Sunday, April 2, 2023

Oliver Hartwich: Democracy undermined by biased policing

In a liberal democracy, the police are crucial to maintaining order and enforcing the law. But recent incidents, such as the disruption of British feminist Posie Parker’s event in Auckland, have raised concerns about the police’s ability or willingness to carry out these duties impartially.

Parker’s event was violently disrupted by protestors, resulting in physical assaults on her supporters and a forced cancellation.

The police did not prevent this from happening. Instead, according to Parker, they subjected her to an extensive bag search on arrival and made her hotel cancel her booking.

This is not an isolated incident. It fits into an emerging pattern of selective law enforcement.

In 2019, activists occupied land at Ihumātao in Auckland for over a year, defying an eviction notice. The protest ended not with the police enforcing the law but with the government purchasing the land from the developer.

Similarly, selective enforcement was evident in the police’s selective handling of various Covid policy breaches. While Brian Tamaki got arrested, a Black Lives Matter rally was tolerated.

The occupation of Parliament in New Zealand last year also highlighted this issue. After their initial – and legal – protest, the occupiers ignored notices from the Speaker to leave. The police only intervened after nearly a month of inaction.

To take another example, in 2020, the police introduced a policy of not chasing fleeing drivers. Unsurprisingly, it resulted in a significant increase in unknown offenders fleeing from arrest. If the law is not enforced, breaking the law becomes more attractive.

The state has the exclusive right to use force, and citizens trust the state to maintain order. The police must uphold this order consistently and without bias, even if it is inconvenient or goes against the political mainstream.

Civil disobedience does not and cannot excuse police inaction. People who engage in civil disobedience should expect to face consequences. That is part of the deal. If the state does not respond, civil disobedience turns into state-sanctioned activism.

Selective enforcement of the law has created a situation in New Zealand whereby even violent disruption, as occurred at Posie Parker’s event, seems an effective strategy.

There is a reason the symbol of justice, the goddess Justitia, wears a blindfold. It is because all state institutions should apply the law without bias.

Once policing becomes partial, inconsistent or political, it ceases to be the kind of policing we expect in a liberal democracy under the rule of law. That puts democracy itself at risk.

Dr Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative think tank. This article was first published HERE.


Anna Mouse said...

In New Zealand today thanks to the current political regime policing has become very partial, inconsistent and political.

How long New Zealand can survive without unbiased policing is anyone's guess but my instinct is not very long before the gangrene starts to show and its odour pervades our once liberal democratic society as it did last Saturday in Albert Park.....

Anonymous said...

There's a word for what you're describing: Anarcho-tyranny.

Stever said...

How incredible that we've come to this. The Western ideal of individual rights and tolerance of speech has been trashed by those who should protect and preserve. The politically selective inaction from Police is chilling.

TJS said...

Why say hypocrisy when anarcho-tyranny sums it up nicely thank you!

Anonymous said...

To be fair, the police must be allowed to make operational judgements. One can imagine situations where the wiser course would be to avoid sparking a full-scale riot, or would be to let the heat evaporate naturally. And it may be that what Mr Hartwich calls inaction is actually calculated delay, where the wiser course is just to gather evidence for later prosecution. Inevitably, sometimes the police will misjudge a situation and someone will get away with having broken the law. The point is the police must have the leeway.

Fred H. said...

Of course the police are not impartial. Coster needs to be sacked. And Marama Davidson was not flustered and upset by being nudged by a motorbike --- there is video of her being exuberant before she made her unforgivable race-based comment on domestic violence --- there were no reasons to support Hipkins explanation that she was "traumatised" by the motor bike incident. Hipkins just doesn't have the nous to be PM. He should have sacked Nash much earlier. Now, if he wants to regain any sort of respect whatsoever, he must sack Davidson and Coster without any further pissing around. If National had anyone other than dumb Luxon in charge, National would have been scoring heavily in the polls, but he wouldn't know an opportunity if it kicked him in the arse.

Anonymous said...

The idea the law has ever been enforced impartially or equally here is ignorant - more than ignorant: obscene. Last time was probably 1843 - and this upset whites so much they successfully had the Governor recalled back to Britain.

robert Arthur said...

With police following a soft on maori/pacifica policy, and a large proportion of the force maori, do not expect an unbiassed response.