I was once a co-opted parish councillor.
This means the only election I had to win was that which involved other parish councillors, voting on who new to accept on the council in order to avoid a costly public re-election.
No. My one and only experience with representative politics was hardly a case of me, in a blaze of glory.
I did learn a couple of important things, though.
- The world is won by those with the patience, nous and downright obstinacy to read documents from beginning to end.
- The police service I was brought up to believe in, from my infancy upwards, sees itself – in its own terms – as a force much more than a service.
I think point 1 will be appreciated by many who work in corporate-like orgs – I don’t necessarily mean transnationals: we could be talking about charities or even los Indignados and Occupy just as much as any of our nearest friendly oil-polluting mega-companies.
After all, it’s the tools you use which define how you deal with the outside world; the organisational methods which ultimately determine how you express and develop your values.
All of the above use megaphone communication; all, eventually, will get involved in megaphone politics.
Quite the opposite of parish councils, I have to say. Perhaps one of their few inarguable virtues!
Point 2 from the above is, however, something which hits home rather less. Or rather more, depending I think on whether you’re white or black.
The likelihood of being picked up and asked to hand over papers in certain Western societies is apparently much higher for blacks than whites.
The chances of ending up in prison, considerably greater.
As a result, the perception so many blacks have of the police force coincides so clearly with the perception the police have of themselves. That the police believe this of themselves I know from pretty direct sources, even though I am fairly privileged white; even though I have encountered crime very infrequently; even though I have always lived in parts of the country where the police have appeared to me to represent a service and not a force.
Whilst that co-opted parish councillor I once was, I got into conversation with a local community police officer. He said to me in words similar to the below, at least on that occasion, and with my aforementioned green-fielded and grass-verged mindset clearly to the fore:
It’s true, you know: you lot, the people in places where your kind of people live … well, you see us lot as a service. But we know better: we’ve seen the thin blue line, if you like. When push comes to shove, you need us to be a force.
The relationship between force versus service? It’s complicated, as Facebookers might say.
And if it was true then, how much more so is it now! We are getting closer, surely, to a society which – once properly policed – homes in on being more and more that police state we feared for so long.
The reasons? Many, and equally complicated.
But at the root of them all, inequality it has to be.
And as a yardstick, a litmus test, a marker in the sand: where too many of us need our police officers to act as forces more than services is when inequality is at its most dangerous, its most unjust and its most unsustainable.