You Don’t Mind If We Keep These, Do You?

February 8, 2011

Maybe I was a little preoccupied last week, what with decorating the place for our Super Bowl party, ushering in the year of the rabbit and getting all hot and bothered about that revolution over there in Egypt, but it seems to me that the police services’ matter-of-fact announcement that they had decided to keep those sound cannon thingies they got for the G20 confab last summer went kind of unnoticed. Catherine Porter took an impassioned stance against the decision over at the Star on Friday. But that seems to have been about it from the mainstream press.

Maybe it’s not that big a deal, the police still a little on the hot seat for their (man)handling of protesters at the G20 meeting, deciding to keep 4 Long Range Acoustic Devices for the bargain basement price of $30, 000. Two of them will be used for ‘hailing’ practices only, one by the marine unit and the other lent out to the fire department. The other two will be tucked away just in case.

In case of what, you ask? If the police didn’t feel the need to use the LRADs during the G20, under what circumstance exactly do they forsee needing them in the future? I think one of the takeaway lessons from the G20 was not that the police required more crowd control weaponry at their disposal. Restraint seemed to be more in order and it’s hard to imagine how giving them access to an apparatus “originally conceived to support the protection and exclusion zones around U.S. Navy warships” is going to encourage any semblance of moderation or self-control. How will they know it works if they don’t try it out every now and then?

It immediately brings to mind the late, great Bill Hicks’ bit about the turkey shoot that was the Gulf War. U.S. soldiers reading from the manual as they try out the latest kill machines at their disposal. Take a moment and watch it here. And then watch this one which has nothing to do with this but it always makes me laugh. Watch it and think about the Black Eyed Peas or Christina Aguilera.

Give boys toys and they will play with them. (Sorry about the commercial before the video. Ain’t that Betty White funny?)

It seems to me the police and their chief Bill Blair could’ve used this opportunity to make a gesture of goodwill to the people they ostensibly serve and protect. To show everyone that, in fact, the police aren’t all about bully boy, military tactics and repressive measures chalk full of constitutional dubiousness. A friendly overture. A peace offering. I know, I know. It doesn’t make up for what happened last summer but at least you can rest assured that if we meet up again under similar circumstance, we’re not going to try and make your ears bleed.

Instead Chief Blair informed the Police Services Board that, along with the security cameras they received for the G20, they’d be keeping the sound cannons too. Done deal. Let’s move on to the next order of business, shall we? This elicited responses ranging from ‘shocked’ (Judi Cohen) to confusion (Councillor Nunziata… get used to that) to yet another excuse for bloviation (Councillor Thompson) on his way to handing off responsibility for making a decision.  Once more, the concept of civilian oversight mocked and slapped around a little.

Now I don’t want to go making spurious and possibly trite comparisons between what’s going on in Egypt currently and our police deciding to keep LRADs as part of their arsenal. But a security state starts somewhere. In that early mix comes an unquestioning deference toward those in positions of authority and power. If we can’t make a fuss and decide what instruments of coercion and surveillance our police are allowed to use, I’d say we’ve already handed over an uncomfortable degree of our personal sovereignty.

timidly submitted by Cityslikr