Throwing a Spanner in the Spiral of Violence

I was impressed by the way the former Commissioner of Victoria Police led a cultural transformation in our police force and consequently did her bit to slow the cycle of violence inherent in society. Here's a transcript of what I said to introduce Christine to an audience at a public occasion last year.....

Thank you Matt, I too would like to acknowledge that we meet on land of which the members of the Kulin Nations are the traditional owners and custodians, and as I always say when I say that, I also want to encourage us all to be thinking today how we contribute to reconciliation, lest our acknowledgement becomes something hollow and something of a rote statement, so let’s be mindful of that as we meet today, and as we go from here.

There’s an element of traditional Catholic theological thinking called the Spiral of Violence. It was made popular in the 1970’s by the Catholic Archbishop of Recife in Brazil, Dom Helder Camara, but it has been part of Catholic theological thinking way before that. Basically it asserts that violence in society develops from - at the start from the world and it moves to the flesh, and moves beyond the flesh to the devil then back into the world and so on.

Now these sound like highly pious and very churchy terms, but really there is a much more everyday meaning behind them. The "world" of course is a reflection of the fact that when we create systems, in order to get by in life, in order to make sense of this life, we ordinarily exclude someone in those systems.

That exclusion leads people to respond at the “flesh level” - people might think that coming from a church that sort of language is about infatuation with sex, or issues about sex, but it’s not primarily about sex. It’s about the way we as humans respond physically to the system; it’s the way that we might engage in some form of physical violence, something as simple as graffiti, right through to more psychological forms of abuse. And then the response to the flesh level is the “devil level.” This is not a reference to a little, red, horned creature with a forked tail; in traditional Catholic thinking it’s often attributed to the idea that when the “fleshly” response to the system breaks out, that the system fights back with some form of overt control. The tools of the system uses to implement such control are often identified as “government,” “the legal system” and also often “the police.”

Now why would I associate the police and the devil when we have the Police Commissioner here?

I want to say that every time that I’ve heard the Police Commissioner Christine Nixon speak, and I’ve only heard her speak publicly, that “devil” aspect, that aspect of a “retributive culture” has never been part of those speeches. What I’ve heard coming through is very much a restorative culture, and so that’s why, as a Uniting Church Agency at Connections UnitingCare, we’re very, very pleased to have Christine here with us today, as an agent of change, if you like, cutting across that Spiral of Violence in communities.

In introducing Christine, let me just say a little about her. Christine joined the police force some thirty-five years ago and she’s now in charge of an organisation that has some fourteen thousand staff members operating out of five hundred locations, with a budget of 1.6 billion dollars per year. She’s also a Patron of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, the Blue Ribbon Foundation, Onside Soccer The Victorian Soccer Federation Incorporated, and Operation Newstart to which Connections has a very close link, as many of you will know.

In April this year in association with the Victoria Police, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Connections launched Operation Newstart Casey from our Narre Warren office. We were very pleased to have the Chief Commissioner involved in that launch, and we’re very pleased to have her here today. Operation Newstart and our own program Clean Slate are all about giving young people a second chance. The aim is to prevent young offenders from re-offending, and to encourage and assist young people to increase their sense of responsibility, think carefully about choices, and develop an
understanding of the outcomes of choices, become involved in positive, creative and constructive forms of expression, and learn new skills. Surely these are things we would want to impart to all the young people, the breaking, as I said, of the Spiral of Violence in the whole of society, and the link between our programs and the work of Victoria Police and the Chief Commissioner are quite striking.

So I’d ask you please to welcome the Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon........

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