This morning I read this article in the Guardian about Justin Trudeau taking the knee at an anti-racism rally. The sentence that literally made me stop reading and think, was this:
“Far too many Canadians feel fear and anxiety at the sight of law enforcement officers,” Trudeau told reporters.
How do I feel when I see policemen? The answer depends on the country.
In the UK my initial reaction is almost invariably a feeling of safety. Unless I’m doing something wrong of course! The few times during my youth that I had contact with the police, they seemed larger than life, and indestructible. And it felt like whatever was happening, things would be ok because they were there now.
Even at football matches later in life I never had a reason to fear the police, although their horses are pretty scary when they start moving.
A few years ago a friend of mine in Spain visited the UK and attended a music festival, at which he was gobsmacked to see two festival-goers, playing around with two policemen, to the point where they removed one of the policemen’s hats to try on themselves. My friend’s amazement was not just that the revellers had the balls to try such a thing, but even more so that the police were happy to play along. “Try that in Spain and you’re fucked” was the general opinion as he recounted the story to us in Barcelona.
So that’s the UK. But as indicated in the previous paragraph, the situation in Spain is very different. Here my instant reaction to seeing police on the streets is always a mixture of fear and resentment. I fear what they might do if they decide someone is breaking the law. I fear the fact that they carry loaded guns. And I resent the incidents that I’ve seen both in person and on the TV, of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.
Many years ago I attended a football match in Barcelona between Bayern Munich and Manchester United. As we made our way to the stadium the police were herding the United fans along a very narrow “corridor” of the street, leaving a huge space open for no apparent reason. As I’d just returned from South America I decided to try out my Spanish and ask why. The reply was a disinterested and rude “Porque sí” (i.e. “Because”).
That experience sums up the “them and us” environment that exists in Spain between the police and the public.
As for other countries. The police in South America were terrifying, but I was out of my comfort zone there anyway.
As for the USA, I am fairly sure that I would feel the same level of fear as I do in Spain – not least because of the same “all police carry guns” situation.
Of course, the UK police are capable of behaving badly too. But it speaks volumes that when UK officers have been sent abroad along with English football fans to help police them, the results are much better.
The police should make us feel safe. Not afraid.
Thanks to unsplash.com for the image