15 June 2009

First they came for the terrorists…

The news that Police Officers in Enfield have been suspended while investigations take place in to allegations of assault, ‘torture’ and misappropriation of property has been widely reported in the press. Coming on the back of reported Police excesses at the G20 protests, it is all too likely that it will get dismissed as just another local example of poor policing, an ‘isolated incident,’ rather than viewed as more of a systemic problem.

Because there is a bigger problem here. It’s one that organisations such as Liberty constantly warn us about, but is too often dismissed as liberal softness. It’s the risk that when ill-treatment, brutality or a suspension of Human Rights is suspended in one context, it starts the process of legitimising the same abuses further away from the original case. So behaviour that has become increasingly acceptable to some in the “war” on “terror” seeps, inexorably into the “war” on “drugs.”

Of course, the constant demonisation of drug users by politicians and the media has contributed to this process. Legislation has eroded the legal rights of drugs users to a greater extent than any other group in society, apart, possibly, from terrorists. While the police have largely balked from setting up Itemisers at the door of McDonald’s to search for people who have had contact with explosives, there’s no such hesitation at setting up such testing points at pubs and clubs. Thanks to the power of Closure Orders, a person can be evicted from a house associated with nuisance and Class A drug activity although they have not personally used any drugs or convicted of any offences.

In a world where “Rat on a Rat” is an acceptable police campaign to encourage reporting drug suppliers, it can come as little surprise that some Police officers will reduce the rights of suppliers to a similar level.

There may also be another parallel here with the way that torture crept in to the war on terror. Commentators have highlighted how fictional torture (in, for example 24) may have inspired, legitimised and promoted the use of torture in extreme situations, justifying the ends against the means. Perhaps, in a similar way, fiction such as the Shield and, closer to home, Ashes to Ashes has inspired (or created nostalgia) for the torturing of suspects and profiting from the seizure of goods.

But in practice this is neither a nostalgic throwback to smoke-filled basements and giving the suspect a good going over, nor is it turning over the Armenian money-train. This what happens when the Government and successive mayors in London sanction brutality against protestors, strikers, demonstrators and suspected terrorists, and the media and politicians create a folk devil out of drugs and those who use them. You reap a whirlwind.

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