11 July 2009

I don't want to be here no more.

Had an unpleasant run-in with the police yesterday, minor enough for me but was left feeling very unsettled for the rest of the evening.

Late yesterday afternoon I was on my way out to buy a light bulb or two to replace the ones shorted out in our recent flood, and as I crossed the road I noticed that a middle-aged Chinese woman on a bicycle had been corralled by two motor-cycle cops. One had pulled in front of her at an angle, and the other behind her also at an angle, forming a triangle with her pinned against the curb. When I came back from the shop a few minutes later, she was still on her bicycle in the cycle-lane trapped between the two motorbikes, though the guards had dismounted and were now questioning her quite intensely about why she was in Ireland and how she got here.

As I wondered what traffic offence could necessitate not one but two cops to pull her over I heard them demanding to see her immigration papers and ID, and simultaneously saw my old company logo on her bicycle. A few years ago we gave every employee in Dublin (that wanted one) a bicycle, quite distinctive and painted in the company colours with our logo festooned across the crossbar quite prominently. Never on sale to the public, and an exact match to the one that gathers rust quite happily in the bike shed outside my house, the sight of it triggered the animalistic pack-mentality part of my brain and I found myself pushing past the Guards to see if she needed any assistance.

My former company had a very international workforce, and on more than one occasion I received frustrated calls from employees who had been refused entry onto Dublin-bound flights, or held up by the Gardai at Dublin airport immigration for imagined visa infractions. The fact that in every case the employee was Asian, African or Arab was never lost on me. Although I no longer work there I found myself still feeling protective towards this employee, and thought that at the least I could call the HR Director or the company lawyer and inform them of what was going on, for in my time the company was very protective of its employees, particularly those on secondment from another country.

To the visible disbelief of the Gardai, I pushed between them and approached the woman, asking her if she was an employee of the company. She looked confused, and I pointed at the bike and asked again if she worked for the company, to which she finally shook her head and said no. With that statement my self-confidence vanished, as I now realised I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The Gardai saw this and told me to leave or be arrested myself for obstruction.

To my shame, I backed away.

The problem was that I felt an immediate powerlessness, if she had been an employee I would have been able to place a few phone calls and set the wheels in motion to provide her with a proper level of support. Without the mechanism of the company behind her I was left with no idea as to how I could assist her in the face of such police intimidation. There was also the question rising in my mind as to how exactly she came into possession of the bicycle in the first place, but middle-age Chinese women are not known to be Dublin's most formidable bike thieves, and in any event it seems unlikely that two motorbike cops would be that interested in a lone bicycle thief given that a single bike cop couldn't be arsed putting down his kebab a few weeks ago to intervene when a scooter was being stolen (slowly) by a group of kids a hundred meters or so away.

As far as I could tell this was police intimidation of a non-white migrant worker, pure and simple. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

I have no respect for our police force. It's not that they are corrupt (which they are, from the actions of the entire Donegal force through to the drunken fistfight between two machine-gun toting on-duty officers in a pub near the American Embassy over whose round it was), racist (which they are, these are the folks who refused Youssou n'dour entry to the country to play a gig because they thought he would try and stay illegally) and ignorant (as my own experience of trying to motivate three separate officers to intervene in a crime is sadly indicative), its the fact that they know they are all of these things and wear this knowledge as a badge with pride. They know their reputation and they wallow in it, for they know they are untouchable.

And these are the people we have just given sweeping new powers to in the new Criminal Justice Bill, despite the protestations of over 130 criminal justice solicitors and barristers, who issued a statement saying:
"[The bill] has been introduced without any research to support its desirability and without canvassing expert opinion or inviting contribution from interested parties on the issues,"

They added that they were most concerned about the following proposals in the bill:

* The abolition of jury trial for a range of new offences (organised crime trials would be held in the non-jury Special Criminal Court).

* The use of opinion evidence from any garda as to the existence of a criminal organisation.

* The failure to require that the Garda opinion evidence be corroborated.

* The provision for secret hearings to extend detentions without the presence of the suspect or their lawyer.

"It is quite simply astounding that we as a society would jettison ancient rights and rules of evidence in such a manner and seemingly without regard to the effect such impetuous legislating might ultimately have on the respect for the rule of law in this country," the lawyers said."
(from the Irish Examiner).
Despite these serious objections the new Criminal Justice Bill passed yesterday by 118 to 23.

We are now living in a country where secret courts can convict people on the uncorroborated word alone of any Gardai, serving or retired. The same gardai two of whom are being tried in Cork for making false statements in a case where a member of the public was assaulted by a third Garda, four of whom are on trial for breaking into a youth's house and assaulting him, and a further is on trial for making false insurance claims. These incidents are all from the last three months alone, and are merely the tip of the iceberg.

As with the racist motorbike cops yesterday, so too with the Criminal Justice Bill as a whole, I am left sitting here genuinely despondent with a feeling of utter powerlessness.

And if I as a white middle-class male feel like that, what must life be like for the Chinese woman on the bicycle?

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At 6:22 pm, Blogger Alan B said...

oh dear god.... well said!!! next stop: singapore...! you would want to see how bad an effect this can have on society... shiver! sex nettles..

At 8:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're very quick to judge the Gardaí.
Sounds like you don't know what you're talking about.
I would have loved to see the look on your face when you found out she wasn't an ex-fellow employee.

At 9:45 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@Alan - totally agree, I'm always reminded of the Stanford prison experiment where volunteers were randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards, and within a short amount of time the 'guards' started spontaneously acting in a brutal and sadistic way towards the 'prisoners', there's something about feeling that you have power over another human being that seems to intrinsically corrupt many who find themselves in that situation. And the more power you give ordinarily good folks, as the saying goes, the more corrupt they inevitable become.

@anonymous - I disagree on the "quick to judge thing", my experiences in many capacities with the Gardai over the last twenty years or so have led me to believe that while there are many good men and women in the force, with a strong desire to help and protect their fellow citizens, there is something about the role of the force itself in our society and the way Gardai are trained to interact with the citizenry that is deeply flawed. And I make no apologies at all for always assuming that in any contentious interaction between a garda and a member of a minority group that the garda is in the wrong, or is at best approaching the situation in the wrong way.

As for the "fellow employee" thing, I was pretty ashamed later that I only felt empowered to intervene on her behalf once I felt I had something like the resources of the company to fall back on. If I hadn't believed that to be there, my own sense of powerlessness would have prevented me from even attempting to intercede on her behalf.

At 12:34 am, Anonymous belgravy said...

all i can say.....nwa got there first


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