Feel free to criticise the police again

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I am glad to see that 10 years on from September 11, 2001, it is finally ok to criticise poor performance by police and emergency services when it happens.  The UK Prime Minister David Cameron felt it was ok to stridently criticise police performance in the London riots, and the London Met obviously were not used to it.  Closer to home the Western Australia Fire and Emergency Services Authority has reportedly been given a blast for its totally inept performance in the Roleystone fires of earlier this year in which over 70 houses were destroyed in a report by an enquiry led by ex AFP boss Mick Keelty.   The WA Cabinet won’t release the report but details leaked out on the weekend.  The performance of some emergency services in the Queensland floods of earlier this have also come in for heavy criticism.

I have high regard for people who commit themselves to public service.  I did fair stint of that myself.  But for a long time after the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 it seemed that staunch criticism of police and emergency services was unacceptable in the US, Australia and the UK and other countries.  It seemed that after any incident involving police or emergency services, the requirement was fulsome praise of all the officers involved if they performed well, or silence on the matter of their performance if they obviously performed poorly.  Criticism, especially staunch criticism of poor performance, wasn’t an acceptable option.  After the genuinely heroic deeps of the NY Police Department and especially its Fire Department on 9/11 police, fire and other emergency fire departments in the US were elevated in public estimation of their importance and commitment to public service.  They also became elevated in their own self importance.  Criticism of their performance, and especially the way they treated the public wasn’t really acceptable for a long time.

My experience from seven years of living in America was that criticism of law enforcement officers was very muted even before the 9/11.  By way of example, in 1998, when I had only been there a short while, a guy in a town in Vermont near in home in New Hampshire became demented.  He went to the altar of a church in the town seeking protection from the demons in his mind.  He had a knife but was not threatening anyone.  Police entered the church and ordered him to put the knife down.  He didn’t ever threaten them, but when he ignored their orders (he couldn’t hear them above the voices in his head) they shot him dead right at the altar.  The local paper reported this as the police doing their job, and expressed no concerns about it.  When I raised the matter with work colleagues and neighbours their reaction was the same.  The Police had done their duty and should not be criticised in any way.   After a while I became accustomed to those types of incidents in the US.  After 9/11 it got worse.

America is its own thing.  They have a complex love-hate relationship with authority, with the love part coming more to the fore after 9/11.  When I returned to live in Australia in 2004, having lived in the UK and US since 1992, I was surprised at how much the public attitude toward police and emergency services had changed.  Australian is more of a Celtic expression of British culture, whereas America is a more a Germanic expression of British culture — British culture being the confluence of Celtic, Germanic and other influences.  Australia has never had a love affair with authority — quite the opposite really.  Expressions of authority have to demonstrate their utility in Australia, otherwise they are swept aside.  But, recently I have been starting to wonder — policing (especially) and emergency services in Australia seems to be becoming more aggressive, more American, more pumped up, more self-important than it was back in the day.

So, I am glad it is ok to criticise the police and emergency services again, if they act in a capricious of arbitrary manner, 10 years after 9/11, as well as giving well deserved praise when it is due.

