Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

The Moat in our eye

I hesitate to write about this subject, but it is a discipline to try to sort out one’s thoughts.  Perhaps a few declarations are required first.

  1. Now he is dead we do not have to refer to Raoul Moat as an “alleged” murderer; unfortunately he can no longer be brought to trial for murdering one man and maiming a policeman and his own girlfriend.  Our primary sympathies should lie with those he killed or injured.
  2. I find the idea of subscribing to a Facebook page and adding messages of support for Moat decidedly weird.  That said a substantial number subscribed to the Facebook page in order to attack the idea of messages of support.
  3. I have previously had jobs which involved liaising with the Police; I found individual policemen as civil (or uncivil) as my own colleagues.  Apart from a single speeding ticket I have never been in trouble with the police.

That said I am uneasy about the whole “event” – and unfortunately “the hunting down of the gunman Moat”, did become a media event.  I don’t subscribe to the “good riddance” reaction to Moat’s death, I would far rather have seen him taken to court and convicted as the murderer that I believe him to be.  A court case would go some way to prevent the creation of a “myth” of the “anti-hero”.

I don’t like armed police, but once someone has been killed by a gunman, it is inevitable that armed police are involved in the search.  The fact that he then went on to shoot someone who happens to be a policeman, should not further escalate that argument; if it did, we would have concerns about the hunters being out for vengeance against the hunted.  That would be an understandable, but inappropriate, motivation for the forces of law and order.

I think the police need to be more aware of the impact that their behaviour can have on the general public.  The idea of the “Dixon of Dock Green” copper is long gone, but the question should be “what replaces that view”?  I am, like others (e.g. Radio4 PM Friday 16 July 2010), disturbed by ordinary policemen (in normal times) having black boiler suits as their “standard uniform” with webbing around their waists to hold their various implements of defence and control (which could include: batons, cuffs, pepper(?) spray, and tazzars).  If they are expecting a riot or serious unrest, such a uniform may be justified, but I don’t think there has been a riot in the Northumbria Police area since the 1980s – and that was not in rural Northumberland!

I think many law-abiding people are intimidated  by such an appearance – it will not encourage co-operation with the police.  If you see a couple of robo-cops swaggering (George Bush style) down the street, you are inclined to get out of their way. If you also remember, as many in the North East do, the police appearing to be an instrument of control for a hostile London-based government hell-bent on destroying your union, your livelihood and your community, police dressed in riot control gear will not help wash away bitter deep-seated memories.

If you then see photographs of armed police behaving as if auditioning for an American cop-show (see for example: Channel 4 moat_gunman2context) your unease is further raised. Some reports said there were up to 20 armed police with their automatic rifles (and flak jackets), flanked by snarling tazzer-men, all aiming their weapons at a single man armed with a shotgun (fire twice and then you have to re-load – if you have spare ammunition?). You might perhaps feel it is an unequal situation.  So it should be – he was a fugitive.

BUT, the police response is meant to be proportionate, and the police need to ensure continuing public support.  Many will support the police “right or wrong” – they are not the people that we should be concerned about.  It is the more “critical” members of the public whose support has to retained. It is also the group George Galloway referred to, as I believe “the underclass”, that we most need to worry about. (BBC Question time 15 July 2010 – a measured contribution appreciated by most present)

Now we hear more information that ramps-up the feeling “it need not have been thus”:

  • Moat’s threats before release from Prison (Independent Website 7 July 2010)
  • Moat’s requests for Psychiatric help (ITN Website 15 July 2010)
  • Missed opportunities to apprehend Moat (Daily Telegraph Website 12 July 2010)
  • News that police from an outside constabulary used a form of high-powered Tazzar not yet approved by the Home Office, and with which they had had minimal training. (BBC News Website 13 July 2010, Daily Mail Website 17 July 2010)

A messy end.  Fortunately there will be inquiries and there is a chance that questions will be asked and lessons learnt.  I hope one of those questions will be how the police wish to be perceived by the general public.  I would rather they looked like a Police Service serving us, than as a Force for social oppression and control.

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