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Byron Shire
April 16, 2021

Police and sunglasses

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The last couple of times I have been stopped by a police officer they have been wearing shades. Police officer or civilian, I find it impersonal, uncomfortable, and even de-humanising to talk with somebody whose eyes I cannot see.

We have all seen photos of people whose identity has been concealed by placing a black line across their eyes, and wearing shades has the same effect.

The discomfort of speaking to someone who I cannot identify as a particular human being is all the more intense when dealing with a police officer since they hold a position of power.

Readers may be familiar with the famous Stanford Prison Experiment and the role the uniforms, including the wearing of shades, had in helping the guards adopt their role of authority and exercising unjust and inhumane treatment of their inmates.

For these reasons I contacted the NSW Police Force asking if I am OK to request that, if the officer is wearing shades, he or she raise them so I can see their eyes.

The reply given was that ‘officers have the right to wear sunglasses while on duty’ and that I can ‘ask to see a police officer’s badge/ID to confirm they are an officer’, which misses the point I was making.

I regard this as one more step toward the militarisation of the police force. Police officers are civil servants and thus should act in a civil manner. Am I the only one bothered by this?

Jason van Tol, Upper Coopers Creek

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  1. De-personalisation and de-empathising of the enforcement role is a very necessary personality prop where the one exercising authority is insecure in themselves. This is mostly accomplished by disguise, anonymity and pretense. This phenomenon occurs frequently in societal situations besides policing, but has been falling into disuse in Australian culture in recent times. Local police often appear to be inappropriately aping American law enforcement officers, where a “gun culture” prevails.

  2. Two recent court precedents in two states, for whom appeal by prosecution was rejected, state that someone need not stop for police (on foot or in car) if they are not under arrest and there is no probable cause. One is also legally protected by the right to not incriminate themselves- which means not identifying oneself. If stopped, just say’ Am I under arrest or am I free to go? ‘ keep repeating it. Say nothing else. Don’t show any id. If you are flagged down you have the right to keep driving – RBT’s are seperate however and one must pull over. . Don’t stop. As soon as you stop you give up your rights. Find the Know Your Rights Group online (VIC based).

  3. Ivan, certainly the gun culture prevails in the ‘states,’ police & otherwise. A little closer to home Ballina & Corey Barker the 4 cops or was it 5 that have been charged with ‘improper conduct’ “Bashing the man while he was on the floor”(see video on here) The police seem to be a law unto themselves or think that they are. There are genuine police and I applaud them, they do a job that nobody would want………….

  4. No Jason, you are not the only one bothered by this. I raised almost exactly the same point in a letter to the Northern Star in early 2012 after seeing a photograph of four cops (wearing dark glasses of course) manhandling a citizen at the Kerry CSG protest.

    I referred to them in my letter as ‘insect-eyed automatons’ and although I was howled down in the subsequent days by several good burghers (including one OAM holder), I retain the clear view that the almost universal use of dark glasses by our wonderful boys in blue is purely and simply for the purposes of intimidation. The following are extracts from two of my letters responding to the howls of indignation:

    ” We understand very well that the police must do unpleasant things in the line of duty and most of the time we applaud them. But we do take exception to them being used as hired mercenary thugs, at our expense, to protect the commercial interests of greedy oil companies who would destroy our country without blinking.

    And if any policeman believes that they are not at the protest sites principally to intimidate the general population, they should just look in a mirror. Everything in their uniform, from the insect-like anonymous dark glasses to the lethal armoury hung from their waists, to the sinister black leather gloves they wear, is designed specifically to intimidate and provoke. So they should not be surprised if they succeed sometimes.”

    “Tom Lynch of Casino objects to my letter describing the police at the Kerry CSG blockade as ‘insect eyed automatons’, and instructs me to ‘get respect’.

    In my book respect is earned, not doled out willy nilly, and if one considers the proven rampant corruption which seems to permeate all of the Australian police forces, and their overt, and quite unnecessary, heavy handedness at almost all public gatherings, whether it be a CSG protest, schoolies week in Byron Bay, any large pop concert, or the annual Mardi Grass celebration in Nimbin, there is not an awful lot there to respect.

    Fear, definitely, but respect, no.”

    I fear that the ‘serve and protect’ ethos of old has, regrettably, been replaced by ‘strike fear into their hearts and shut the bastards up’.

    I suppose the question now is how do we respond.

    Colin Thornton
    2 Devon Drive
    QLD 4270

  5. The point I was making has not really been addressed. I’ll reiterate it so the topic doesn’t become obfuscated. According to the reply I got from the NSW Police Force, ‘officers have the right to wear sunglasses while on duty’, and thus, by my interpretation, they need not remove their shades while dealing with the public, even if asked to do so. I find this impersonal and unnerving. I want to be able to see a person’s eyes when I’m talking to them so I can make a human connection with them. I agree with Les that I have no problem with officers wearing shades, but if I ask them to remove them, I believe they should have to do so. Otherwise, I believe they’re apt to use this part of their uniform as a licence for uncivil behaviour. It’s much easier not to treat people as humans when you don’t need to make eye contact with them.

    If you’re not familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment I mentioned, do a little research on it. Otherwise, consider the difference in connection you make with people when you’re wearing sunglasses. Would you make love with sunglasses on? Stop laughing – would you? Of course not, that’s weird. I find it just as weird as scary to have to talk to someone who is enforcing the law, if needed with the force of a gun, and not have the right to see their eyes. I wonder, do I have the right to don a disguise, including wearing shades when talking with an officer? Perhaps this should be my next letter to the NSW Police Force.

  6. We live in a world where ads by the health department make you feel sick, welfare agencies make you feel impoverished and police make you terrified. I agree with your sentiment. Will a police officer ask you to remove dark sunglasses?


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