Updated: Nov 18, 2020
The Royal Ulster Constabulary and Modern American Policing:
A Comparison of the Northern Ireland Conflict and America in 2020
For almost three decades from 1969 – 1998, a sociopolitical and religious divide plagued the Ulster region of Northern Ireland that sparked a civil war known globally as the Northern Ireland Conflict, or more locally known in that region as the Troubles. Northern Ireland at the time was still under British rule and governing. The Irish Catholic Republican-Nationalist natives felt religiously and socially persecuted by the British Protestant Loyalist-Unionist government for many reasons to include voting discrimination, public-housing discrimination and education discrimination (Rekawe, 2011).
The civil tensions between the Irish Catholics and the British government in the small Ulster region, that had a heavy demographic of Protestants, had even pre-dated The Troubles, going back as far as before World War I. As a result of the civil rights movement and uprising in the Ulster area, in 1922 the British government had employed a para-militaristic, and highly armed police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), to police the region and maintain any political civil unrest, as well as, deal with common criminal matters (Enloe, 1978). The initial demographic of the RUC was ordered to be only one-third Catholic, however, ended up only being 21 percent Catholic and the remainder Protestant (Ryder, 1997).
The issue taken with that, despite the RUC being highly armed as opposed to its unarmed and friendly British Bobby counterpart (Ryder, 1997), the agency, at its most unbalanced diversity, was comprised of almost 92% British Protestants and only 8% Irish Catholics (Beaudette & Weinstein, 2020), resulting in the minority of civilian populace (the Catholics) in the Ulster region to feel unfairly represented in the police force, causing the Catholic community’s lack of faith in the RUC (Beaudette & Weinstein, 2020).
The RUC was also a controversial force because outside observers viewed the police force as “evil storm troopers” working in the name of unionism and on behalf of the British government who they felt indulged in biased police brutality (Latham, 2001). In order to combat, what the Catholics of Ulster perceived to be a tyrannical police force, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), who broke off from the original IRA because it was deemed to be no match against the RUC (Rekawe, 2011), was formed and waged a militant war. The PIRA’s agenda shifted from political civil rights activism implemented by the IRA to instead not wanting to just achieve civil rights, but to remove the British presence from Ireland by the means of a terrorist-cum-urban guerrilla campaign (Rekawe, 2011).
As a result of this bloodshed, over the course of the thirty years of the Troubles, over 300 RUC officers were murdered and another 8,000-9,000 were severely injured or maimed; all casualties were the result of terrorist style pipe/car-bombings, sniper fire, and mortar fire at the hands of the PIRA (Ryder, 1997). And what is worse, a lot of these ambush terrorist attacks on RUC members were when they were either mindlessly walking their beats, not bothering anyone, or even when they were off-duty, at home in the comfort of their domicile, and then forced out of their home to be tortured and/or executed (Ryder, 1997). And even before the eventual ceasefire in 1998, since the beginning of the Troubles in 1969, by 1983 according to an Interpol figure published in the International Criminal Police Review of that same year, the RUC was deemed the most dangerous police force in the world to work for, and kept that reputation until the end (Ryder, 1997). The murders of these police officers in Norther Ireland were believed to be purely driven by the hatred towards police (Ryder, 1997).
Now, one may read this as an American in 2020 and connect some similarities between the tension of police/civilian relationships during the Troubles, and the tension between police/civilian relationships here in 2020 America as I have done. My hypothesis is to ask if, although there have been small periods of tension between American police forces and civilians since the 1960’s such as the Watts riot of 1965, the Newark riots of 1967 or the LA riots of 1992 which were both in the name of racially provoked police brutality, that since 2013 with the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement as a result of the George Zimmerman verdict (Rickford, 2016) to now, has policing in America become just as violent, lethal and dangerous to work in as it was to work for the RUC from 1969-1998?
I think that it is important to make this comparative study in order to foreshadow what could potentially be a lethal time in American history if events continue to unfold as they are here in as they did in Northern Ireland. There have been many pieces of literature over the years during and since the end the Northern Ireland Conflict that analyze the political and social turmoil in that region, the characteristics and roles the IRA/PIRA played, and the characteristics and roles the RUC played during that time period. Reviewing these works and analyzations, along with reviewing information about the political climate currently in America will help in bridging the similarities between the two countries in order to come to a logical conclusion to my main contention.
