I was at Queen Street station tonight, waiting to get back to Edinburgh when two armed police walked past, clad in black. We kept on walking like they were two wifies stottering out onto Sauchiehall Street off the 2137 service from Balloch but as they exited our peripheral vision I thought how mad it was to have acted so casually around it. I saw an oncoming constable in luminous so tried to be a cunning linguist and address the different dynamic. I asked him why there were armed police in the station. He looked at me like I was stupid. ‘Did you not see what happened in Manchester last night? The threat has been raised to critical. Stay safe lads.’ With that he walked on. I tried to think what the inner feelings of this officer were. Were these the words of a crypto fascist emboldened by the new climate, his dead eyed stare sheathing a malevolence and arousal for state violence or was it simply a concerned upkeeper of the law seeing with perceived evidence how dangerous the world around us all had just become?
Rationalising it, it’s likely he held the sentiments of the latter. But what difference does it really make? Police are still in Queen Street station carrying dirty big guns. There is a thin line that sits between acceptability and tyranny and it felt in Glasgow like it would not take very much for the situation around us to stray into becoming an everyday norm. Something that people accept like taking toiletries out of their bag at an airport. That sense of intimidation and fear though, that’s what will become normal. When it’s normal, it’s not questioned, it’s accepted. What happened yesterday in Manchester was as horrifying as it was tragic and this upsurge in security makes logical sense. But how long does that extend for and for how long do ordinary people surrender control of their emotions and their liberties as authority solidifies its position in society? The police presence changed the atmosphere in the station, people weren’t at ease, conversation around the platforms was more stilted and nobody had any want to be hanging around. I’m not trying to argue that there is anything else that could be done in such an aftermath but people have to make sure not to act with such passivity that this becomes normalised. Like the reflection of the sun off a coin, it only takes a tilt to take the light away.
If folk are scared about things that could happen then the sight of an armed authority figure might be reassuring. But if that becomes normalised it affects how people conduct themselves. There becomes an edge to areas that then descends somewhere more cognitively and people retreat into themselves. People’s ability to interact with others becomes compromised. Fear does that. It distorts instinct and intimacy. It puts far too much power into the hands of the state. Those trained in the handling of firearms could be the most lovely of trained killers but we surely can’t allow a climate where any people, police or otherwise are allowed increased powers to inherently intimidate and dominate over others. Someone with a gun, someone without a gun. Who is in the stronger position? The citizen cannot stand up to someone with a weapon. You could claim it’s safer to have armed police in all major public spaces. It would be safer to have armed police in all public spaces. It would be safer if everyone logged into Facebook live at all times to broadcast their movements. It would be safer if everybody just went where they had to go and didn’t interact with anybody else. It would be safer if people stopped crossing the road or leaving the house. It would be safer not to be born.
I feel very passive to news a lot of the time, it’s very easy to but there was something haunting about what happened in Manchester that affected me in a way I haven’t felt before. It was sickening. The event was so relatable and the lives so near to home. It was the closest that ‘terrorism’ has ever been to me. What difference is there between Manchester and Glasgow beyond tour dates? I felt the sphere of fear beckon close as I sat waiting for the train and I could see the rationality of it. There was an edge to the place. What if someone burst into the station right now and tried to do something? How much of these threats are real and how much are just perception? How much do we take safety for granted? Whatever the answers, I don’t want to live in a world where that justification for fear is accepted and that fear is legitimised. Once that happens, freedoms start to slip away and it begins with freedoms more innate.
How people react to the present shapes the state of what’s to come. Manchester as a community will recover. Cowering and retribution won’t change what happened. Neither will defiance and love but they will make for better moments in the future and those will always outweigh the times that scare us. In the moments when fear can be cloaked at its darkest, I cry for people to reach out together and cross over that thin wee line back into hope.