Abuse of power

Friday’s shooting incident on the island of Crete has provoked shock and ire among the public. The abuse of power and the cruelty, on the part of the policeman who did not hesitate to shoot a young man in the head because the driver of the car in which he was a passenger tried to escape a police roadblock, have sparked turmoil. The violent outburst of indignation that followed the tragic event, with dozens of people storming a police station in the northern town of Iraklion and beating police officers, demonstrated that abuse of power by the police authorities will prompt people to take the law into their own hands. The fact that the police have emerged unscathed from a plethora of similar cases reinforces the impression that taking the law into one’s own hands is the only way to mete out justice. This, of course, is a very dangerous concept, particularly in an area with the peculiarities and traditions of Crete. A considerable proportion of the island’s population still follows the unacceptable habit of gun possession, which, combined with a weird impunity for criminal acts such as cattle-stealing and the cultivation of cannabis, obstruct the efforts of police authorities which have to work within this delicate environment, making them feel insecure and nervous. This, however, is no excuse for homicide, and invoking the overall climate will not do in this case. The youths in the car were unarmed. We’d be in sorry shape should Cretan policemen begin firing at every intoxicated or edgy driver who merely refused to stop when the police ordered them to do so. The authorities must impose heavy penalties on the officers who killed the young man – if only in order to prevent a vendetta by the family of the victim. Most importantly, the authorities must eliminate this nascent mentality among police officers, who behave as unaccountable avengers rather than as members of a constitutional based society which acts and exercises force within strictly defined legal contours. The huge security demands of the coming Olympic Games in Athens mandate the mobilization of responsible and disciplined police officers. Any sign of irresponsible or callous behavior on behalf of the police will be enough to mar the image of the country abroad. The policemen who are responsible for the killing in Crete must be punished heavily so that justice is meted out and would-be imitators are discouraged.