Polices

I’ve had a few encounters with police recently.

The first was a stop and account while delivering newsletters round the back of the high street, dressed as a heroin addict (pale and unwashed in my weekend house clothes). I think it was appropriate.

The second time I was in the library at an event on Claybury Park and Hospital organised by Barkingside 21 and a gent fell ill (he did recover, I understand). As I dialled 999 I was told that somebody else had already made a call. I thought I didn’t press Call, then things got hectic and my phone was on silent because of the presentations. We heard sirens on the roundabout, but no ambulance came. Turns out the sirens had screeched to a halt outside my house. The emergency services had been calling and calling to find out if I was in trouble and when I hadn’t picked up the police had matched my number and driven hell for leather to my home. My neighbour, whose door I had shouted through as I left for the library, told them where I was and then called me. You can imagine I felt terrible – there are so many complaints about over-policing and I go and do that. But I was encouraged that if people in trouble dial 999 and then find themselves unable to speak, the police will look for them.

But although the author of this post on dragnets of London is more interested in his own posturing than writing solidly about what he claims the police are doing, it’s worth a salutary read in the light of this leaked memo to police chiefs, dated 5 August 2010 and signed by the chief of staff for French interior minister Brice Hortefeux:

“Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority,” the memo reads. “It is down to the préfect [state representative] in each department to begin a systematic dismantling of the illegal camps, particularly those of the Roma.””

From today’s press briefing by Viviane Reding, Justice Minister and Vice President of the EU Commission:

“During a formal meeting with French ministers Eric Besson and Pierre Lellouche, the Commission – Commissioner Malmström and myself – received political assurances that specific ethnic groups had not been targeted in France. Our doubts remained. This is why last Tuesday, following discussion in the Commission college, I sent a further formal letter to French minister Besson to ask for additional details, which should be sent to the Commission swiftly.

I can only express my deepest regrets that the political assurances given by two French ministers officially mandated to discuss this matter with the European Commission are now openly contradicted by an administrative circular issued by the same government.

The role of the Commission as guardian of the Treaties is made extremely difficult if we can no longer have confidence in the assurances given by two ministers in a formal meeting with two Commissioners and with around 15 senior officials on the table from both sides.

And ladies and gentlemen, this is not a minor offence in a situation of this importance. After 11 years of experience in the Commission, I would even go further: This is a disgrace.

Let me be very clear: Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe. It is incompatible with the values on which the European Union is founded. National authorities who discriminate ethnic groups in the application of EU law are also violating the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which all Member States, including France, have signed up to.”

Now is the time for strategic litigation.

Post-script: I am intolerant of hatred of the police from the kind of people who would look for diversity in any other group of workers. My father-in-sin used to be an East London sergeant. Other than a love for uniform and adventure in equal measure, he joined because he has a strong sense of right and wrong, a protective streak and a desire to see justice done. He policed the Brixton riots, the Iranian siege and the Libyan siege, among other incidents. He is a discerning and forbearing man, curious, sharp as a tack, with many unbelievably funny stories and some horrifying ones. Nothing would have persuaded him to target an ethnic group. I wish I could be so confident he wouldn’t be commanded to.

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