Apologies for two posts about the police on the trot from me, but this is an important issue.
Over at the Daily Mail, Max Hastings has written that
Of course, the police have a tough job. But to shoot dead Mark Saunders like a mad dog was an affront to the values of a decent society
I think I disagree.
Let's remember that Saunders had been firing his shotgun wildly around Chelsea’s Markham Square. Police had been on the scene for some time, but he still refused to put down his gun. So – although I have not seen the evidence in any depth, and I may be wrong – I tend to think that the jury got it right when they returned a verdict of lawful killing in this case. I would add to that that I believe in the common sense of jurors, and the jury here had every opportunity to stick it to the police in question, and did not.
On the other hand, I do agree with Hasting when he writes that there is
a new and alarming macho gun culture among Britain’s constabulary.
I just don't think that the Saunders case is a good example of that. If ever there's a time for armed police, I'd think that responding to a man blazing away at his neighbours is it. Much better as an example, I think, is the experience I had this weekend, walking with my wife in the sunny gardens of St Paul's Cathedral – when we came across two hulking cops coming down the path towards us, each lugging a submachine gun.
My point isn't that this is unusual – it's that this is usual. Nothing special was happening this weekend, there was no specific event or exceptional justification – it was just a couple of policemen walking the beat, armed to the nines like Rambo.
I'll lay odds that you've seen something similar lately. It started becoming more usual at airports, and then at specific events, and now we see City of London police toting kit meant for warzones around the gardens at St Paul's, in which perhaps the worst examples of disorder might be a recalcitrant squirrel or two. What next in the standard kit – bazookas?
We're a long way from Robert Peel when this is the norm. Who, faced with this, thinks that "the police are the public, and the public are the police"? It's very hard to feel like we have a citizen constabulary when they are swaddled with hyper-aggressive kit (batons, spray, maglite thumper-torches, tasers, and now machine guns). To my mind it's the normalisation of this kind of kit and style of policing on our streets every day, rather than the high-profile exceptional incident, that should command our attention. Being armed for the exceptional circumstance is reasonable and can protect us. Being armed as a norm is a vivid demonstration of something many people feel – that we are now policed by representatives of an often overbearing state, rather than by ourselves.
(Re the specific example of the Saunders case, I know that readers might have expected me to go the other way on this one and I'd love to know what you think.)
by Alex Deane
Earlier post about the police is here, Con Home post about the police here