Busybodies in the UK

Today’s Guardian had an interview with a senior police officer who was predicting a summer of rage. This seems a little like a step in a “police bargaining with the government for more resources” strategy, rather than a realistic prediction. (In any case, surely there must be few powers left that the government haven’t already given them.) But, following a link on the page, I found an old story that seems worth a full-blown rant despite it being a year old

A man was arrested by armed police for being armed with an i-pod.

Armed police arrested a man listening to his MP3 player and took a sample of his DNA after a fellow commuter mistook the music player for a gun. (from the Guardian)

His big mistakes were to have a black mp3 player and to get it out of his pocket at a bus stop. Obviously he also stuck the headphones in his ears and listened to it. That bit must have somehow passed right by the eagle-eyed paranoid person who called the police to say that he’d pointed and aimed a gun.

I’ve only ever seen a pistol in movies and on TV but I am still pretty confident that I could distinguish one from an mp3 player.

But, then, I’ve had a good few mp3 players and that might count as specialist knowledge that was denied to the person who phoned this incident in. So maybe it’s an easy mistake to make.

This morning there was a neutron bomb at my bus stop, but, luckily, someone threw an empty packet into it and I realised that it was just a rubbish bin before I’d called in a surgical strike.

This man (fortunately for him, not apparently Brazilian-looking, I assume) was soon surrounded by police, aiming weapons (real ones, not portable dvd players). He was held in a cell and had photographs, fingerprints and – you’ve already guessed it – DNA taken. (It’s probably still there, unless our government plans to follow the European court’s ruling.)

He now has a record on the police national database that says he was arrested on suspicion of carrying an illegal gun. Try and get a job that needs Criminal Records Bureau clearance (i.e. almost any job nowadays) with that on your informal record. (“No smoke without fire”…)

The DNA etc aspects of this case are just par for the course, by our increasingly authoritarian standards, and you can’t blame the police for taking seriously a report that a man was wielding a gun on a bus.

The most distressing thing about the incident was the way that some members of have public have taken the idea of the state-compliant-sneak-on-every-street-corner from the Big Book of How to Live Under Totalitarianism and have run with it. For instance, you might remember the steel band members who had to leave their flight and spend the night in a bus shelter, because of a false report from a fellow passenger.

These eagerly-reporting fellow passengers seem like ballistic weapons themselves – primed by having their heads filled with such constant fear that their perceptions get distorted to fit.

If I’m ever on a public transport service vehicle and someone pulls a gun, I hope that somebody has the presence of mind to act. But, I also really hope that – when I’m carrying a rucksack and listening to my mp3 player – that no paranoid lunatics get me taken awy at the point of an assault rifle.

The UK is turning into a “nation of narks and bullies”, as Marina Hyde said in the Guardian, a couple of months ago, discussing the XFactor-style plans for rating doctors:

…. we become a vast, swarming tribe of people constantly judging one another – a nation of narks too stupid to realise that we are being usefully distracted; a baying, bullying society of people laughing at the incompetent, sneaking on our neighbours, and undermining anyone with the temerity to work themselves into a position of expertise with a press of our red buttons.

One thought on “Busybodies in the UK

  1. It is hard to imagine what is going through peoples minds. I cant imagine an MP3 player every looking like a pistol, let alone being handled by one.

    The police claim the witness was specific enough for a full armed response before the guy got home on the bus. Either the bus service is very, very bad or they are sitting around waiting for this on a regular basis. Try getting the police to respond to a normal incident like a mugging or burglary and it seems like weeks before they can mobilise.

    Everything about this screams out how wrong our society is. Like you say, this is now a person who is ruined for life with no real ability to seek recompense. If the guy had any sense he would be taking legal action against the police, then the police should be taking action against the busybody who felt an MP3 player was armed and dangerous.

    As to the summer of rage itself – I doubt it, people are too apathetic. Gone are the days when stop and search caused riots, now we are so scared of the evil terrorist that anything goes – as long as it has some vague “protect the public” or even protect the children nonsense.

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