As one can probably deduce from the introduction, the Troubles was a time of civil turmoil in the Ulster region of Northern Ireland that erupted into thirty years of violence as a result of multiple clashing riots that took place in August of 1969 between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Loyalists (Rekawe, 2011). The tension of the riots came to a head on August 12th, 1969 during the annual Apprentice Boys March, a Protestant-based organization (Rekawe, 2011) aided with a caravan of RUC vehicles that amounted to 700 police officers (Ryder, 1997), paraded its way through the streets of Londonderry which eventually found its way into the solely Catholic neighborhood of Waterloo place (Ryder, 1997). Once this march entered into the neighborhood, Catholics began hurling rocks at the participants which resulted in what was known as the “Battle of Bogside” and commencing the Troubles (Ryder, 1997). Rioting, looting, and petrol bombings erupted in the vicinity and the RUC was caught in the middle, trying to control both sides.
As a result, the RUC had begun to deploy tear-gas on the rioters, who were mainly Catholic (Ryder, 1997), which the Catholics perceived as biased police brutality. The “Battle of Bogside” lasted almost two days when on August 14th, the British Army had to come in and aid the RUC in getting the civil unrest under control (Ryder, 1997). The Troubles was now in full swing.
During that violent month of August 1969, Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) was formed as a result of their belief that the original Irish Republican Army (IRA) failed to protect and defend the Catholic Republicans from the Protestant onslaught (Rekawe, 2011). So as the community of Catholics turned their backs on the IRA, this gave the PIRA an opportunity to emerge, as Rekawe (2011) put it, “like the phoenix from the ashes and reclaim the seemingly obsolete mantra of Irish republicanism in its truest, purest, militant form” (p. 30).
Their goal then shifted from a mere pursuit of a Marxist inspired political protest for civil rights against a fascist state designed for privileged capitalist sycophants (Currie, 1994) , to trying to completely push the British presence out of Northern Ireland by brute force. The PIRA thus embraced the armed struggle that would impose its own settlement on Ireland though revolt. The targets? Protestant civilians and the RUC who stood in between them to defend civilian life (Currie, 1994).
In order to fund their “armed struggle” and give it a legitimate appearance to the world, the PIRA reached out for allies abroad, which included the New York City based Iriah-American organization called NORAID, under the guise that the money was being used for relief funds (Currie, 1994). The PIRA also found a sympathetic ear in the terrorist-ridden nation of Libya, under the reign of Muammar Qadafi (Currie, 1994). Libya is thought to be where the PIRA was receiving their weaponry to included Soviet-made automatic rifles, pistols, grenades and other explosives (Currie, 1994).
Members of PIRA also traveled to other terrorist-ridden nations, such as Lebanon, to train be trained. By the end of the 1970’s the PIRA’s links to international revolutionary groups were obvious (Currie, 1994). The Irish minister of the Interior at the time was even quotes as saying, “We have concrete proof of ties between the IRA and other European terrorist organizations, the terrorist multinational exists.”
In the thirty years that the civil war between the PIRA and the RUC/Protestant civilian population lasted it is believed that the PIRA was responsible for the death of 3,169 civilians, as well as another 36,000 who were maimed by their terrorist-style bombing campaign (Currie, 1994). That seems to be in addition the approximate 300 RUC members killed and the other 8,000 – 9,000 that were severely injured (Ryder, 1997). With these statistics, it is not wonder why being a police officer in the RUC during the Troubles was deemed the most danger force in the world to work for.
Now before we get into the compare and contrast stage of the Troubles versus America in 2020, we must first try and define was deems a group to be domestic terrorist organization. It should be obvious that the IRA/PIRA were in fact terrorist a group, but of course, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom-fighter (Golder & Williams, 2004).
As Golder and William (2004) point out in their study on a possible legal definition for terrorism, it is often tricky to tackle as making it too general poses the risk of labeling any sort of defiant group as terrorists, while making it too specific makes it unadaptable to the changing of times. According Golder Williams (2004), Article 2 (1) of the Draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism defines acts of terrorism as:
· Any person that by any means, unlawfully intentionally causes death or serious bodily injury; or (Golder & Williams, 2004)
· Serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or environment; or (Golder & Williams, 2004)
· Damage to property, places, facilities, or systems, resulting or likely to result in major economic loss, when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or compel a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing an act (Golder & Williams, 2004).
