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The police and liberalism of fear


2:42 pm - July 25th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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In his later political writings Bernard Williams advocated an approach to political thinking that he called – following Judith Shklar – “The Liberalism of Fear”.

At its root this approach prioritises an issue which is taken to be the fundamental problem of politics: that of controlling, limiting and ordering violence between individuals and groups so as to allow peaceful relations to exist, and human achievement to flourish.

For Williams the modern liberal western state is a particularly successful – though by no means unproblematic – solution to this basic problem. The modern state, via army, police and other controlled institutions successfully monopolises legitimate violence within a given territory (to borrow Max Weber’s famous definition).

However Williams was acutely aware that the state, although in successful cases the solution to the fundamental problem, can and often does become part of the fundamental problem, with disastrous consequences. Some modern examples can be plucked from thousands to illustrate: Mugabe’s reign of terror in Zimbabwe; the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia; Pinochet’s neo-fascist thuggery and murder in Chile.

We in the democratic post-war West are generally very lucky. Our states broadly desist from becoming part of the fundamental problem, and out of the liberalism of fear great social achievements are made possible in the safe-space of non-violence modern states guarantee.

But sometimes things go wrong.

Most of the justifiably outraged comment on the CPS’s decision to exonerate the police over Ian Tomlinson’s death focuses on the insult and injury to Tomlinson’s family, and (the evident lack of) police accountability. I’ve no intention of undermining any of that.

But I do want to draw attention to what might be termed the underlying political philosophy of what’s gone wrong here.

The CPS could have decided that police in riot gear attacking innocent people for no reason is a manifest instance of the state becoming part of, rather than the solution to, politics’ basic problem.

Accordingly the CPS could have moved to atone for the attack on Tomlinson by seeking to hold Harwood to account in a way which would show that the British state does not license hostility against its citizens, and that the attack on Tomlinson was a regrettable unlicensed rogue incident. Similarly, by seeking the prosecution of Harwood a meaningful attempt to (re)build a relationship of trust and respect between the state and its citizens could have been undertaken.

Instead the CPS, coolly and in retrospect, decided to effectively support Harwood’s actions and in the process has served to retroactively license them and have the state claim them as its own.

It’s obvious that Britain is still a vastly safer and more desirable place to live than all those times and places where the state has wholesale become the problem and not the solution.

But here’s the rub: although it is a cliché one of the hallmarks of civilisation and advanced, desirable society is firstly that the state does not attack innocent citizens. But secondly – and just as importantly – in cases where such attacks do take place they must be retrospectively disowned, apologised for, and meaningfully regretted. Measures must be taken to prevent their repeat occurrence, and justice must be delivered to victims and survivors.

By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state and its citizens, and done so by official mandate.

And thanks to the CPS’ decision Britons should consider themselves living in a land that is less civilised and desirable than they might otherwise have thought.

Not, however, that all this should actually come as a surprise. Britain already possesses a long and ignoble history of unaccountable violence and murder of citizens at the hands of the state’s agents. The liberalism of fear, indeed.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Crime

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Reader comments


The decision by the CPS was unfortunate, but many, many criminals get off on similar technicalities every week without the slightest murmur from the left. Harwood got off because a pathologist was incompetent. So did a number of other criminals over the past couple of years – can you name any of them? The CPS didn’t prosecute for Common Assault because of a statutary time limit that applies to all suspects in all circumstances. So have tens of thousands of criminals in the past few decades. Can you name any of them either?

This is incompetence not conspiracy and it doesn’t tell us very much at all about Western Democracy.

Neil @1, are you suggesting that we shouldn’t complain about state employees committing prima facie unlawful acts of violence and not being held to account if we haven’t complained about other people committing prima facie unlawful acts of violence and not being held to account?

@1

Add in the lies by the police after the event and the ludicrous amount of time the CPS took, as well as leaving it too long for Tomlinson’s family to make a private prosectution, it all looks very fishy indeed. As pretty much everyone except the Government and the Met (surprise!) agree.

Oh and @Paul Sagar

The CPS could have decided that police in riot gear attacking innocent people for no reason is a manifest instance of the state becoming part of, rather than the solution to, politics’ basic problem.

Except that the police have always been part of the problem[1]. They were founded to suppress working class resistance for goodness sake.

[1] Usual caveat about there being some decent coppers out there, but as an institution is rotten from the inside.

Neil the brownshirt is a very good example of why the police keep getting away with their thuggery. There are always little jack booted Neil’s who love the idea of a police state and are willing to jump to their defence no matter what outrage they have committed.