5 Responses to "Feel free to criticise the police again"
  1. I have never heard anyone say that Australia is more of a Celtic manifestation and Americans more of a Germanic manifestation of the original European founders, the vast majority of whom were English, than Lowland-Scots, who are primarily Germanic Angles, also some Swedes and other Brits. It could be true what you say, but please tell me how you came to that conclusion. I myself have a Celtic (Scottish-Gaelic) surname and my ancestors were northern Lowlanders from Perthshire. My mother’s side is mostly English, with some Welsh, Scottish, Scots-Irish (Scottish Borderers/Lowlanders transplanted to Ulster) and Irish. I’d say I am roughly and even mixture between Germanic (Germanic to me means not from Germany but the Indo-European (IE) tribes from the Black Sea area who mixed with the native, presumably non-Indo-European speaking upper-paleolithic survivors. This ethnic mixture, all componants being similar in lack of pigmentation, were dominated by the Nordic/Mediterranean IE’s, linguistically and culturally. The very epicenter of this Germanic ethnogenesis was Denmark and the southern and central regions of Sweden.) But the Celts and Germanics 2000 years ago were very similar, ancient Gaulish compated to Gothic is quite similar where as Gaelic to modern Swedish or English is so foreign in structure, to me looks almost non-IE. The ancient Celts in Britain were also of similar Nordic racial types, were warlike and had a far more authoritarian priesthood, the Druids who wielded far more secular power than any Germanic priestly class. I see not much difference in material culture, religion, warfare, ethics between these two Indo-European cousins. We know from all the articles coming out that the English are more Germanic than thought, but how much more and is there really much of a difference between ancient Celts or Teutons? The only thing I can see was that the Celts were Christianize (castrated) several centuries before the Anglo-Saxons and even longer before the North-Gmc Norse. This put them at a spiritual disadvantage. The pagan Angle, Dane, Jute or Swede show little pity in warfare and nothing was more honorable than battle and one earned fame and eternity by being fearless, ruthless and willing to die for his lord. It would be rather difficult for people with a Christian ethic, all other things being equal to match that. You may be right but please laborate. Ken Doig  http://www.proto-germanic.com

  2. Ken
    Reading you comment, it appears that we are agreed that British culture is the confluence of Celtic and Germanic influences.  As you obviously know, the whole of the British Isles were populated by tribes speaking the Celtic languages Bythonic A and B until the arrival of the Romans in the first century AD and then the Germanic invasions of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, some Fresians, then later the Danes, the Norwegians and the Normans — all Germanic speaking peoples (except the Normans who had taken on French since their Viking days).  
    British culture has these two faces.  The controversial bit is whether American culture shows the Germanic side of British culture and Australian culture the Celtic side.  
    I know it was a mere assertion.  I based it on personal observation — having lived in the UK for 5 years and the US for 7 years.
    When I went to live in the US I was struck be how much more Australia is like the UK than the US, and also by how Germanic the US is — which led to my observation.  
    The US is Germanic in how Calvinist it is.  Also in its complex love-hate relationship with authority — on the one had having a libertarian streak and strong sense of national independence (and exceptionalism) and on the other hand embracing authority in the form of the commitment to military service, the death penalty, love of law and order, large prison population, liberal gun ownership laws, the love of cop shows on the TV, etc.  The US is Germanic is how well organised it is.  its facility with technology and the management of complexity and its economic productivity.  Australia (and NZ and Canada) seem more Celtic in all of these things — especially the attitude to authority.  
    Cheers  Sam  

  3. Interesting post but I cannot say that I ever noticed that:

    “for a long time after the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 it seemed that staunch criticism of police and emergency services was unacceptable in ..Australia.. and other countries. “

  4. Chris
    Certainly there was plenty of criticism of police in terms of corruption — especially in Victoria.  But when things obviously went badly wrong with police and emergency services, such as the 2009 bushfire disaster, criticism was present but muted.  Same with the excessive use of force by police officers in dealing with — I am thinking especially of the inappropriate use of firearms.  There was also an acceptance of intrusive behaviour by police in Australia that I think started with 9/11.  For instance, the use of sniffer dogs in the street in Sydney.  

  5. I guess it is hard to prove. Perhaps you are right. I certainly notice that once Australia committed to Iraw, all of a sudden there was way less criticism of the policy, perhaps becuase it would be seen as disloyal to the troops. And now I recall, the teenager with a knife who was shot a couple of years back by three polcie in attendance. There was some kind of enquiry but criticism was…”muted” as you say. The police spokeman argued that it was justified, so as to reduce the risk to his members. I nearly disgorged by dinner. Police are now apparently allowed to place their own safety above all considerations, including the life of a 15 year old!

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