This particular draft was a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, and was an attempt by the convention to establish an international definition, which in general would be sufficient for this study. But, since we are comparing and contrasting the cultures specifically in the United States and the United Kingdom, it would be more beneficial to point how each country defines acts of terrorism specifically. According to Golder and Williams (2004), the United States, under the USA PATRIOT Act, defines acts of terrorism, specifically for the sake of this study, domestic terrorism as:
· Acts that are dangerous to human life and involve a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
· Appear to be intended –
o Intimidate or coerce civilian population;
o To affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
o Occur primarily within the jurisdiction of the United States.
The United Kingdom adopted an original counter-terrorism provision in 1974 as a response to the mainland bombing campaign conducted by none other than the IRA (Golder & Williams, 2004). In 2000 that piece of legislation was consolidated and turned into the Terrorism Act of 2000 (Golder & Williams, 2004) which defines acts of terrorism as:
· The use or threat of action where –
o The use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or section of the public; and (Golder & Williams, 2004)
o The use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause (Golder & Williams, 2004).
o Involves serious violence against any person, serious damage to property, endangers a person’s life other than the person committing the act, creates a serious risk to health or safety of the public or a section of the public; (Golder & Williams, 2004)
o Or is designed to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system (Golder & Williams, 2004).
o The use or threat of action involving the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not the aforementioned parameters are satisfied (Golder & Williams, 2004).
Although the definitions differ slightly in the requirements needed to fulfill a defined act of terrorism, one theme seems to be common in each of the definitions, and a theme in which I will use to define terrorism for this study: an act that has some sort of ideologically motivated violence that causes harm or property damage with the intention to intimidate or coerce a population or government.
Knowing what we now know about the PIRA/IRA, as well as having a generalized definition of an act of terrorism, did the PIRA/IRA meet those requirements? Absolutely. The PIRA/IRA were undoubtedly terrorist organizations that waged an armed, mainly explosive, struggle against the RUC which is why working for that force was deemed the most dangerous in that time period. So, knowing what we know now about the Troubles, let us now examine the situation in the United States currently with rising tensions between police and the BLM/Antifa movement in order to answer whether or not policing in America is or will be just as dangerous to work for as it was to work for the RUC.
2013 saw the emergence of a social media hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, that was created by Patrice Cullors (a self-proclaimed trained Marxist), Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the (rather questionable) murder of Trayvon Martin. A year later when the Michael Brown shooting at the hands of a police officer occurred in Ferguson, MO, the creators then used the hashtag across social media to organize participation in different cities to protest police brutality which ended up turning into riots that included looting and arson (Smith, 2020), a lot like the “Battle of Bogside” in my opinion.
Since then, Black Lives Matter became a formal organization with dozens of chapters and cities around the country (Smith, 2020), however, the organization claims to be autonomous and claims no ties to any political parties (Rickford, 2016). Although BLM claims no political affiliation or motivation, they do have a formal list of demands that Smith (2020) lays out in his article:
· To end “broken windows” policing that aggressively polices minor crimes;
· Use community oversight for police misconduct rather than permitting police to decide consequences officers should face;
· Making a standard for reporting police use of deadly force;
· Independently investigation and prosecute police misconduct;
· Having a racial make-up in police departments that reflect the communities they serve;
· Body-cam requirements;
· More training for officers;
· Ending for-profit policing practices;
· Ending the use of military grade equipment for police;
· And implementing police union contracts that hold officers accountable for misconduct.
So, with this list of demands, BLM satisfies the requirement, according to the definition I am using to define acts of terrorism, of having some sort of ideological motivation. And according to Rickford (2016), members of the movement are “waging an unpretentious, democratic, militant crusade (p. 2)” that demands accountability for racist violence and an immediate end to the murder of black people at the hands of the state (Rickford, 2016). Rickford (2016) also points out that the means by which activists have used to advance their cause have been a plethora of disruptive techniques; the mainstay being occupations of public places. So, although BLM fulfills the motivating requirements with the intent to coerce a population to meet their demands, do they fulfill the violence requirement?
It may be tricky to determine that factor because when acts of violence break out during one of the BLM organizations, Smith (2020) states that BLM chapter leaders tend to avoid having any knowledge or connection with individuals who commit acts of violence or property damage, and go on to claim no responsibility for the catalyst of events that stem from their demonstrations under the BLM slogan.
So, although BLM chapter leaders acknowledge that violence tends to erupt during their demonstrations, which can clearly be seen when you turn on the news, they will never accept that it was actual members of their chapter partaking in the violence, only independent individuals or other unaffiliated organizations. And unlike the PIRA/IRA who took responsibility for their violence, BLM outright denies it.
