Nov 23, 2007

What Is Wrong With Us?

The tragic incident at Vancouver International airport, caught on video, highlights so much of how our society has gone wrong.

Readers outside of Canada may not be aware of this situation, so here is a brief recap of the facts. Mr.Dziekanski, a Polish citizen in the process of immigrating to Canada, was killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Mr. Dziekanski had never flown internationally before, was unused to procedures and spoke no English or French and had been wandering around the secure area prior to clearing customs for ten hours. He had grown increasingly agitated and at the end began to freak out and smash property, at one point tossing a computer monitor on the floor. There is no indication that he threatened violence against other people at any point. The airport security called for the RCMP. Four constables arrived and immediately used the taser on him, without any prior attempt to defuse the situation. As he lay writhing in the agony of the electric shock, the constables jumped on him, and one can be seen clearly forcing his knee into Mr. Dziekanski's throat. His breathing stopped almost immediately, but no attempt at resuscitation appears to have been made.

The reaction from the public has been outrage, but from the officials involved only the usual sad scurry to cover their rear ends. (Also, the company making the Taser is quick to scream "Ain't our fault!") The incident also has an international aspect, with the Polish ambassador publicly criticizing Canadian police procedure. This is also not an isolated incident, seventeen people in Canada have been killed by police taser. The difference this time is that the episode was caught on video, and posted on YouTube for all to see.

Truly our society has gone down a wrong path, a dark path. First, there is the evident lack of compassion towards a being in a state of suffering. The police and the airport officials clearly did not see this a person who desperately needed help. They saw this as an incident that needed to be resolved quickly, whatever the cost to Mr. Dziekanski. I once watched a truckload of cattle being driven into the slaughterhouse, and was shocked by the lack of compassion evidenced by the men wielding their vicious prods. We have fallen so low that we now use those prods on troublesome humans.

Second, we can also see how fearful we have become. Four constables against one distraught individual, and their first response is to use a potentially lethal jolt of electricity to incapacitate the man. I'm sorry but this is a cowardly response, and a sad falling away from the heroic history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force. We can see this whingeing fearfulness everywhere these days. We have become very risk adverse; just look at how our children are being raised. When I was a lad, back when rocks were soft, we played outside unsupervised until our mothers called us to dinner. Nowadays, you don't see kids playing in the street. They are kept locked indoors against unlikely dangers. Face it, folks, samsara is a dangerous place and no one gets out of here alive.

Third, and this relates to the last point, there is the theatre of the absurd atmosphere of high security especially at airports and border-crossings. There is a plethora of stories about security madness; from baby's sippy cup confiscated as a potential terrorist threat to panics over someone finding some marginal notes written in Farsi in an airline magazine. Just recently, there was an incident at the Windsor-Detroit crossing. A Windsor patient having a heart attack and needing immediate surgery was sent by ambulance to the nearest hospital equipped for the procedure, which happened to be on the US side. Everything was cleared by phone ahead of time, but the border guards still insisted on hauling the ambulance over for "secondary inspection" because it had the unlucky number for their daily quota of harassment. National Security, you know.

Fourth, the inhuman tyranny of bureaucratic procedure stifling all human initiative and even common sense and decency. The ambulance story also illustrates this point. Getting back to the Vancouver airport incident; how could Mr. Dziekanski have been allowed to wander around in a confused state for ten hours? Could not someone have tried to help him? I am guessing that any Canadian Customs staff who saw him felt it was not their responsibility. There were no guidelines for dealing with the situation, so it was ignored until it became "an incident" requiring police intervention.

On the positive side the reaction of the public has so far been healthy. Hopefully some good will come of this; some check will be made on the police's power to use this nasty thing with impunity and some shake up will happen at the airport authority and the customs. My fear is that one result will be a ban on video-taping police actions.


glenn fitzgerald said...

I watched the film.

I have few words which would describe the incident recorded on video, except to say:

At least the RCMP can't lose something they don't possess---and that "something" is a credible law enforcement reputation.

Glenn Fitzgerald

Philip Kienholz said...

If police assume the right to mete out punishment prior to a decision of guilt in a fair trial in a court of law, a police state exists. The police state is the basic ground for political fascism. Police forces need to understand this principle and emphasize in their training of recruits and monitoring of officers the threat to democratic society that police forces wield if formal or tacit approval is given to prior punishment of citizens. The emotions of solidarity among officers that arise from their regular encounters of dangers must not be allowed to shield them from sanction if they violate society's trust. Nor does protecting the state's officers from harm in their duties override the requirement that the public be protected from officers' improper exercise of the state's monopoly on violence.

The demeanor of the RCMP officers on the video tape is that of thugs. If what they did is a standard and approved RCMP practice for dealing with that type of situation, it needs revision in it's lack of compassion, lack of attempt at understanding, and in its knee jerk reliance on brute force when such has not been conclusively determined to be required.

It is shocking that the officers mistreated the agitated immigrant even after he was down on the ground writhing in pain after being electrocuted. Further, it would appear negligent that they made no attempt to resuscitate him after their tasering and brutal physical treatment had caused his unconsciousness and death.

