I've been holding off on any blogposts about the G20 summit garbage.
It's too bad, because with a few differences I would have looked almost exactly like this. So, uh, here it goes...
Le tout rightosphere up north has been riven by the actions and inactions of the Toronto Police during the G-20. P M Jaworkski sees it as the difference between libertarian conservatives and law-&-order conservatives - or perhaps between "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", and the less full-throated Canadian founding cry of "peace, order and good government". Except, of course, that peace, order and good government were noticeable mainly by their absence in Toronto last weekend.
Kathy Shaidle suggests it may be a rural/urban thing: She's a city gal; many of her detractors at Small Dead Animals seem to be rural dwellers. I don't know about that. In my corner of New Hampshire, I have very cordial relations with my one-man police department. His son and mine will be off at camp together next week. I have known a lot of police officers in northern New England over the years, and I have a lot of respect for the difference they can make to the rhythms of life in a small town. Because of that, I don't have any problem agreeing with Jay Currie that Officer #3478 "pretty much illustrates how not to deal with a law abiding member of the general public".
That's all we're saying, but it's nevertheless quite a lot: For one thing, this isn't Dragnet or Naked City. These days, everything's a camera - a telephone's a camera, a hi-fi player is a camera, just about anything larger than a Tootsie Roll is a camera. So the police ought to expect that every time they're out on the streets, especially in the downcore core of a major metropolitan area, someone somewhere will be filming it. The rest of us have had to get used to it. Just up the street from where Mike Brock was set upon by Toronto cops, I came out of the committee room at the Ontario Parliament after testifying on the "human rights" regime and had a bit of chit-chat in the corridor, and some guy with a cellphone had it up on the Internet in nothing flat. That's just the way it is. And, if the alternatives are either living with it or browbeating citizens engaged in non-illegal activity, then the police should learn to live with it.
Secondly, Officer #3478's response is simply not an appropriate way for a minor municipal functionary to talk to a member of the public. It demonstrates a defective understanding of the relationship between law enforcement and the citizenry - admittedly in a footling matter, but, left unchecked, who's to say where it could lead? Why, one day, you never know, it might lead to a chief of police who lies to the public and makes up his own laws.
My own approach to officialdom is summed up here. One reason I oppose the paramilitarization of the police is that it encourages the mindset on display in Toronto last weekend. Its defenders, in many comments at Small Dead Animals, say, well, sorry, but it's necessary in order to keep the Queen's peace. I think not. The disruption to the Queen's peace, in Queen's Park, in the shadow of the building that embodies the idea of a state accountable to its citizens, came from cops rending the air with their cheery cry of "I DON'T GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK". Actually, the very minimum that law-abiding citizens are entitled to demand from police officers is that they give a fuck what we think. One thing I happen to think is that no citizen going about his lawful business should have to put up with a police officer yelling "fuck" from the get-go.
In further defence of the Toronto Police, commenters have said, well, Brock and Shaidle were asking for it, making provocative statements about the accountability of public servants and wearing black T-shirts and whatnot. "After Saturday, police were jumpy", writes Ella at Small Dead Animals.
Oh, right. They're the fellows with the guns and the billion-dollar security budget, but they're the "jumpy" ones? That's great news, isn't it? I've encountered "jumpy" cops in Third World crapholes many times over the years: You choose your words with care, because it's not yet clear whether you're dealing with merely an insecure twerp or a thug who's itching to club you to a pulp. I don't think the residents of First World cities (which Toronto still is, just about) should be expected to perform similar psychological evaluations if they decide to take a stroll around Queen's Park of a weekend.
The other argument advanced at SDA is that, well, it was G-20, you should trim your sails accordingly. Really? 99.999 per cent of Torontonians were not participating in the summit. Unlike the Olympics or the World Cup, it's not a public event. It was a private (and pointless) affair imposed on the public, and if the price of that imposition is that Bill Blair gets upgraded to some rinky-dink Latin-American caudillo for a week then the only appropriate response of self-respecting citizens should be screw you.
Finally, Kate McMillan, for whom I have enormous respect and with whom I rarely disagree, argues that what happened in Toronto was little more than the "profiling" we conversatives claim to be in favour of, at least when it comes to young men from Pakistani madrassahs. I think not. When you're beating up Guardian reporters and harrassing Mike Brock, that's pretty much a failure of "profiling" by definition, isn't it? Or, at any rate, as inept "profiling" as that of the Metropolitan Police who, after the July 7th Tube bombings, decided to "profile" a Brazilian electrician and put five bullets in his head. If you reflexively defend lazy and incompetent policing, you'll soon find yourself having to defend lazy, incompetent and murderous policing.
And that's my biggest problem with "law-&-order conservatives": They seem to think when the coppers are kicking around Mike Brock, that just shows they're doing their job. Au contraire, the ten minutes they're kicking around Mike Brock is ten minutes they're not doing their job, ten minutes they're not devoting to the guys they should be kicking around - just as pulling over the octogenarian nun for secondary screening doesn't demonstrate the rigor of homeland security but rather the waste of limited resources. A cop who shouts "FUCK!" at Mike Brock isn't communicating the authority of the state so much as its insecurity. Or do you really think a bozo baying uncontrollably into the summer night on University Avenue is going to be the guy who spots the fellow with the darting eyes and the lumpy midriff?