Thursday, November 25, 2010

There's a joke to be made about probes and *probes*, here...

Back during the summer, Toronto hosted the a G20 summit. Predictably, there was rioting and some over-zealous (to put it kindly) riot police decided to variously round-up protesters who, subsequently, they were unable to place at the scene of the property damage or else just physically clear protesters out of areas that, to the best of the public's knowledge, had been declared Protest Zones. (As it turns out, this had only been 'proposed', and no 'official' designation had been given.)

Which means that people sitting on the grass at the provincial legislature, who were under the impression that they were allowed to do so peaceably without threat of violence, suffered injuries as a result of stuff like this:

Hilariously/pathetically, the Special Investigations Unit just released a report that identifies not one culpable officer in this whole mess. I had expected, at the very least, at least a few "bad apple" scapegoats who could be offered up in lieu of having to admit that the problem was systemic - that the police were poorly trained/prepared, that their orders and actions were misguided on the whole, that they just plain did a bad job. (Because we'd never get that kind of admission.)

Instead, we got stuff like this, as described by the Toronto Star:
  • "Officers declined to be interviewed for the SIU investigations, as is their right. That left the SIU in several cases unable to determine a specific officer at fault."
  • "Because the officers all wore identical helmets and uniforms, it was impossible to identify which one is responsible for causing a fracture below Nobody’s right eye, said Scott. Two officers were identified as having something to do with the incident, but exercised their rights, declining an interview with the SIU."
  • "'I did not think that it would be likely that police officers would come forward and identify themselves as having contributed to my injury,' [Norm Morcos, who suffered a fractured hand] said."
(There are other gems not listed in his article, like the problem of identifying officers who illegally covered up their badge, as the one in the picture above did. He can't be reprimanded even for breaching uniform protocol because, of course, he can't be identified. And that's that.)

Now over on Facebook, someone defended the right of the police involved to remain silent, since "
Everyone is allowed to remain silent. Basic right of all people."

But this is fucked up.

First of all, if this were a criminal investigation, the cops who refused to be interviewed with respect to the allegedly criminal conduct of their co-workers could be charged with obstruction or accessory - because you don't have the right to remain silent when you have evidence of someone else's crime. If I had witnessed one of my friends bash in someone's head, I would be subpoenaed and compelled to testify - why should the police be held to a lower standard?

Second, this isn't a criminal investigation, anyway - it's a
job review. And its purpose is to discern whether the people who we entrust to with our physical security - and who are given tremendous power and privileges to do so - are doing their job or else behaving in ways that are antithetical to it. And they can't. Because the people accused of bashing a fallen protester in the face with a baton, of refusing to let a one-legged man retrieve his prosthesis and instead demanding that he hop, or of kicking a sitting man in the back of the head - or, for that matter, the people who watched it happen - don't have to talk if they don't want to. And the SIU has no other recourse - if they don't freely choose to speak, the case goes nowhere.

So this blows my mind: if these police officers (and it's obviously problematic to focus on a few particular officers when the whole culture of law enforcement should be implicated, but still...) can't assure us that they're fulfilling their responsibilities, much less assure us that they're not acting in a criminally irresponsible way when they've been accused of doing so, how is it that they're even allowed to keep their jobs?


Joseph said...

During the G20 protests here in the UK a man died after being assaulted by a policeman. There was also trouble recently at protests over rises in student fees ( Police have been using 'kettling' - surrounding protesters and preventing them from leaving.

It's horrible what the police are doing to essentially peaceful protests, and a travesty that they continue to protect those officers who are particularly to blame.

neilshyminsky said...

Kettling was at the center of the controversies here, too. The day after the police busted up the peaceful protests at the legislature, they began kettling smaller (more manageable?) groups of protesters - outside the hotel where some of the politicians were staying, at a small parade. And everyone caught in the kettling formation, generally, ended up being thrown into the detention center without any formal charge.

Aside from the outrage over the abuse of civil liberties, this prompted some (reasonable, I think) questions, chief of which was this: if small groups of police could so effectively contain groups of 200 and 300 protesters, how was it that the thousands of police on the street the day before couldn't contain a group of 50 or so rioters?