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Police excesses

The Catalan regional interior department has displayed a worrying concept of authority

If there is a political post that should be carried out with prudence and restraint, it is that of the person responsible for public order and the safety of citizens. The current holder of this position in the regional government of Catalonia, Felipe Puig, has on too many occasions been the protagonist of controversial situations, the latest of which took place during last Wednesday’s national general strike. This time, the controversy was two-fold. Firstly, through the actions of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s regional police force, which caused the injury of a 13-year-old boy during protests in Tarragona — he required five stitches to his head — and a similar incident involving a woman in Barcelona who will probably lose vision in one of her eyes.

The regional interior chief attempted to paint the attack on the minor in Tarragona as an accident, but the images beamed across the media were there for all to see; some of the agents were riled up and acted with a rage and degree of force which were completely inappropriate in that situation. When he was already down and injured, the 13-year-old continued to be beaten and another youngster passing by was also clubbed for protesting about the Mossos’ aggression. When the images were broadcast, even regional premier Artur Mas recognized that the police had acted out of hand. The problem is that this is far from the first time something like this has happened.

To this controversy must be added an unheard-of exchange of accusations and discrediting remarks between Puig and the central government delegate in Catalonia, María de los Llanos de la Luna, over the lack of protection afforded to the police headquarters on the Vía Laietana in Barcelona, which resulted in groups of protestors burning three patrol cars at the end of Wednesday’s march through the city. Llanos de Luna called Puig irresponsible for leaving the building unprotected, while the regional premier retorted that the government delegate was being disloyal and opportunistic as it was she that had refused the protection offered. Llanos de Luna denies this claim.

“The street is mine”

The interchange of accusations has prevented responsibility over the incident being apportioned to either Puig or Llanos de Luna but it has allowed an unprecedented confrontation between the two to flourish. Although representatives of different administrative bodies, they occupy positions in government that oblige them to cooperate. Both have engineered delicate functions with partisan electoral ends, feeding mistrust between those in whose hands lies something as important as the deployment of public security forces. In the years that that he has occupied his current post, Puig has displayed a worrying concept of what constitutes police authority with a marked tendency toward the arrogance that brings to mind that ancient concept of public order: “The street is mine.”

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