In the “police brutality” category, by now everyone in Montreal has heard of officer Stéphanie Trudeau, or “728” after her badge number, in the wake of the most recent and scandalous arrest on October 2nd; the overreaction and brutal takedown of a man for drinking beer and arrest of witnesses that were filming and/or spoke out in outrage at the brutality of the act. If you’ve been living in a cave here’s some information: http://bit.ly/RxRiCR
It’s no secret that I’m not a friend of the police state and, while I realize that the reasons behind my dislike of police in general are rooted in my life in Communist Romania, I can’t help but react very strongly to stories like this.
To put things in perspective, I would agree that Canadian police are nothing compared to cold war Romania “Securitate” force that made political opponents of the regime vanish, executed people behind sheds and kidnapped people with black vans on the street. But I also think that they were full of people just like Stéphanie Trudeau a.k.a. Badge 728, who thought that their position gave them the power of life and death over ordinary citizens and relish in violence at the slightest provocation. I would argue that the difference between our Montreal police force and the “Securitate” is only a difference of degree because, in point of fact, they operate on the same principles.
You may think I exaggerate, but watch the video and tell me that the possibility of killing this man during this arrest isn’t very very real (CBC report): http://bit.ly/RxP2vp
She, of course, like any human being tries to cover up her behaviour after the fact which just makes the whole thing feel even dirtier: http://bit.ly/RxL0Dm
This is a deplorable incident and, since a cover-up is no longer possible due to social media and the leaking of the videos to YouTube, it is fairly certain that there will at least be some consequences for Mme Trudeau. I just don’t know that it’s enough.
Policing is a difficult job. In fact, I can think of few jobs that are worse than being a police officer: rotten hours, poor pay, under constant threat of violence, wading into confrontations, sometimes armed, sometimes physically wrestling with criminals and mostly unrewarded when things go well but vilified when things go bad. It’s a tough, tough job that I fully recognize I simply could not do, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a police officer, and the standards and guidelines must come from their own training.
Police officers need some more education in how to deal with the public. I think in today’s environment they need to be sensitive to the fact that they could be taped anytime, anywhere by any passerby and be mindful to deal respectfully with bystanders. There should be some policies and guidelines for this in their education. In the same way that physicians should spend more time on bedside manner in school, police officers should spend more time in public relations in their classes. Knowledge and understanding is often a better weapon that a gun or a nightstick, at least when dealing with criminals of the “holding the door open with a beer in his hand” variety as opposed to the “shooting at the police from cover” variety.
As a further point, I would say that we do need police officers to protect us from the predators and criminals that would prey on an unprotected society, but we do not need them to protect our own government from a difference of opinion. During the student protests the brutal assaults on students have galvanized public opinion about police officers and gone a long way to create a climate of distrust in the very people who are charged with ensuring our safety. And here is why I say that the difference between our police and the brutal “Securitate” force of Communist Romania is only one of degree: During the student protests they weren’t out on the streets to protect property or people from crimes. They came out to suppress protests, to harass and jail protesters and put an end to social unrest. They allegedly pretended to be students and caused property damage as justification for arrests and brutal treatment of peaceful protesters, among them, officer “728”. In other words they were doing the same thing that communist police used to do, albeit to a different degree.
When that happens, if it happens, police become the enemy of society rather than its protectors, and suddenly we turn on those who are meant to help us. We dehumanize them, for example by turning them into numbers, like we did with “728” and justify comments like “Good riddance”, “I hope she gets fired and can’t find a job”, “Crazy cow”, the list goes on and on. There is a significant population of Montreal that would downright string her up. It’s inconceivable.
Ten years ago, when the police were fighting against the Hell’s Angels no one would have ever said this about any police officer in Montreal, no matter the situation. They were doing their jobs, not pepper spraying college students in the face for being on the street. In fact I think the reason we seem to disrespect police officers so much today is because of their role as the enforcement arm of a corrupt government during the student protest; a public image fiasco that will take years to rebuild, and will only be rebuilt if there is a realignment of police interventions along the correct lines of service and protection of the public rather than suppression and unwarranted brutality. This is exactly the point: No one contends that police shouldn’t bring down a resisting criminal, but that there needs to be an appropriate reaction to the crime committed. In this climate of “police-hating” it is vital that police keep in mind their actions represent them often long after the act is over.
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