A recent murder of an RCMP officer in my small home town brought a wave of support from citizens, myself included, for their valiant protection of citizens against those who violate the law. Nearly half of the 3,800 populace attended a memorial service. But the type of official thuggery demonstrated by the police in the video will cause a loss of respect for the law and those who uphold it--certainly a reduction in the type of public support that the murder of one of their own brought forth here.

Video recording by citizens of police activities such as this death, and of the provocateur attempts by the Quebec provincial police agents during the August SPP Conference in Montebello is a vital element of public freedom and democratic monitoring of our government. To prevent it would be similar to police forces refusing to wear identification, or prevention of news reporting of police commission investigations of alleged wrongdoing. The denial of a public face would create both the opportunity and the fact of official masking of their violent acts and use of power, which must be monitored to ensure they are kept within bounds and remain legitimate.

Philip Kienholz
Hay River, NT

glenn fitzgerald said...

Excellent post, Phillip.

Sean Hoade said...

Bhikkhu makes excellent points once again. The world is in great flux, much like it was in Buddha's time, and maybe it is the Sangha he created that can show us a better way.

Unknown said...

Some Hindus believe that now we are in the age of Kali, destruction, and considering everything else, the one thing peculiar to this particular time in history is technology and society’s acceptance of it.

Technology in itself is empty, however, given the current ignorant and aggressive mindset that uses it we are all in for a rough time.

We have terrorism because the actions and policies of some governments have created it. Like our neighbours, they may not be perfect, but we should always try and be reasonable and sensible when some small problem arises; we should not start thinking of burning their house down every time something crops up.

In future, as is already happening, we can look forward to a world completely covered in surveillance cameras, not only recording our every movement but also every word we speak. Our actual movements will also be assessed as to whether we constitute a threat to society by some inherently flawed software written by a robot programmer. Overhead drones that can stay aloft for five years, already in use, will also record our every movement.

What it means is that most of the budget of local and national governments will be spent on such madness, eventually surpassing these budgets for upgrades and replacements, and resulting in a shortage of manpower as the whole population of countries is gradually employed in looking after all of this crap.

While one may not perhaps see it as the age of Kali, it certainly is going to be the age of total insanity. Hopefully, before this happens, the more ignorant nations on this planet will treat us all to a nuke fest, and then we can all get ready for the coming stone age.

JD said...

I grew up in South East Michigan so going to Windsor or Toronto every now was something I did. I don't remember having to have anything but a Michigan Drivers License and/or a birth certificate to get across to Windsor and or back to Detroit. The ambulance incident mentioned shows just how far things have gotten since September 11th. If some terrorist group wanted to do more damage they will find a way to do it regardless of how strict we are at airports or border crossings. I don't consider myself a Hindu but this "Age of Destruction" thing seems to fit the bill for what is going on today. When I see things like this i'm reminded of the chant called "The Four Dhamma Summaries".

The world is swept away
It does not endure
The world offers no shelter
There is no one in charge
The world has nothing of it's own
One has to pass on
Leaving everything behind
The world is insufficient,
a slave to craving.

Even dark ages like the current one get swept away as well. It may not happen in any of our lifetimes, but things will surely change.

Unknown said...

Yes, the underlying cause of this insanity, smothered by the flawed reasoning and logical solutions provided by society, is craving.

We have a world economic system and policies of government and commerce inspired and often controlled by Venetian merchants. There is little, if any, brotherly and sisterly friendship in this system and these policies, and instead we find aggressive greed and the intent to defeat all opposition to them.

It will be interesting to see what society pulls out of its playbook to combat this; revolution and socialism being the usual plays.

Jon said...

It is a dreadful tape. I think I recognize in the Bhikku's post a distress that might be called mortified patriotism. It's a feeling that we in the U.S. know only too well. When I told a friend about the incident the first thing he said was thank goodness it was the Canadians this time. I had felt that way too but was ashamed of the thought.

Ben 8) said...

Canada and its dirty sandy oil
coming up.

Rats & Greed.

Think of Easter Island and one
knows how things will end.

Unknown said...

The Easter Island report is revealing, it is unbelievable what some beings would do to make a buck, and unfortunately slavery still exists.

When I was a kid I too enjoyed playing outside, often to late into the night. Our games were seasonal, and reflected the history of our culture. For lunch we could easily find plants and berries to eat, and of course raid an occasional orchard (a far cry from playing Doom and eating junk food, and my favorite drink, as in childhood, has always been a cold glass of tap water).

For a child, such opportunities are probably the only time in life when one can experience the pure exhilaration of freedom as an ignorant being.

As we become older, the presence of happy children, ours or those of others, also serves to remind us of our own childhood, and that we should not take life too seriously but also indulge in some lighter moments of innocence.

The fact that parents now have to worry about their children being stolen and being exploited for selfish satisfaction is a reflection of modern society transforming itself into a hell realm. (incidentally, the Thai translation of the term 'newly industrialized country' (NIC) is Narok (hell) Is Coming)

Those individuals and institutions who have shamelessly abused children should be recognized as pure ignorance and pure evil, and be treated accordingly, and this also applies to business organizations who seek to exploit children through other more subtle means.

Crimes against children are the lowest of the lowest.

jnana said...

That's so sad story. I heard about it from CNN. After 911, the airport is now considered as a dangerous area. The horror and distrust propagates through people.

Please visit my new blog. Thanks