‘Disgusting, disappointing, infuriating’… but not ‘surprising’

It is a little difficult to expect anything better from the Malta Police Force…  when the Maltese government not only condones ‘racially-motivated brutality’; but actively engages in it, itself

In case you were wondering, that headline – minus the ‘surprising’ part, which I added myself – was lifted from Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri’s reaction, in Parliament this week, to the news that three police officers have been arrested for ‘racially-motivated brutality’.

That, at least, is how the alleged crimes have been abbreviated, for the purpose of actually describing them in a news article. Truth be told, however, it is a little difficult to condense the sheer scale of the brutality involved, to just a couple of words.

A more complete description would have to specify that the three police officers are also alleged to have picked their victims up off the street – themselves described as ‘foreign nationals’; though it would more accurate to say ‘undocumented asylum seekers from Africa’ – then driven them to a remote location somewhere in Qormi, where they allegedly proceeded to inflict ‘grievous bodily harm’ (apparently, using a ‘pointed instrument’…) only to simply drive off and abandon them there, for dead.

Now: leaving aside that it unnervingly reminds me of that notorious ‘ear-slicing’ incident, from Reservoir Dogs (the movie that earned Quentin Tarantino his original reputation as a ‘director of outrageously violent films’; and which was banned in certain countries, specifically for that one scene)… even a cursory glance at the charge sheet suggests that what those three police officers stand accused of, amounts to far more than just ‘racially-motivated brutality’.

From a purely legal perspective, the full list would also have to include: “kidnapping, abuse of authority, illegal arrest, holding a person against his will, two counts of attempted grievous bodily harm and two counts of causing slight injury… [with] the bodily harm charges being aggravated by their racial motives.” [Note: and though I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, we could also add: ‘Committing a crime that, as police officers, they were duty-bound to prevent.’]

But from the perspective of how the rest of the country must be looking at the same situation, right now – and bearing in mind that 22% of Malta’s population is now composed of ‘foreign nationals’: many of them failed African asylum seekers (who are probably wondering whether, or when, ‘their turn will come next’)…

I don’t know. Suddenly, it seems as if those two hapless African victims may not have been not the only casualties of this crime.  Indeed, it may even be that the Malta Police Force itself has actually suffered quite a lot of ‘grievous’ harm, too… not of the ‘bodily’ variety, perhaps; but certainly, in terms of loss of public trust.

Naturally, this brings us right back to Byron Camilleri’s reaction: not just because he happens to be the minister responsible for the Malta Police Force (and therefore, by definition, also responsible for addressing any ‘loss of trust’ issues that might arise…)

… but also, because – on paper, at least – his response indicates that he has understood the overall implications quite well. “The alleged incidents are unacceptable,” he told us, “not only because they allegedly took place from within the police, but are also disgusting for our own humanity”.

And while that might, admittedly, be just a meaningless, pre-rehearsed sound-bite – to the extent that he repeated it word-for-word, when replying to journalists’ questions the next day - Camilleri also acknowledged (more importantly) that: “the alleged behaviour was even more infuriating for officers who have managed to build public trust through constant hard work. That trust could have been dented after these allegations…”

But while those two quotes adequately explain why Byron Camilleri is (quite rightly) feeling ‘disgusted’ and ‘infuriated’, at the moment… it’s a little harder to comprehend why he would also express ‘disappointment’, in the same breath.

For one thing, because the word ‘disappointment’ presumes that Byron Camilleri must have had higher expectations of police behaviour, than what this case actually implies… and for another, because – as the minister responsible for (among other things) implementing that part of government’s integration policy, that is relevant to the Police Force itself - he has, quite frankly, done nothing at all to justify any such ‘expectation’, in the two whole years he has occupied that ministry.

Indeed, there are even specific areas of government policy – implemented (and defended) by none other than Byron Camilleri himself – that should legitimately raise ‘expectations’ of the very opposite kind.

Take, for instance, his own observation that: “trust [in the police] could have been dented after these allegations”.  Is it really just ‘after these allegations’, that entire sections of the population (you’ll never guess which) have been given very good reason to ‘mistrust’ the Maltese police?

