By Basil Fernando –
The Last three weeks or so have witnesses, perhaps, the most significant global protests against police brutality. The importance of these protests is that they are not mere incidents within a particular country. They involved many other countries.
A further significance is that, as the protest-were going on, they have surfaced reflections of import. And discussions on the issue of police brutality going beyond the responsibility of individual officers involved in these brutalities. It is based on matters of a far profounder significance, such as structural issues.
Three (3) structural issues involve are, the nature of the policing organizations, the ideologies on which the Police are being indoctrinated, and the legalization of brutality. These are accomplished by limiting the power of legal institutions to examine these acts of brutality as pure MURDER or other forms of criminality.
Further, on the structural level, this has brought to the question the nature of political establishment that has created and maintained conditions making such brutality possible. This implies that the political system requires a Police System that resorts easily to extreme forms of violence-such as murder and serious harm. This political point of view is of profound importance. Without addressing this issue, it is not possible to develop any comprehensive method of dealing with the structural problems within the Police System itself. Ultimately, it enables many policemen to behave in a most brutish manner.
Tied in with the political system, are the problems of the very nature of social perceptions that are prevalent in the societies within which such brutalities take place. The victims of such brutalities are almost always from low income and minority groups. The issue of society’s willingness to use extreme forms of coercion to suppress these social groups needs to be carefully scrutinized. And if the discourse that has begun now in the streets, and has spread into discussion circles, is to produce some long-lasting impact.
All such concerns point to serious moral issues. Issues on the relationships that exist between the State and the citizens, the citizens among themselves and lastly law-enforcement agencies in relation to the State and to the society.
If the permissiveness for use of extreme forms of brutality on people has come from self-understanding of law- enforcement agencies powers and responsibilities. Then, this implies a certain friction between the two entities. They would be the State and law-enforcement agencies on one side with Society and law-enforcement agencies on the other side.
The Structure of Beliefs
All these are matters of thoughtful importance, if one is to consider the fundamental structure of beliefs, norms and standards that lay the foundation of a civilized society. Police brutality therefore is NOT a marginal, behavioral aspect that takes place within a society. It is in fact an expression of human behavior, acutely disturbing, found in our societies.
Around these are certain fundamental issues which have developed since the latter part of the 20th century. They continue today with greater sophistication in this new century. We are referring to the issue on the rules relating to murder. Recent times have seen extreme forms of relativism developed on the issue of murder. These considerations have now permeated all societies. They have created deep levels of disturbance around the concern for the protection and preservation of LIFE itself.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw emergence of movements which freely advocated the idea that certain causes justify even enormously, large-scale-killing. In fact, the date may even go back a few centuries earlier with Western societies. The whole enterprise of empire-building was based on the idea that in the practice of colonialism, large number of killings of inhabitants was permissible. Examples are numerous when many countries were under the yoke of colonialism. India provides one of the most glaring examples. Under the control of the British Empire, millions of people were massacred solely for controlling lands and acquiring monopoly rights for trade.
In the 20th century, experimentations such as Fascism represented by Germany, Italy and Japan were also based on the same conception of justification of murder in the persuit of national interest. Socialism also foolowed a similar ideological trend. Russia, many countries of Eastern Europe and even a nation like Cambodia saw massive numbers of killings with the idea of bringing about a better society!
Meanwhile, the idea of the justification of murder was also spread into the very notion of the expansion of the market economy itself. Many wars that have been fought with the deaths of millions were a product of this ideological development. The growth of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and biochemical weapons, are similarly based on an attention to the justifiability of murder. Therefore, largescale, mass-murder is permissible to achieve if it is thought of as a higher goal. Other forms of committing murder by destruction of the natural environment were involved. In this is included global warming and climate change among other activities. They cause massive damage to the environment resulting in death or serious harm to human beings.
Added to All of these is the concept of terrorism which believes: the murder of others is justified from an ideological, personal point-of-view based on either nationalism or religion.
The idea of national security that was developed under the pretext of dealing with terrorism was also premised on the same idea–the right to murder those considered to be a threat to national security.
This document is merely a short summary of enormous changes that have taken place in our world today. One’s of standard, legal and moral norms. It has taken place globally, in some countries more intensely than in others. Relative differences apart, basic ideological positions that dominate the world at this moment are based on the notion that there is no absolute right to life.
NO ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO LIFE…..
Behind the masses that protest in the streets, especially in the developed countries, are their subconscious or un-conscious realizations of a world that has gone fundamentally wrong. If this aspect of the meaning, of the Right to Life, above all other considerations, is not brought to a very significant position in these discussions, then the achievements of these movements will be incomplete.
The OVERALL FOUNDATION, shaken with the relativisation of the notion of the Right to Life, needs to be brought into the highest priority levels in terms of modern discourses. In taking such a stance, hundreds of protests taking place spontaneously all over the world will most certainly achieve the transformations they desire.