The rich elites see the police as their own private little security force. They are not unhappy at the public thinking that if you take to the streets you may be killed. It keeps the moronic browns shirts like Neil happy too.

6. Charlieman

OP, Paul Sagar: “The modern state, via army, police and other controlled institutions successfully monopolises legitimate violence within a given territory (to borrow Max Weber’s famous definition).”

It appears that the modern state isn’t even able to maintain a monopoly on violence and coercion. Every shopping precinct has some rent-a-cops, every night club a bouncer and somehow government has allowed wheel clamp extortion to become legal. I would not argue that there is no role for private services to protect property rights, but many of us would say that the state grants them too much protection.

By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state and its citizens, and done so by official mandate. And thanks to the CPS’ decision Britons should consider themselves living in a land that is less civilised and desirable than they might otherwise have thought.

Yes, exactly.

@1 Neil: The decision by the CPS was unfortunate, but many, many criminals get off on similar technicalities every week without the slightest murmur from the left. Harwood got off because a pathologist was incompetent. So did a number of other criminals over the past couple of years – can you name any of them?

Irrelevant. If you look over the 20th century, the vast majority of homicides were caused by states. Therefore, it makes sense for a citizen to be more concerned by violence from the state than by violence from some random thug, because violence from the state is more common, worldwide.

In Britain the state is mostly benign; it’s certainly nothing like as bad as the Khmer Rouge or any of the other totalitarian states of recent history. Let’s keep it that way — and one way to do so is for the citizenry to be unceasingly vigilant about human rights abuses by the state.

Oh and by the way Neil, you’re not entitled to complain about this, because there exist other things that you haven’t complained about!

9. Charlieman

@8 Philip Hunt: “Therefore, it makes sense for a citizen to be more concerned by violence from the state than by violence from some random thug, because violence from the state is more common, worldwide.”

But I live in the UK, and when I go on holiday I ensure that I stay away from political demos. The possibility that I am attacked by a thug is thus reduced to incidental street crime or UK state violence.

Violence by UK government agencies is abnormal and most people do not experience it first hand. Non-violent criminals are not duffed up by the police or prison officers on a regular basis. Almost 100% of people placed in custody are not murdered by state officials. Your worldwide figure is based on genocide elsewhere.

The UK government record is not pretty. Members of the IRA were executed in Gibralter. People die in police cells after a duffing up by coppers. These are abnormal events and we are shocked by the abnormality.

In the Tomlinson case, we are appalled by the failure to prosecute for *any* crime.

Have you read any newspaper reports about coppers who disguise their badge numbers who were disciplined? Or the colleagues who turn a blind eye to them being ticked off? Start off by controlling the police — by requiring identity and responding immediately to serious complaints.

10. the a&e charge nurse

When we talk about the police force perhaps we should be clear about which one we are talking about – Inspector Gadget reckons there are three?
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/7901878/Free-the-police-to-tackle-the-criminals-on-Britains-streets.html

It goes without saying that if the leadership is rotten then this may well spiral down to the rank and file?

Gadget claims; The first is the politically driven caste of senior officers, who – under New Labour – spent their lives rushing to publicise the Home Office’s latest wheezes about “Partnership Working”, “Community Engagement” or “Citizen Focus”. The Chief Inspector’s report reveals that, in 2009 alone, some 2,600 pages of guidance were issued. That may astonish you, but for years, these complex, and often contradictory, agendas have been spilling out of the top-floor offices.

The second police force is largely made up of people who have never arrested anyone: supervisors, auditors, accountants, diversity consultants, health and safety advisers, monitoring groups and crime managers. We have more people in these roles than out on the streets fighting crime. Of the 100 or so emails in my inbox, they will be responsible for two thirds: demands to tick these boxes, check this, find out that, visit so-and-so. Rarely will this assist in the apprehension of a criminal: it’s far more about ensuring we have met a target, or are complying with a pledge, or haven’t missed some arcane detail that will move an offence from one column to another.

That leaves those of us in the third police force, who do the protecting and serving: the patrol and neighbourhood officers who respond to emergency calls (and many not-so emergency calls); the CID; and the custody teams who deal with prisoners.
On my BCU – what used to be a division – we have a “Policing Pledge” team, comprising a Chief Inspector, an Inspector, and two PCs whose sole job is to monitor the delivery of the policing pledges that Theresa May has just abolished. (The unit is staying put, under a different name.) Then there is the Criminal Justice Unit – an office of 22 civilians who manage the through-flow of case files between the police, Crown Prosecution Service and courts. There’s also the Area Crime Management Unit – three sergeants and a mixed set of 15 civilians and PCs whose job is purely to manage the crime reporting system: checking the paperwork, allocating crime reports, classifying and filing cases. Then there are the chief clerks – one each for Finance, Estates and Admin, each of whom has four staff.

