One of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s lines that keeps coming to mind is the one when she said you will corruption everywhere, in every country at every level. What’s specifically Maltese is that here “the attitude to corruption is corrupt”.
You can draw a straight line from that attitude to the Maltese attitude to civil liberties. The enthusiasm with which we seem willing to sacrifice our ability to move about freely on the altar of our pettiness or collective myopia or partisan amnesia is breathtaking until you realise its an everyday occurrence.
Read the comments under the video of the Italian man and his son (he says two sons, but the younger one does not feature in the video) being manhandled by the police. At one point he’s punched in the head by an officer in uniform.
The video footage is a fluke. Someone was watching from a window overlooking the street, filmed it and shared it. If the police officers concerned knew that, their behaviour would have been different. Assume that when this sort of thing happens, it happens because nobody’s watching or everybody’s looking away.
Yes, of course, there needs to be due process and trial by media is not fair even on a brutal cop. But I’m as revolted by the incident as I am by some of the reactions to it.
‘The man is a Sicilian. That’s what they all do. They spit on you and when you punch them in the face they say you’re being brutal.’
That’s one piece of genius I saw being acclaimed on a comments board this morning. The imaginary spittle is not on video. The punch in the head is. I understand the argument about not jumping to conclusions about the evidence you see on the video. But jumping to conclusions about an imaginary context you do not see is even worse.
Another one: ‘the man could have been rude to them and he looks like he’s having an argument with the woman in the video’.
Yes, and? Let’s just accept for the sake of argument that a civilian is rude to a policeman. The policeman can caution the person and if that doesn’t work they can detain them or cuff them. If the person resists they have the authority to use the minimum force necessary to ensure their own safety and detain the person. They can then charge him in front of a judge.
Where does it say that they can shove them to a wall and punch them in the face?
Why is this acceptable to people?
For the same reason that it is acceptable to people that immigration authorities can stop people on a bus going about their business challenging them to prove they are who they say they are and that they have a right to be there.
For the same reason that it is acceptable to people that a Police superintendent leads a gang of officers inside a private residence and drags a man to a padded cell without the legal process for involuntary committal in place. (I have seen the statement of Mario Portelli’s relatives’ statement that merely confirms that they were the ones to turn him in. We knew that. But the fact that he was committed outside the process required by law remains unchanged).
For the same reason that it is acceptable to people the husband of a government minister found — twice — by the Constitutional Court to be the wrong person to investigate a murder where suspects are quite plausibly his wife’s close colleagues, is allowed to rule the roost at the financial intelligence organisation that is investigating those same colleagues.
For the same reason that it is acceptable to people that a journalist is followed and watched by known criminals without police protection. And when she’s killed the police refuse to investigate the motive of people she investigated.
You do not know it yet. But one night you’ll be angry at a gang of policemen for refusing to help you in your time of need. You’ll forget yourself and give them some lip. They’ll forget themselves and think you’re one of those Sicilians. It won’t matter if your children are watching.
In a brief cold moment you’ll realise with horror that you had seen this awful thing before. But it wasn’t happening to you so you thought it was fine.