Truncheons, prisons and humanity

A police officer justifies his actions on 1-O: ”there are no guidelines for the use of truncheons"

SEBASTIÀ ALZAMORA
SEBASTIÀ ALZAMORA Escriptor

A Spanish riot policeman giving evidence on the baton charges against members of the public on the day of Catalonia’s independence referendum declared that he behaved as he did "because there are no guidelines covering the use of truncheons". This is a lousy argument. There are many things for which no guidelines or regulations exist, for the simple reason that whoever uses them is expected to have a modicum of common sense. As far as I am aware, waiters have no guidelines covering the use of trays, but that doesn’t mean they hit punters over the head with them, not even those who make a fuss. But when your tools of trade are weapons (truncheons, shields and guns) what is expected, in addition to common sense, is that you will avoid using them unless it is absolutely vital that you do.

And while we’re at it, we can also expect honesty and decency in the carrying out of police duties. Using the excuse that there are no guidelines covering the use of truncheons, means that what this police officer is doing is renouncing his status as a rational individual and portraying himself as someone who is unstable, someone whose behaviour is unpredictable and is capable of getting carried away in moments of tension (very little tension, in this case, since the voters did not act in a violent manner, limiting themselves to sitting on the floor or raising their hands in the air). Not to mention that those he was beating were the very same people who pay his wages and, therefore, are the ones he ought to serve.

Common sense, honesty and decency is what is expected not only from the security forces, but also, or above all, from our political leaders. In a democracy, at least. In her eventful Sunday interview with Vicent Sanchis, Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas stressed that she won’t stand for the fact her humanity was called into question ("I don’t take lessons from anyone", one of Ciudadanos’ stock-phrases) for refusing to visit the political prisoners (who she does not consider as such, but who were her colleagues in Parliament). To accuse her of inhumanity, her or anyone in her party, would technically be inaccurate, since obviously the human condition covers everything, from the best to the worst. The authoritarian, far right politicians are human too: they don’t come from another planet or belong to a different species. We would even continue to treat the worst criminal we can think of like a human being and not like something else. Which means that Arrimadas needn’t worry about her humanity, and whoever questions it is effectively approaching the issue in terms that do not make sense.

Nevertheless, what can be said of a politician who makes political capital out of the treatment of a person in prison (whoever that person may be) is that they are guilty of displaying human behaviour which is objectionable. Appealing to such base passions (such as revenge) at the expense of the lives of people who are deprived of their freedom is dragging the political debate into the gutter. Catalonia’s political prisoners have asked the leaders of Ciudadanos and the PP to visit them. Not out of humanity, but so that at least they will know what they are talking about when they lie about their
situation (1).
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Translator’s note:

(1) PP and Ciudadanos have recently complained that the political prisoners have enjoyed a special treatment since they were moved to facilities managed by the Catalan authorities.

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