Contrast this with our minimum manning levels on the emergency response team – the people who come out when you call 999. For our area of 300 square miles, we have 16 PCs, one sergeant and one inspector. And these are burdened by “Partnership Working”, box-ticking and a shift system which, according to this week’s report, means that they might only work 171 days a year.
I haven’t started on the paperwork, which means that dealing with a drunken idiot who glasses your sergeant in a pub can easily take six or seven hours, even if he admits the offence. (In Canada, it would take 30 minutes.) This idiot is also a “customer” to be “engaged with” and “reached out” to. We must treat him with respect at all times, and ascertain his views as to the comfort levels of his overnight stay, even though he just wanted to hurt someone, spend the night in a cell, choose one of the dishes on our custody menu, decline a duty solicitor and walk away with a fixed penalty notice that he will probably never pay.

11. Matt Munro

@ 8 “Therefore, it makes sense for a citizen to be more concerned by violence from the state than by violence from some random thug, because violence from the state is more common, worldwide.”

Rubbish – me (and the average LC reader) are far more likely to have been/to be victim of violence from a random thug than from the police.

10 . the a&e charge nurse

And what is your excuse for the miss carriages of justice in the 1970s? Or the 1980’s? What is the excuse for the Hillsborough police debacle?

Blaming box ticking on New Labour will not wash. The police do not respect the idea of policing by consent. They see themselves as an occupying army ready to put down any resistance. Under Thatcher they became the states little thugs ready to dish it out whenever their masters wanted a few cracked heads. The first act that Thatcher past when she came to power in 1979 was to give the police a big pay rise. And then to increase their housing allowance. A signal was sent, we are on your side and when the time comes we will expect you to return the favour.

13. a&e charge nurse

[12] I am not making an excuse for the police, and certainly not for the actions of the individual officer in the Tomlinson case – BUT, and I think it is an important but, we should also be prepared to consider important contextualising factors?

Gadet presents a picture of a fractured organisation (rather than a simple monolith) and such details might be worth considering when wider political points are being made.

When something goes wrong in an area where some things are bound to go wrong (be it a coppers beat, hospital ward, or social services department) there may well be individual culpability at the end of a long chain – but I can tell you now that sacking (or prosecuting) the odd copper, nurse or social worker will do little to eradicate the circumstances that contributed to the problem in the first place.

The difference is that errors in judgement, lapses in standards, or plain old human frailty can have very serious consequences in some lines of work?

As happens once every few months or so, I agree with Sally. We might have been better off if the police had never been established.

A&E @13 seems spot on. And, “The difference is that errors in judgement, lapses in standards, or plain old human frailty can have very serious consequences in some lines of work?” is exactly why I think police officers should be held to account when they have prima facie committed an unlawful act.

As for claims by certain commenters that “all the police are the same”, “they are all thugs” etc, what a load of rubbish.

“The decision by the CPS was unfortunate, but many, many criminals get off on similar technicalities every week without the slightest murmur from the left.”

You mean criminals are seen physically beating a person with clear video evidence to back it up and the CPS drags its feet past the 6 month mark for common assault charges, every week? Gosh.

@14 – It would be brilliant – At lopng last I could firebomb all those ‘orrible pediatricians

@16 – No they dont. But never the less “many, many criminals get off on similar technicalities every week without the slightest murmur from the left” is still a valid point.

Charlieman @6,

You write:

“It appears that the modern state isn’t even able to maintain a monopoly on violence and coercion. Every shopping precinct has some rent-a-cops, every night club a bouncer and somehow government has allowed wheel clamp extortion to become legal. I would not argue that there is no role for private services to protect property rights, but many of us would say that the state grants them too much protection.”

– But this doesn’t affect the “State has a monopoly on legitimate violence” thought. For the State licenses these other actors (can’t be a doorman without an SIA badge etc), and if it wanted to, could easily smack them down. These other actors are permitted by the State, and the State is ultimately the final arbiter.

18. It’s not a valid point at all. We all recognise the frailties in the legal system when it comes to obtaining absolute proof. Those like me are perhaps thankful of those frailties as I would rather not have someone being able to have their life ruined because of a police/CPS “hunch” rather than convincing evidence that can be confidently taken to a court.

But in this instance we’re not talking about a hunch. We’re talking about a very much identifiable, very much evident as seen through the video that was taken at the time, crime that was committed. The crime at the very least is ABH, my understanding is that there is ZERO disagreement between the experts about injuries arising from an assault.

