We have an euphemism problem on our streets


Modern law enforcement seems to be increasingly as much about policing language as policing crime. Some cynics might say more of the former than the latter, or at least with greater enthusiasm, while other might argue that language can be, and often is, a crime that needs to be policed. How to marshal limited resources and balance the community’s needs for physical safety and security with the new-found need to not be offended is a challenge that many would say is not being met. Another aspect of the intersection of language and policing is the attempt to sanitise the former lest it too gives offence, reinforces negative stereotypes and exacerbates community tensions. Noble goals, but I suspect that verbal contortions and evasions practiced with the growing frequency by the PR-minded officers are not fooling anyone but merely make the police force look silly and out of touch, which is a dangerous development.

Take for example the latest comments in Victoria, following a spate of arrests of young suspects on weapons, drugs, carjacking and home invasion charges:

Detective inspector Pannell said a “major focus” of that investigation would be the source of the AK47. He also said while there appeared to be a “level of organisation” in the group, he said they were not gangs.

“I wouldn’t call them a gang, no, they’re a collective group of individuals who know each other,” he said.

Beware of the g-word in Victoria. To say it aloud is to indicate there is a crime problem. Gangs are the Voldemort of the Victorian politics.

This is not a uniquely Australian problem, of course. This week Sweden has been hit by a spate of well coordinated arson attacks. “Most of the cars were burned at around 20 locations in Sweden’s second largest city of Gothenburg late Monday. Authorities said two suspects aged between 16 and 21 have been arrested so far in Gothenburg and would be questioned on Tuesday.” Or, as “The New York Times” has it:

In this case it’s difficult to blame the NYT for the ephemeral “groups of young men”, since it’s the Swedish police, which has not released any details about the suspected arsonists. This might or might have something to do with the fact that the Swedes are heading to the polls on September 9 and if the opinion polls are correct the biggest party set to emerge is the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (“For Sweden, a tipping point was the refugee crisis of 2015. Over the past decades, the once homogeneous nation of 10 million people has been transformed, with 18 percent of the population now born outside the country. Most Swedes profess to have a positive view toward immigration. But voters have become more comfortable voicing misgivings after their country accepted as many as 600,000 refugees over the past five years.”) Metaphorically – and almost literally – Sweden is a powder keg at the moment, and there are “groups of young men” walking around with lighters.