by Philip Ferguson
Yesterday, November 25, police around the country took part in White Ribbon Day events in opposition to violence against women. The event included male police officers engaged in a “walk a mile in her shoes” exercise, trading in their regular footwear for high heels and other women’s shoes. Part of the day’s focus was also on ‘informed consent’, a notion integral to contemporary establishment sex education and capitalist ideology (which is not to suggest it always ‘gets through’). No wonder the police are at the top of the pile when it comes to the part of the state that is most sensitive around ‘diversity’ issues (see ).
Being politically-correct is very useful to the cops in the twenty-first century. The much greater diversity of NZ society means the most effective ways of containing people these days, and preventing them from being any kind of threat to the status quo, are forms of ‘respect for difference’ and ‘inclusiveness’. Get Maori to police Maori – not just through more Maori cops but through cultural correctness programmes which are even more effective in making Maori behave in particular ways, ways compatible, even necessary to, the maintenance of the socio-economic status quo.
At the same time, the cops continue to play their role in the frontline of defence for a system based on, and impossible without, exploitation and oppression. Exploitation of labour-power by capital and oppression of those who won’t meekly submit to that order with all its offshoots such as alienation and its effects.
While embracing ‘diversity’, ‘informed consent’ and other liberal-left nostrums, every now and then the pc mask slips and we see part of the repressive face of this institution, and the secrecy that its repressive role entails.
The latest example is the ‘Jarrod Gilbert Case’. Jarrod was one of the leaders of the big student upsurge against rising fees and user pays at Canterbury University in the late 1990s, an upsurge that led to no less than three mass occupations in 1999. In the following year or two many of the leaders of this upsurge captured positions on the students association executive. For instance, Jarrod served as student president in 2000 and 2001. At one point in 2001, the university shut for half a day as thousands of students and staff protested the Labour government’s 2001 budget. This period was like a breath of fresh air, and Jarrod was very much at the heart of it.
After his stint as student president, Jarrod resumed his studies. In particular he produced a very impressive PhD on gangs and gang culture in this country. He adopted an ethnographic approach, becoming part of gang culture, at considerable personal risk. His PhD was subsequently turned into the critically-acclaimed best-seller Patched: a history of gangs in New Zealand. Jarrod is a volunteer firefighter in Sumner, a lecturer at Canterbury University, lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions, a trustee for the NZ Public Interest Project and someone who believes that the opposable thumb and the Enlightenment are the two most important things in human history and has served as a spokesperson for the Howard League for Penal Reform.
For some inexplicable reason – yes, I’m being ironic – the police seem to have taken rather badly against Jarrod and made the high-handed decision to deny him access to what is supposed to be publicly-accessible data. Yesterday, while senior male police officers were donning female footwear, Jarrod was reporting in the NZ Herald that he had received his police file, a 20-page document, with 17 of the pages “completely blacked out” (http://bit.lyPoliceGilbert). Jarrod had requested his file because the police had decided he was unfit to access what he described as “basic and uncontroversial police data”. His unfitness, the cops cliamed, was due to his “association with gangs”. As Jarrod put it, “I have been deemed unfit to undertake crime research because I know criminals through studying crime. Bloody hell.”
Jarrod’s case has also brought to light the way the police use contracts to undermine research, especially independent and critical research. The contracts have to be signed before police will allow researchers to access information that, according to legal opinion sought by Jarrod, is supposed to be available to any person requesting it under the Official Information Act. Jarrod notes, “The research contracts demand that a draft report be provided to police. If the results are deemed to be ‘negative’ then the police will seek to ‘improve its outcomes’.” The contracts also contain a clause that the cops have the right to veto the release of any findings.
As Jarrod puts it: “The implication is this: Do it as we want it, and release findings that we don’t object to, and you can get police data. If not, find another occupation.” Unfortunately, other researchers have suffered this in silence because they don’t want to be banned from doing research that requires them accessing police data.
It may be that in this case the police have shot themselves in the foot. While they want to present themselves as the good guys, putting themselves in the shoes of domestic violence victims and embracing diversity and accountability as a modern, twenty-first century institution in which the public can have confidence, the exposure of their practices in this case can only be highly embarrassing.
While the twenty-first century police can be embraced by fluffy liberals like Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, there are enough people with bad experiences of them – even university lecturers it appears! – to undermine their new, politically-correct look.
And poor working class youth in places like Porirua and Otara, or workers on hard-fought picket lines, can tell you that the cops’ incorporation of the language and practices of political correctness doesn’t change the role they play on the side of those with money and control in our ever more class-divided society.