The CPS dragged their feet on this, they let the whole investigation play out so that they wouldn’t have to charge anyone for anything. The Manslaughter/Murder angle is rather besides the point, though Unity on here has made a very good case for how the CPS could have easily brought the manslaughter charge against the officer due to the circumstances, regardless of whether there was a direct link to the death from the officer’s actions or not.

Dave,

@16 – No they dont. But never the less “many, many criminals get off on similar technicalities every week without the slightest murmur from the left” is still a valid point.

What is the ‘valid point’ being made here?

I can understand the outcry over this verdict. I agree that this is of greater import than the criminals let off under “similar technicalities every week without the slightest murmur” because it is the state mechanism we’re dealing with here and the adage ‘the higher up the tree, the blunter the saw’ should apply.

However I look more so at how these dominoes have fallen. The main charge was that of manslaughter, yet the contradictory medical evidence left it unlikely to lead anywhere. As such the charge of actual bodily harm was also dropped, if they couldn’t connect the death and the injury for the first charge, they certainly couldn’t do it for this. This then led to the minor common assault charge; yet all the time and evidence gathering that was aimed at the major charges led over the six-month time limit so this couldn’t be pressed.

This only left the minor misconduct charge, except what misconduct? The dropping of the first three charges meant that technically the officer had done no wrong. You can’t accuse someone of this type of misconduct without the additional charges to back it up. That’d be like failing to convict someone of criminal activity and still being able to confiscate their goods under as the Proceeds of Crime… um wait, bad example.

Anyway it just seems suspiciously neat to me.

“However I look more so at how these dominoes have fallen. The main charge was that of manslaughter, yet the contradictory medical evidence left it unlikely to lead anywhere. As such the charge of actual bodily harm was also dropped”

Why? And why do we have so many apologists for a clearly bureaucratic system in this case?

“Oh well we wanted to get him for murder, but despite having ALLLLLL the evidence in the world for possession of an illegal firearm and assault because we couldn’t link him specifically to the murder we dropped all other types of charge as well, it’s only fair in the legal sphere!”

Give me a fucking break.

@Lee 21 – “Why?” Because if they could prove ABH, then as he died it would prove manslaughter. And it works the other way around too. As they couldn’t prove a link between the incident and the death for manslaughter they can’t prove a link between that and “actual” bodily harm.

To alter your example to fit – a person legally owns a firearm and is suspected of using it to shoot and kill someone. The major charge is murder the minor charge is misuse of a firearm. If they can’t prove the murder then on what grounds can they charge for misuse?

In this case there seems to be plenty of evidence for common assault but they ran out of time so couldn’t use it, and as they couldn’t use it they had no grounds to press for the misconduct charge.

Why is there a six-month window on common assault charges, why wasn’t that the original charge with an option on ABH/manslaughter to be pressed later after a longer investigation?

25. the a&e charge nurse

[24] “Because if they could prove ABH, then as he died it would prove manslaughter” – I think this is the very point that is causing so much controversy?

I must admit I have very little knowledge of the legalities surrounding the threshold for prosecution, but according to wiki ABH, ‘encompasses those assaults which result in substantial injuries, typically requiring a degree of medical treatment for the victim’.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_occasioning_actual_bodily_harm

Ian Tomlinson was struck on the leg, twice, which was most likely to result in simple bruising – even so, I am sure there is a straightforward argument that medical attention WAS necessary to exclude potential complications such as compartment syndrome or even a hairline fracture;
http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/cybertherapist/front/lowerleg/anteriorcompart.htm

In other words in respect of this injury it seems there WAS a case of ABH to answer for – the manslaughter charge on the other hand has been complicated by medical evidence from the x3 separate post mortems?

Ian Tomlinson was pushed over and while this was wrong it is a mechanism of injury that almost never results in fatality unless there is an associated head injury, or unless the fall seriously exacerbates an existing medical condition, such as ischaemic heart disease, say (resulting in heart attack – see recent post by Unity).

Mr Tomlinson was pushed and died within minutes so it was not unreasonable for Dr Patel to consider a heart attack, neither was it unreasonable of him to attribute the 3L of abdominal fluid to ascities since the victim had a cirrhotic liver.

As far as I know none of the medical experts have identified a source of bleeding that would corroborate a torrential haemorrhage, and despite questions about Dr Patel’s competence the difference between ascities and blood is unmistakable.

Given the gravity of a manslaughter charge it does not seem unreasonable that x amount of time was required to prepare a defense – I assume it was not possible to proceed with a separate charge of ABH while the other matter was being considered?

