Cops better placed to deal with community disputes

The widow of west Belfast man Gerard Devlin has called for justice to be done through the courts and not through community action. Anthony McIntyre in The Blanket argues that the informal mechanisms currently serving the community in place of official recognition of the police are simply not sufficient to cope.

The killing of Gerard Devlin and its aftermath will cause people to reflect on the manner in which republican communities are policed. There is no way that community safety networks or Community Restorative Justice schemes can make incidents like the murder of Gerard Devlin preventable. In fact their insertion into an already volatile and unstable mix where such intervention may take on the appearance of neighbour policing neighbour may lead to recalcitrance rather than reconciliation being the outcome.

Yet the police, which people elsewhere might be expected to turn to, seem to have failed lamentably in their handling of the long festering Ballymurphy dispute. Relatives of Gerard Devlin as well as the Notorantonios both claim that the police failed to respond to serious incidents when requested to do so.

Nevertheless the cops, like them or not, are better placed, trained, equipped and resourced to deal with serious incidents than local community activists. It is the same in every modern society. Republican communities do not have to politically endorse the police in order to recognise the immediate need for civil policing. Sinn Fein, if it so chooses, can maintain its political critique of policing while simultaneously encouraging the communities it represents to make full use of the PSNI. For communities long at odds with the police, while it may not be the preferred choice, it is a necessary choice. The alternative is to abandon communities to those who promote the rule of the knife over the rule of law. As Martin Luther King once said, the law can’t make another man love him, but it can stop another man lynching him. It is far too late for Gerard Devlin. It may, however, save the next person.