A quaint reflection

The distinction between a protest and a riot is a subtle one, as we see from a gallery of unsubtle remarks. Let me be Horatian: it is a matter of taste. I tend to prefer “protests” in Red China, and against totalitarian regimes generally, but not to see the point of them where civil discourse is permitted. Which is not to say that they should be illegal. But where the subtle line is crossed, so that policemen may be requested, to limit thuggery, looting, and so forth, distinctions disappear. At this point, “peaceful protesters” will uniformly absent themselves, leaving the troopers a free hand. In the colourful phrase of Canada’s Stephen Leacock, their task with the remainers is then to: “mow them down to marmalade.”

Surely gentle reader will agree. Too, he will doubt that this is a police function. For one thing, policemen should seldom be armed. Even to see them on the beat in pairs, instead of singly, is to wonder if their budget is too large. A few might need to congregate for a memorable bust, perhaps armed against armed customers; but it is hard to imagine an admirable civic polity wherein this sort of thing occurs.

It wouldn’t if the police were doing their job, to start with. In my view — which prevails in these Idleposts — the police constitute a local “intelligence” service, in several meanings of the term. Through their friendly foot patrols (vehicles are for the army), they become well-informed about potential causes of local crime. This in addition to other functions, such as entertaining children, helping old ladies across the street, and showing a lost visitor to an address. In Japan long ago, and in the brutishly large metropolis of Tokyo, I was once impressed: to see cops functioning as if they’d been employed by a small American town.

And in one of those, within the province of Ontario, I happily recall an “incident.” I was not being warned, let alone arrested: just invited for a chat, to the constable’s tiny office on Main Street. He wanted to advise me. He said other “youff” in the high school I was attending were copying my eccentricities, down to wearing corduroy jackets. This put me under a moral obligation to make a good example for them, as opposed to a bad one. He recommended that I think about this.

Even at the time, I was moved by his kindness and decency — he encouraged my independence — more than I was irritated by his invasion of my privacy. At this remove of time, I celebrate his memory.

He was not a social worker. That was a very small part of his calling. Besides, in the settled environment of a neighbourhood, whether urban or rural, there was precious little “social work” to do. Families took care of that. The biggest part of his job was simply “to be” — a respected figure, who could inspire a young lad to contemplate becoming a policeman when he grew up; or a young lass to dream of marrying one. In this small town, one would not commit a serious crime, for fear that one might hurt his feelings.

Too, one would be caught right away.

I see from the news that a different concept of police work has “evolved.” It isn’t the policeman’s fault that he has been miscast, usually. “Progress” has led, as it invariably does, to horrors. And now we need cops with tear gas, smoke bombs, automatic weapons, and other items more formidable than a gentleman will need for the deer season. Plus the handgun he better be carrying for street life.