Maybe one or two of LC’s legal commentators might have a view on it?

A&E,

In other words in respect of this injury it seems there WAS a case of ABH to answer for – the manslaughter charge on the other hand has been complicated by medical evidence from the x3 separate post mortems?

The CPS:

“Assault occasioning actual bodily harm would require the prosecution to prove that the alleged assault on Mr Tomlinson caused him actual bodily harm. So far as the push on Mr Tomlinson is concerned, the conflict in the medical evidence prevents this. If the push caused Mr Tomlinson’s death, the appropriate charge would be manslaughter, not assault occasioning actual bodily harm. If, as we have concluded, the prosecution cannot prove a causal link between the push and Mr Tomlinson’s death because of the conflict in the medical evidence, it follows that actual bodily harm cannot be proved either.”

Some info on ABH.

27. the a&e charge nurse

[26] thanks, uklibery – I must admit I’m still none the wiser though?

I have not read anything to suggest there was medical conflict about the bruising on Mr Tomlinson’s legs, bruising which must have resulted from being struck, twice, with a police baton?

The actual cause of death on the other hand remains unproven (as far as I know).

It flies in the face of common sense (and natural justice) that an ABH charge cannot be brought against somebody for hitting them with a weapon, and pushing them over from behind, even if a manslaughter charge remains less clear cut?

A&E, apparently bruising is not enough for ABH.

I do not understand it either.

It was the fact he died that complicated things. Possibly if he’d just had the injuries it might have been possible to connect the two events, however as he did die it would be difficult to prove ABH without pulling in a manslaughter charge, quash the latter under the differing medical opinions and you weaken the former.

Imagine – “You state that my client did actual bodily harm, yet such injuries as were sustained were not so great as to lead to his death. Can you demonstrate that such injuries as were found were inflicted by my client and not at some later point? Could it not be said that such injuries as found may have been a cause of Mr Tomlinson’s tragic demise and that as no such charges have been laid upon my client a charge of actual bodily harm can not be placed upon my client?”

I note that a gross misconduct hearing is back on though which could mean the officer in question is fired. Certainly a step-down from facing manslaughter charges.

Obviously stopping photographers from photographing is not on a par with beating someone but,

[Met Police Commissioner John Stephenson] admitted that he was aware of a recent disturbing incident that took place in Romford, which according to [Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Dee Doocey] represented “eight minutes of two of your officers intimidating somebody”.

She continued: “At one stage they say that they don’t need a law to stop them photographing, but much more worrying, they don’t need a law to take them away. It’s not a question in my view of… It’s so serious that it don’t think it should be somebody giving them words of advice and I don’t also agree with you that it is a question of officers using their discretion.”

“This was very black and white: Two of your officers who, despite the fact that I know you have given them guidelines because I have a copy of it, who totally disregarded them and were either so completely ignorant of the law, or decided to ignore the law – they were just going to say they knew the law better than the person they were talking to – they were very seriously intimidating. I find it quite worrying that I don’t think you are taking this quite as seriously as I think you should be.”

We asked the Met for official comment as to why, despite the numerous efforts made by Assistant Commissioner John Yates and other serving officers to get the message about photography across, such incidents kept occurring. They suggested that these incidents were a very small part of the whole story of London policing, that to expect zero incidents was unrealistic, and that when such incidents occurred, they tended to be blown up out of all proportion by the press.

An alternative explanation, suggested to us by current and recently serving police officers with whom we have spoken, is that such incidents represent a far more disturbing aspect of police culture. They suggest that a small minority of officers see the law as being “what they say it is”, and these officers are quite prepared to take their chances, on the basis that the number of times they will be caught out by being recorded is likely to be few and far between.

Obviously a minority otherwise we’d be effed, but still Not Good.

Thanks to all who expose the police and their associates for what they are which is rapeists and murderers your friends at http://www.Tomthumb.info/ Thanks.

Supporting all those who expose the Police and their friends for what they are which is rapeists and murderers al our thanks at http://www.Tomthumb.info/ thank you.


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    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  36. Dominic

    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  37. Pete Hazell

    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  38. Ceehaitch

    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  39. Rory I. Sinclair

    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  40. Ann Johnson

    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  41. Tracy Morgan

    RT @rlancefield: "By refusing to prosecute, the CPS has effectively degraded the relationship between the British state & its citizens" http://bit.ly/aUCTsI

  42. Diane Lowe

    The Police and liberalism of fear http://bit.ly/ayhV9c

  43. Dawn Lewis

    RT @MaxloweLtd :The Police and liberalism of fear http://bit.ly/ayhV9c





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