Who guards the guards themselves? No one is above the law.
There was a time when I myself was thinking about joining the police. After my barrister and landscape architect phases, if I recall correctly, and before the diplomat phase. Happily, the New Zealand Police do not discriminate by height, although they do still discriminate by fitness level. And then there was all that talking to people. Not really my thing.
In the end I decided not to go down that road – I could see the barriers from the main drag – but I retained a sort of amiable fellow-feeling for the police. To be sure, there are some rotten eggs in every assortment, but the percentage is low. It’s just that an exploding rotten egg is very – er, memorable. The NZ police force as a whole (although they don’t call themselves that any more – too aggressive) are Good Eggs.
Or so I thought. Then I read this article about the police spending ten hours going through the house of a man who was not accused of any crime, searching through his belongings, and confiscating a number of them.
Now, regardless of one’s political views, or whether one believes journalists should be allowed to protect their sources or not, this seems a bit Off. A distinct whiff of sulphuric egginess, to be precise. I have no problem with police obtaining warrants to search the homes or workplaces of those accused of crimes. That’s part of their job. Searching the home (and taking the property) of someone you admit has not broken the law, just because you hope to get at someone else through them? No.
As a writer myself, I find this disturbing. As a person who enjoys not having complete strangers rifling through her underwear drawer, I find it very disturbing.
New Zealand is allegedly the Freest Country in the World. That doesn’t say much for – well, all the other countries.
The “land of the free” tied for seventh, and frankly, after seeing this tragically funny video on Civil Asset Forfeiture, I’m not surprised. Actually, I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t further down the list. Again, doesn’t say much for all those below it.
The idea of Civil Asset Forfeiture is that law enforcement are allowed to take your stuff (usually your cash) without having to prove that you or your stuff are involved in any crime. Guilty until proven innocent. A lolly scramble. A stick-up job. So much for your Fourth Amendment. Did I mention that the law enforcement agency generally gets to keep most or all of the takings? No conflict of interest there…
And then just a couple of days ago, the Prime Minister of New Zealand admitted that his government deliberately delays release of information under the Official Information Act if it deems such a course of action to be in its own best interests. Which is against the law.
Mr Key’s rationale, the best he could come up with, was that of a school-boy whose mother has found he is not handing in his homework on time: but Mummmm, everyone else is doing it.
Well, guess what, Prime Minister, you aren’t responsible for what everyone else does. You are responsible for what you do, and to a certain extent for what your colleagues do.
And in suggesting that such behaviour is only to be expected, you are doing the people of New Zealand (and the rest of the world) a signal disservice: you are telling them that they must expect elected officials to act in their own best interests, not in the interests of the people themselves. In short, that they cannot hope for any better, and that there is therefore nothing to be gained from agitating for change.
Ignorance and apathy allow those in power to push boundaries further than they should be allowed to go.
Time to push back.