Sunday, 25 July 2010

(No) justice and police violence

In some countries, it is normal for police to meet out its own form of "justice" right there and then - beating up suspected 'criminals' as a matter of routine, in public or behind closed doors, with or without subsequent arrest and trial (for the accused, not the police, naturally). In some countries, this is just the way it is, even though it is usually officially denied.

All the more important, one would think, that in countries where this is not supposed to happen, all efforts are undertaken to prevent the abuse of power by police officers in its most obvious form: physical violence. Of course, the old (German) saying applies: eine Krähe hackt der anderen kein Auge aus (a crow won't hack away at the eye of another), something for which I haven't found an equivalent in English yet. The system will see to it that the police will get away with it.

[Update, 28 July: perhaps something will happen after all.]

And so, on the very anniversary of the extra-judicial murder of Juan Charles de Menezes in 2005 (or should we say, accidental killing due to racist incompetence - ater all, it was de Menezes' own fault that he 'looked Middle Eastern' and happened to live in the wrong building), the British Crown Prosecution Service decides to announce that it will not prefer charges against the police officer who struck Ian Tomlinson. Tomlinson, a passer-by at a demonstration in London in 2009, had been struck from behind while walking home; he died soon after that.

Excellent timing, not to mention the bizarre legal twist to this:

First of all, apparently the statute of limitations on common assault is six months. This means, it would seem, that this police officer cannot even be charged with assault (instead of culpable homicide or some greater charge), even though it seems obvious that he struck a man from behind who had not physically threatened him. There are eye-witnesses and there is video footage of the attack.

Secondly, the reasoning of the CPS was that three pathologists had come to different conclusions: the first had not found a connection between Tomlinson's assault injuries and his subsequent death; the other two pathologists did. However, the first pathologist is known for alleged incompetence in several cases, as for example George Monbiot points out:

"A Home Office standards committee had already ruled that [the first pathologist] had not maintained professional standards in three other cases, after he had failed to detect what appeared to be clear evidence of injuries. He is facing a disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council for alleged incompetence in 26 cases."

Great stuff. One can only hope with de Menezes' cousin, that the Tomlinson family (and their lawyer) won't give up in their search for some kind of justice. Not that it will give life to to the victims. Not that it has helped (so far) the de Menezes' family - absolutely nobody has even been reprimanded, never mind charged, for de Menezes' execution.

The scriptures take it for granted that justice is applied in a society that is governed wisely. Hence Job's rhetorical questions:

"Shall one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn one who is righteous and mighty, who says to a king, 'You scoundrel!' and to princes, 'You wicked men!'; who shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?" (Job 34:17-19)

Or the solemn curses of Dt 27:

"'Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.' All the people shall say, 'Amen!'" (Deuteronomy 27:19

Of course, the perversion of justice happened all the time, but it was always seen as a sign of a perverted state of affairs:

"When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. ... Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice." (1 Samuel 8:1-3)

And thus the Psalmist's prayer:

"O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear, to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more." (Psalm 10:17-18)