Reason I ask is that these allegations – ‘disgusting’ and ‘infuriating’ though they undeniably are – only surfaced just a couple of days ago. Yet there is plenty of evidence (mostly in the form of surveys published in this newspaper) that the erosion of public trust actually began a LOT earlier than that.

And besides: this is not even the first time, in the past few weeks, that the Maltese police have been publicly portrayed as ‘a Force to be mistrusted’, by the local (mostly African) migrant community.

Tell you what: let’s rewind a couple of days, to immediately before these allegations even emerged. What sort of ‘events’ (for want of a better word) were we witnessing, each and every day of the week, that dramatically reinforced the public perception of African migrants as ‘criminals’… ‘miscreants’… ‘trouble-makers’, etc?

Why, a ‘police-crackdown on undocumented asylum seekers’, of course: presented to us for all the world as though it were actually a military crack-down, on a newly-discovered ‘rebel base’…

The upshot? There wasn’t a single day, in the past week or so, when TVM’s eight o clock news did not show extensive footage of African people being rounded up in the streets, then loaded in handcuffs onto police vans, to be driven off for deportation…

And OK: I am the first to admit that this operation cannot conceivably be compared, in any direct way, to the heinous crimes with which those three officers have been charged. (If nothing else, because – unlike ‘kidnapping and torture’ - ‘deporting undocumented migrants’ DOES actually fall within the remit of legitimate police behaviour, everywhere in the democratic world.)

All the same, however: it cannot escape notice, that this crack-down occurred so soon after that viral video of a Hamrun street-brawl, between (Syrian, in this case) immigrants… and that the arrests themselves (not to mention the media-spectacle they were turned into, by the State broadcaster)  were clearly intended more to assuage popular demands for a ‘purge of foreigners’… than to actually address the issue of criminality, on the streets of ethically-diverse localities. (Otherwise, the police would surely have clamped down on ‘real’ crime: instead of only on minor misdemeanours such as ‘overstaying one’s Visa restrictions’…)

And besides: what sort of expectation does Byron Camilleri think that sort of government policy might raise… among the police, for instance: who – let’s face it – would not be entirely unjustified, in concluding that their job really was to ‘clean this island of unwanted foreigners (a little like ‘Comtec’, now that I think about it; only with ‘African migrants’, instead of ‘rats and cockroaches…’)?

… or how about among the local African migrant community, in general? After all, some (if not all) of them will presumably be watching all those news bulletins, too. Which also means that – just like everybody else – they’re also receiving their daily injection of the same State propaganda, which does nothing but portray their own kind as ‘criminals’; and the Maltese police as a ‘Force’ which fully intends to ‘wipe them all out’…

What, I wonder, does Byron Camilleri imagine those people’s ‘expectations of police behaviour’, to actually be like?

And that’s just sticking to the past week alone. What if we extended our gaze even further back in time… only to arrive at a point when it was (quite literally) the government’s own official policy, to ‘kidnap’ African asylum seekers; and to ‘abuse its authority’, by ‘holding them against their will’ in ‘remote, uninhabited locations’… such as, for instance, “in the middle of the sea, on board pleasure cruisers converted into floating detention centres’?

Well, that’s what happened in 2020, you know (by an interesting coincidence, the same year when Byron Camilleri himself was appointed Home Affairs Minister). And this time round, it would be far less of an exaggeration, to make direct comparisons with the ‘racially-motivated brutality’ we’re all talking about today.

For even though – as far as any of us can tell, anyway – none of those 200+ immigrants was ever ‘assaulted with pointed instruments’, at any point of their lengthy detention on board those detention vessels… they were all certainly ‘abducted’; and they were all certainly detained, in conditions that can only be described as ‘unacceptable’ (if not, tantamount to ‘torture and degrading treatment’, as defined by the CPT)… and I imagine several of them would have suffered serious psychological trauma, as a consequence.

The only difference, of course, was that Byron Camilleri did not exactly describe his own policies as ‘disgusting, disappointing, and infuriating’, at the time. And to this day, he probably still doesn’t realise that this, too, has contributed to the same overall ‘erosion of trust’, that he himself now expresses concern about.

It is after all, a little difficult to expect anything better from the Malta Police Force…  when the Maltese government not only condones ‘racially-motivated brutality’; but actively engages in it, itself.

Just saying, that’s all…