Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Response to Lilly in the media

The following's an open letter in response to the recent reports about our book Lilly.

As you may be aware, the was some discussion in the media yesterday about our book Lilly. I would like to correct some of the gross misinterpretations which were reported, and clarify both the intent and content of the work.

To start with, it was repeatedly stated in some publications that Lilly "encourages students to murder police”. This is absolutely ludicrous and could scarcely be more contradictory to the intention of the book. As should have been clear by the concluding sentence, the moral of the story was to encourage people to “treat people like people” - regardless of profession, or age, or anything else. But more importantly, it was meant to encourage a more nuanced discussion of the role of police in society, without resorting to unhelpful simplifications of the institution being either perfectly good, or perfectly bad.

The story relates three recent, real-world examples of children being subjected to disproportionate use of force by police officers. These examples were taken directly from articles in the mainstream media over the last two years (see links below). The story simply reiterates the content of those articles, albeit in a different format. However, despite this, some reports expressed outrage that such graphic scenes appeared in the book, while pointedly ignoring the actual events which prompted the creation of Lilly in the first place.

These are issues which should prompt a critical discussion of what we expect from our police force, and what behaviours we are prepared to allow. Too often these incidents are relegated to small, back page articles (with Tyler Cassidy being the notable exception), while the main public discourse continues to assume an unbelievable level of infallibility from police officers as a whole. Tellingly, the Police Association spokesperson was quoted saying "These twisted morons can sit around their marijuana-fuelled campfire telling each other their twisted tales” - heavily implying that anyone who chooses to criticize the police is necessarily a criminal. This highly offensive suggestion is unfortunately commonplace in public debate around policing.

One point which never seems to come up is the disparate expectations we have of the level of accountability of police, versus other care-providing institutions in this country. Teachers, as one example, are not only required to look after troubled teens as part of their daily duties, but are held strictly responsible for the welfare of their charges. We would be mortified if a teacher were to taser a violent student – we require them to resolve these situations diplomatically, even at risk to their own welfare. This is as it should be. Nevertheless, we allow police officers to resort to violence to resolve confrontations with minors, while being appalled if any other members of the community were to behave similarly.

Lilly was not written as an excuse to stereotype police officers, but instead to show that the stereotypes we do apply can have significant negative impacts by preventing balanced conversation. Policing is a profession like any other, and as long as we continue to hold the people in that job as beyond reproach, we're going to continue to see abuses of police power against the most vulnerable members of our society.

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