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There are two aspects to this very dangerous phenomenon. Firstly, increasingly, since 1997, there seems to have emerged the idea of achieving political power through street violence. That this distressing spectre has gained currency over the years there can be no doubt. On the other hand, there seems to have appeared in our society, a lawless element preoccupied with the promotion of insecurity and instability through bizarre methods of criminal violence and civil disobedience. Both groups seem to share the common mission of encouraging public disorder, spreading communal fear and totally destabilising the state. This new etiquette of dissent threatens the very concept and climate of public freedom which we hold sacred and which now cries out for creative intervention and robust defence. Without law and order there can be no peace, no freedom and no rights for anyone.
It is precisely at this conjunction that the Police Force finds itself in the line of fire. In an effort to preserve the whole range of rights and freedoms the Police Force finds itself pitted against these elements of criminal disorder. That the Police exist to maintain social order appears incontrovertible. Yet the effectiveness of the force derives from a consensual model of society which legitimises Police action. The Police must see themselves, and ought to be seen by all others, as protecting the mass of ordinary law abiding citizenry from the few who are bent, for one reason or the other, upon perpetuating criminal violence and creating public mischief.
The Police would be the first to argue, and we would be forced to agree, that they are certainly not responsible for the failure on the part of society to deal with the perplexing problems of social and economic injustice. Nevertheless, they find themselves drawn, as the moth to the flame, into many of the problems and many of the grievances for which they, as Police Officers, are not empowered to, and therefore cannot, solve. Yet in the current turbulence the Police with the responsibility for maintaining stability have become the focal point of a vicious criminal backlash.
Violence and policing are inevitably associated. Criminals have used violence against innocent members of the public and against the Police themselves. The problems created by the current criminal elements, armed with the most sophisticated range of weaponry, have presented the Police with one of their most serious challenges within recent times. The Police, as the major target group are totally exposed and completely vulnerable. But even so their work has not been made any easier by a model of journalism aimed at tarnishing the image of the Police Force, of discrediting policing activities and undermining the legitimate authority of the force. One suspects that initially some criticisms were perhaps well intentioned but it soon developed into an orchestrated campaign of vilification which severely hampered effective law enforcement, isolated the force and rendered members of the force almost legitimate targets of criminal elements. Twelve murdered in 2002 and four murdered in January 2003 alone.
For all this the Police Force remains the only legitimate line of defence against a criminal class whose vicious and recurrent attacks on the Police must inevitably threaten the force's commitment to duty. The state cannot compromise with such lawlessness and must marshal all possible resources, public and private, for a major counter assault. What is also very frightening is the singular realisation that unless the forces of law and order seize the initiative, quickly and decisively, public safety will undoubtedly erode to the extent where flight will become the major consideration of all the productive law abiding elements in the society.
Professor Erwin N. Griswold, a former Dean of Harvard Law School once argued that violent opposition to the law or the forcible disregard of another's freedom falls beyond the pale of legitimate dissent or even civil disobedience, properly understood. It is nothing short of rebellion and must inevitably be countered by the determined rigour of the state.