But along with the emergence of BLM in 2013 is response to racial injustices and police brutality, we also saw a resurgence of Antifa, an international organization who claims a militant crusade against any types of fascism, and in this circumstance, to stand united with BLM. In Copsey’s (2018) article he acknowledges Anitfa’s roots in radical ideologies, namely Marxism, and constantly refers to their movement as “militant antifascism”. He then goes onto define militant as the use of physical force. And even as an Antifa sympathizer, Copsey (2018) also accepts that violence is a basic feature of their militancy and are motivated by political-ideologies, the caveat though, Copsey (2018) claims it is all in the name of antifascism. And like Golder and Williams (2004) made mention of, I refer again that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom-fighter.
With the being said, I feel that Antifa definitely fills the terrorist requirements of being ideologically motivated, purposely violent, and with the intent to coerce a population’s opinion of police brutality and racist police. But, depending on which side of the argument your find yourself on, they may not be considered terrorists.
But let us also look at incidents where police were attacked and/or killed all in the name of BLM. On December 20, 2014, NYPD Officer’s Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed and murdered by a BLM fanatic (Smith, 2020). That incident was then followed up in July 2016 with the killing of five police officers in Dallas, TX, and then the ambush style killing of another three police officers in Baton Rouge a few days later. Both events took place in conjunction with BLM protests in the area (Smith, 2020). And let us not forget the recent ambush shooting of two LA County Deputies on September 12, 2020. Although the shooter has not been positively identified as an affiliate of either BLM or Antifa, there were anti-police protestors, believed to be BLM and Antifa affiliates, who gathered outside the hospital entrance and wished for the deaths of both the deputies.
These are a few isolated incident that have taken place since 2013, but let us not forget to mention the countless other occurrences captured on video of officers having blunt objects hurled at backs of their heads, Molotov cocktails being thrown in their direction, police stations being set on fire, and entire sections of cities being absolutely ransacked burned to the ground, and as in Seattle, completely taken over and occupied; all in the name of the BLM movement against police brutality.
I went on to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) website and viewed their uniformed crime report (UCR) of law enforcement officer killed and assaulted (LEOKA) statistics. I was able to compile stats from 2013-2019, and found that as of that time frame 334 officers have been feloniously killed, and another 94,516 have been injured with injuries (Federal Bureau of Investigations, n.d.). That is just a matter of a six-year time frame as opposed to the thirty-year time frame of the Troubles over in Northern Ireland. Now I will point out that there were significantly less officers working for the RUC in its entirety, approximately 12,800 (Ryder, 1997), as opposed to the approximate 800,000 officers currently employed in the United States currently (NLEOMF, 2020).
If one does the math, in thirty years during the Troubles, approximately 70 percent of the officer population was inured/maimed at the hands of the PIRA/IRA, and approximately 2.3 percent were killed. In the six years since the inception of the BLM movement, approximately .04 percent of the officer population has been feloniously killed, and 11 percent feloniously injured. If the amount of line of duty deaths and injuries continue at the current rate, by a thirty-year mark, if we are actually comparing the RUC with American Police, the percentage would only increase to approximately a .02 percent death total and 55 percent injury total.
In this study, I proposed the question of whether or not policing in America currently is as dangerous as policing was in the RUC during the Northern Ireland Conflict. In order to do that I compared and contrasted the social, political, and other motivating ideological turmoils that brought Northern Ireland into a civil war with recent events in America, compared and contrasted the different opposing political groups that were and are currently involved in each conflict against the police, as well as gave a loose definition of whether or not these groups are considered terrorists, and I lastly gave quantitative evidence on the casualty rate of both the RUC and American police, as well as compared them.
My study has found similarities between the two time periods, one is that they both have a particular group(s) of people who feel marginalized and discriminated against by police, the disdain for police by these particular groups have both resulted in violent outburst and attacks against police, all groups appear to have Marxist political origins/agendas and are motivated by their political demands, and lastly all groups appear to have a militant approach to their cause.
With all the said, based on the statistical casualty rate experienced in American policing from 2013-2020 compared to the statistical casualty rate experienced by the RUC during the Troubles, I can not conclude that they are equal in danger level. The RUC experienced car bombings, pipe bombings, mortar fire, sniper attacks, etc. both on and off duty. We have yet to experience that at all in America as of currently, but that is not to say that they way things have been going the past six years that the attacks could not evolve into those types of violence if civil unrest isn’t quelled. This historical comparative study should shed some light on the possible outcome of a civil war against police by protest groups that could turn into blatant terrorist organizations if they aren’t already.