domenica 7 ottobre 2012

Policing in Athens: the first testimony of abuse of power?

A few days ago, I was angry for this picture and for the fact that the main Italian news agency ANSA reported the news that young students of high schools in Rome, who claimed for a change, were "dragged on the ground by the police, beaten and threatened with a baton pointing to the throat". The quality of relationship between police and citizens is important to understand if we are in front of a mature democracy.
In fact nowadays we criticize the police of New York saying they are too easy on the trigger, we wonder if the British bobby should be armed or not, we use epithet of "fascist" when police exaggerate to mistreating protesters and so on.

Scythian archer blowing a trumpet. Greek, about 520-500 BC. Made in Athens, Greece; from Vulci in Etruria (now in Lazio, Italy)
The city of Athens was policed by Scythian archers. I have taken a look at this interesting article and then this passage of 425 BCE (Aristophanes. Acharnians  703-718):

"What an injustice that a man, bent with age like Thucydides, should be brow-beaten by this braggart advocate, Cephisodemus, who is as savage as the Scythian desert he was born in! Is it not to convict him from the outset? I wept tears of pity when I saw an Archer maltreat this old man, who, by Ceres, when he was young and the true Thucydides, would not have permitted an insult from Ceres herself! At that date he would have floored ten orators, he would have terrified three thousand Archers with his shouts; he would have pierced the whole line of the enemy with his shafts. Ah! but if you will not leave the aged in peace, decree that the advocates be matched; thus the old man will only be confronted with a toothless greybeard, the young will fight with the braggart, the ignoble with the son of Clinias; make a law that in the future, the old man can only be summoned and convicted at the courts by the aged and the young man by the youth.

Some considerations:
  1. It is possible that we are in front one of the first testimony of abuse of power by the "Police". Analyse the connection between "What an injustice" and the hope "make a law";
  2. On the other hand after some readings, I find difficult to compare "Scythian archers" with concept of modern "policemen". Scythian archers seem more a city guard only for crowd control. In particular they had to ensure enough people turned up to vote at the Ecclesia. They didn't seem to have "license to shoot" but only use non-lethal whips. In fact their bows were unstrung when on patrol, as a baton with which to beat. Interesting the fact that they were foreigners slaves that supports the idea they were performing only crowd control as we can see in Aristophanes’s plays.

Which aspects of Athenian democracy might be usefully imported into modern democracies? Well, it seems to me that the idea of policing in Athens in ancient time is more similar to the idea of police officers who do not carry firearms, except in special circumstances. So, the "British Bobby" that is an example of a correct relationship between state and citizens. The bows of the Scythian archers were unstrung when on patrol!

Nessun commento: