We got used to the fact that law enforcement in Malta, when it’s seen at all, is strong with the weak and weak with the strong. But when law enforcement officers use force on their fellow citizens, it’s a particular kind of ugly.
The police’s behaviour on Thursday with protesters objecting to the development of a fuel station in Zejtun was shameful. Activists were injured. It was unnecessarily heavy-handed and violent.
First of all, if they need to use such force to handle a group of peaceful activists playing drums and chanting, what on earth will it take when they come across anything that needs some serious handling… anything at all that is actually a threat? Because those protesters certainly weren’t.
Second, this is about individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right – the right to protest.
Many of the rights we enjoy today were obtained after generations before us engaged in sustained protests in the streets. Peaceful protest is sometimes the only available option for people who do not have ready access to the levers of power and influence, but are not prepared to grovel in front of a Minister for a favour.
The activists spoke for the country when opposing more environmental destruction.
And they make a good point. Moviment Graffiti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent said Thursday’s direct action was held to highlight the fact that, “a full nine months after the authorities’ promised to review an obscene Fuel Service Station Policy, no changes to this policy have been made so far.”
They called for the suspension of all fuel pump applications until the PA’s policies were reviewed by Parliament. That makes sense, since fuel stations (increasingly looking like shopping malls with a few pumps added as an afterthought) will take up over 52,000 square metres of land.
It’s not the first time people have called for an end to further fuel station permits, at least until this policy is reviewed. Yet their calls keep falling on deaf ears. What option then do people have but to protest, if they keep being ignored?
Protest is democracy at work. But there is clearly no appetite for dissent.
We’ve seen it at the Planning Authority on Thursday, and we’ve seen it with the blocking off of the Great Siege monument that served as a makeshift memorial to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia last week.
Seeing people on social media ‘defending’ their government by applauding the police and egging them on to do the same to those calling for justice at national monuments just beggars belief.
There is nothing to be proud of in the way people voicing their demands were handled on Thursday. If the boys in blue (or black, in this case) think they’ve done a fine job, they have no idea who they are meant to serve.
That is dangerous, and we have every reason to be alarmed. This is the same police force that has failed to take action against top government officials on very, very serious allegations of wrongdoing.
So they pummel activists whose only crime was to voice a message to protect the environment while ignoring the abuse that’s inconvenient for them.
The activists who took the heat for standing up for this country deserve our gratitude.
Thank you, from all of us at The Shift.