The debate over how to create a nonsectarian, equal opportunity police force, in the North of Ireland doesn’t seem to interest the American media. We do hear, when we hear anything at all, that the new N.I. police force will consist of an equal number of Catholics and Protestants, as well as a small percentage of “minorities.” This will secure a reasonable balance of religious loyalties and, therefore, prevent the abuses of the greatly discredited and now defunct RUC.
On the surface, this appears to be a reasonable way to go about creating a new, fair-minded, police force. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder just what and whom this ecumenical organization will be sworn to protect. Will the police in the North swear to protect ordinary working people from greed-driven international corporations, unscrupulous slumlords, and developers who would like to turn Ireland into a squalid shopping center? Will this new police force be willing to arrest politicians who use their power and prestige to promote violence, to despoil the environment, and to keep the working class in perpetual economic servitude?
What might the new N.I. police force do if the crooks and con artists and war profiteers who run so much of the world decide to party in Belfast? If ordinary people take to the streets to demand better housing, adequate medical care, higher wages, will the police fire rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition at these protestors? If people march to demand that Shell Oil and other avaricious corporations be banned from doing business in Ireland, will the police join the marchers to preserve their nation’s natural beauty, or will they follow orders to disperse the crowds so that business as usual—pay offs, zoning by the envelope, corruption of public officials—can continue unabated?
I spent many years on the mean streets of New York City. My neighborhood was swarming with heroin addicts, thieves, muggers, prostitutes and other outlaws. But the people I feared most were the armed men in blue. Everyone knew the police department was corrupt. It was obvious that cops took payoffs from drug dealers, prostitutes, and other hustlers. New York’s “finest” supposedly represented the law, but in fact they were an occupying army. Question their authority and you might wind up on the wrong side of their nightstick (I did.) Challenge their right to verbally and physically assault people, and you might be charged with “resisting arrest” and hauled off to jail. If you happened to be gay, black, Latino, you could expect to be stopped on the street, insulted, frisked, and beaten.
Two of my children live in New York City, a town that has changed a great deal over the years while remaining, essentially, the same. The very rich are getting richer. Developers, a euphemism for white-collar warlords, are on a kick out the poor, and move in the well-to-do, binge. It is becoming increasingly difficult for working families to survive on paltry wages. People with money to invest are flocking to the city, buying buildings and condominiums, driving up rents, contributing to the exodus of poor New Yorkers to more affordable towns and cities.
New York’s police department is now a multi-cultural—Chinese, Vietnamese, African, Latino, European. Tens of thousands of young men and women sworn to protect the Constitution and preserve social order in a city of more than nine million people. I do not doubt the idealism of these police officers, any more than I would question the motives of someone who wants to work for the newly formed police force in N. Ireland. Yet regardless of how New York City’s police officers might feel about their career, their real job is to protect the right of CEO’s to make as much money in one day as the average worker makes in one year. Their job is to assure that when robber barons gather to discuss new ways to exploit the natural resources of undeveloped or developing countries, they can do so in the comfort of first-class hotels, surrounded by sycophants and servants. Their job is to support and protect those who benefit the most from a violent, racist, and terminally corrupt system.
The United States of America appears to be obsessed with the idea of “law and order,” yet the carnage from handguns continues, there’s an epidemic of child abuse, rape, armed robbery, and gang violence. Our politicians insist that we need more armed police on our streets, harsher sentences for those who break the law, and more prisons. We claim to be a “nation of laws,” when in fact we are a nation of nightsticks, guns, teargas, and jail cells.
Abolishing the RUC in N. Ireland was long overdue; however, no matter what kind of uniform a new police force might wear, or what kind of weapons its members might carry, the police will inevitably carry out the orders of the political, social, and economic elite. Without religious, social, economic, and political equality, this new police force will become little more than an armed enforcer for the rich and powerful.
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