor by the RCMP in Vancouver and the "over the top" nonsense policing of the G20 was the tipping point for me.

I am sympathetic to the problem police have in detecting crimes before they happen through the work of "snitches", which are inside sources and very hard to cultivate. This is a spying activity that does pay off. It's a lot more effective than patting everybody down at an airport on the pretense that you will weed out the bad guys.

As to "immigrant" communities, let us be clear. We are talking about 3 of them: Tamils, Sikhs and Muslims, and there are reasons why those communities are targeted.

At 7:27 a.m., Blogger possum said...

I was a flower child... I guess that sums it up. Those nice friendly cops that were supposed to be there to help us suddenly had a different job to do - and we were on the other end of things. I, too, marched, but luckily (in retrospect) got hosed, drenched with water, not pepper spray, not tazed. As a kid I was almost disappointed that I did not get locked up for such a worthy cause, but then I would probably never have gotten a job teaching... and I was one of the first non-black teachers to be put in a black school as integration slowly crept into the Eastern Shore.
It is sad things are not like they should be, there will be people who will always disappoint us. But then, we don't know what demons they are fighting, either.


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