Under Patrick Manning’s rule, I came to know the names of a few of the riot police that he’d send out at the slightest citizen gathering, having met them so many times as they and their sub-machine guns monitored us trying to monitor him, with only public debate, national laws and civic commitment for ammunition. Under Manning’s cyclop eye, big brotherly love for the nation combined with decisions for our own good which seemed beyond our right to question.
Even then, it was clear, whether to combat unruly civil society or dangerous criminality, there was going to be increasing state armament to secure peace by the gun.
Five years later, when people say that we are in an undeclared state of emergency that justifies militarized civilian zones and maximum leadership, I get that desperate times call for desperate measures. Where nobody obeys any rules, it seems that only fear of violence can manage a society where disorder and death prevail.
People have decided that it’s time to eliminate some of those who will not choose legal work over a gangster life, enabling soldiers to re-establish a sense of state control. In this de facto civil war, being soft is expected to fail so the solution is more power in fewer hands and more men with more firepower.
Feeling safer in chains, we are ready to give up on being free. Instead, imagine if, as the army went in to take down shotters, another army of teachers, health providers, social workers, NGOs and community police trained in emergency turn around of crisis-racked communities were just as empowered to take on schools, health provision, employment and families. Imagine if the National Security Council talked tough about emergency laws, emergency resources and emergency meetings on short to long term solutions premised on everything else but violence.
The problem isn’t just gangs and individual men who don’t care who dead, even if it’s themselves. It’s the almost complete failure and corruption of policing. It’s that the coast guard is letting the drugs and guns pass. It’s decades of political patronage that has fuelled turf wars. It’s inadequate social work provision for family violence and dysfunction. It’s schools, which men leave while still illiterate, heading en masse to prison, before leaving en masse for gangs.
As long as none of the causes of this problem are fixed with institutional, social service, family life and educational alternatives, and economic solutions besides handouts, the army will be permanently necessary. Peace will be continually deferred rather than actually achieved because we clamoured for dictatorial and military responses to social needs.
Growing up under a gun, even a friendly one, wrecks children, especially boys. Additionally, some communities and innocent individuals will pay the price for the erosion of justice with nowhere to turn, just as they are paying already, and at some point it will be hard to tell army from police from politician from badman and tief. At the end, most important will be that we learned not to ask too many questions in return for our safety.
We may learn to live with the army in our midst, getting to know their names as we grow familiar with sub-machine guns on the streets. Nonetheless, as a citizen, feminist, mother and worker, I can’t but question civil society militarization because it represses chaos, but cannot create order.
Maybe I’m being naïve. Too much highfalutin idealism about democracy, rights and civil society. Too much talk about top-down responsibility. Too much unrealistic focus on what will take a generation to achieve. Too little understanding until terror hits me.