Policing, Policies and the Polis

The Coronavirus saga continues. As an older friend of mine – a healthy and vigorous late-septuagenarian – put it to me recently, he’s not sick of the virus, but he’s sick of the virus. As are we all.

Doug Ford is warning of ‘enhanced measures’ to contain the spread of infection, whatever that ominous and Jacobean term might imply. His experts have claimed we have already ‘saved’ 100,000 lives by the measures already in place, and, presumably, we could save hundreds of thousands more lives, if even stricter measures are foisted upon us.

Keep in mind that none of us, not even the best of doctors, really saves lives, except in an analogical manner. Rather, we may delay death, but only for another day, in God’s good providence. This is usually a good thing, but there does come a point where death may be delayed no longer, and we must accept death, ironically, as a fact of life. Each and every day, about 150,000 people die across the planet – and at certain times and epochs, many more. We mourn the loss, but have learned to accept it, even place the end of life within a theological context of joy, of entrance into eternal life.

Frankly, I don’t know how they know got the 100,000 figure – extrapolating from Italy, one suspects. How does one prove a highly complex effect B, from not doing action A, in circumstances that differ from A and B? Britain just reduced its own figure of fatalities by 67%, a margin of error, to say the least. And given how much we don’t know, how many factors have been – deliberately or not – obfuscated, fudged, correlated, hidden under numerous other causes, who’s to make such outlandish predictions, and base draconian public policies upon them, with no end in sight?

Pull thyself, dear reader, from the panic-stricken images on the telly and internet on this memorial of Saint Isidore, and calmly read over this article here, amongst any others of its ilk, at least to gain a broader and more balanced perspective on this crisis.

One primary element in this balance is to avoid what I alluded to in that initial podcast, the formation, in our collective panic, of a police state, already incipient in our country, with weaponized, militarized dark-sun-glassed officers – they even, like Corey Hart, seem to wear such sunglasses at night. And is it just me, or do they all seem to have shaved or close-cropped heads, at least, those of the male persuasion – cruising around in their semi-armoured vehicles, already menacing enough.

Robert Peel, the founder of what we now know as modern policing in Britain in 1829, famously declared, ‘the police are the public, and the public are the police’, as their name implies (police from ‘polis’, the city). Hence, he had them dress them in civilian blue, as opposed to (then) militaristic red. Hence, the lovable English ‘bobbies’, who were not allowed to be armed with guns, that is, until quite recently. The police were not to be against the public, but for them, one of them, with the assurance that civil liberties, our hard-fought rights and freedoms, would not only be respected, but protected. It was against hard-boiled criminals that the police were founded.

Yet, even before this crisis, we have had the increasing multiplicity of niggling laws across this nation issued by nannying legislators eager to stamp out every possible source of harm or risk – of course, excluding abortion and euthanasia, and all sorts of more recent evils. Yet, here they are, bringing the hammer down, on such crimes as not stopping for a full three seconds at stop signs; not wearing a bike helmet or seatbelt; coiffing an ale on your fishing boat on a remote lake; driving a few kilometres over the frustratingly slow speed limits on our highways, that no one, let us be honest, obeys, not least the officers themselves; vague ‘distracted driving’ laws that are enforced with subjective discretion (cell phone in your coffee holder? Charged with possible use); and now alleged ‘hate crimes’, where one can be arrested for speaking what is simply the truth. Some of the modern ‘bobbies’ in Britain just dyed a local lovely azure blue swimming spot – and such spots are rare in Britain – jet black, so to inhibit potential bathers from taking a dip, and, yes, breaking out of their prison – excuse me – their quarantined homes.

Police are increasingly seen not as our friends and fellow citizens, but a class apart, a brotherhood, cruising around quite literally looking for trouble.

Conspiratorial? Perhaps, but I’m sure many readers share my sentiments. The first thing one thinks of when a police car approaches on the highway is, ‘what am I doing wrong’, even if we’re doing nothing particularly wrong.

To give the police unprecedented powers to keep every citizen under house arrest for an indefinite period, extending, perhaps, into months, is, quite literally, an evil, that far transcends any evil a virus could do – and the evil of this virus, taking the fancy coloured projection graphs with some degree of doubt, does not seem to be all that debilitating to most – with all due respect for those for whom it is and has been. After all, if an old coddled codger like Prince Charles can survive with a bit of bed rest, then, it seems, most can survive with the same, or less. And what evidence there is, says so, for it seems 99.9% of those afflicted with this virus have recovered and will recover – yet here we are, dismantling what is left of civilization – Western and otherwise. There are more balanced, sane and, shall we say, healthy approaches, to protect the vulnerable, while preserving some level of sane society.

Yet there is our tyrant-in-waiting Trudeau threatening to bring in the military to help the understaffed police keep us all soon locked within our homes, or, as I wrote on behalf of all-too-many without even a home, inside fetid, un-air-conditioned apartments, in the sweltering heat of a smog-infested Toronto summer. How many armed personnel do you need to control every movement of every citizen in your nation? No wonder Trudeau not long ago expressed his admiration for the totalitarian regime of China, where they can ‘get things done’ without bothering with trifles such as democracy, parliaments, the rule of law, the rights of free citizens and other treasured traditions.

On an ironic note, today is the anniversary of the founding in Germany in 1925 of the SS, the Schutzstaffel – the ominously titled ‘Protection Squadron’. I’m not saying our police are the new SS, but the point is that once police are given powers over citizens they should never have, it’s real difficult to reign them in, or even take them back. The police are getting quite used to tracking our every move, with all the technology now to do so, and what’s to prompt them ever to stop? And who’s to say whatever the next crisis may be? Another virus? A terror threat? Climate change?

It’s also difficult, nearly impossible, to mitigate draconian public policies, and the habits they engender. A people immersed in fear, not least fear of each other, is not a recipe for any healthy and flourishing society.

As I mentioned, we should beware the short and long term effects of enforced indoors isolation, on families, on single and lonely people, on children – so in need of the outdoors, fresh air, sunshine, exercise; on workers; on our collective mental and physical health; depression, lassitude – already setting in – economic collapse, insurmountable debt, socialized everything.

Talk about collapsing the health care system; we are in proximate danger of collapsing the entire system.

And this is before we get to the spiritual effects, the capitulation of the Church – and more on that in a later post – the lack of the sacraments, the Eucharist, the Mass, Confession, even Baptism and Marriages have been forbidden in my own diocese for the foreseeable future, all when they – where they are needed – could be done quite ‘safely’ with a good and healthy degree of ‘security’.

Ah well, as I wrote to someone this morning, we Catholics should take this, for now in this Holy Week at least, as penance for our sins, and atonement for the world, and use the time as best we might, in prayer, reading, reflection, music, exercise, even rest, along with fellowship as we are able. We can use this as a time to grow stronger, trusting in God and His providence, to come forth, a purified Church and people.

I’m not sure how that will all play out, even in my own life, but we may trust, and keep up the good fight of the Faith, so that we may hold our heads high upon Christ’s return.