For my next story I have picked one that, as the Russian media puts it, “has resonance” in society. Namely, the recent blaring headlines (May 26) about an appealing, bespectacled 9-year-old boy roughed up and detained by cops in the very center of Moscow (Arbat Street) for the “crime” of reading poetry out loud. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, to be precise. Said event proving to the world that Russia is a corrupt and brutal police state where even young children are subject to physical abuse; and where cultural icons such as Shakespeare are not respected by the thuggish illiterate apes who parade around in their gray cop suits.
Anti-Russia propaganda outlets like Radio Free Europe already decided collectively on the guiding meme and slogan, as they trumpet to the world: “Moscow Police Criticized For Detaining Boy Reading Poetry”. Yup, that’s just how bad things have gotten in that totalitarian hellhole called Russia. Citizens, considered yourselves warned: Reading poetry is a crime against the State!
Golly gee, for purposes of international anti-Russia propaganda, this incident could become another Pussy Riot! The civilized nations of the world should impose ever more economic sanctions against Russia. They could call them the “Hamlet” sanctions. And demand that Russia stop detaining children on streets, because such things are never done in civilized countries like the United States of America. Only this is much better than Pussy Riot, because the Pussies were later shown to be degenerate anti-social slags, no matter how one tried to dress them up as anti-totalitarian political martyrs; whereas this little boy is sweet and pure, he is a noble uchin straight out of a Dostoevsky novel, completely undeserving of being “collared” like a two-bit juvenile delinquent out of, say, Fagin’s gang of pickpockets from Oliver Twist.
“Something Is Rotten In the State of Muscovy!”
International propaganda bonanza aside, the story “evoked resonance” and sparked outcries, within Russian society itself, of “police brutality”, as the video of the event went viral. And here is where I have to share a secret with those who are not so familiar with Russian culture: The Russian people are incredibly sentimental about children.
So, here is the video, shot on somebody’s cellphone camera. The woman screaming in the background is the boy’s informal “stepmother”, in other words, the boy’s papa’s current lady friend; and she happens to be out there on the street with the child performing apparent “guerrilla theater” for passing motorists; or perhaps directing a travelling roadshow. Perhaps this odd pair — the grown woman with the weird eyes and the skinny little boy in his tattered jeans — are even the “players” commissioned by Hamlet himself, to invoke the conscience of King Claudius.
The coppers, by the way, don’t know at the time who the hell this woman is, just that she is some harpy screaming at them from the wings as they attempt to detain the boy. Whom they suspect is “begging” and soliciting from passing motorists and pedestrians — which is against the law in Moscow. At 1:50 minutes in, when asked if she is the mother of the child, she demurs: “I am an acquaintance of the child.” Which actually gives her no legal standing — she should have said that she was the stepmother, and then she could have gone along for the ride; and yet she attempts to interfere in the detention process. In retrospect, as our Monday-morning quarterback analysis shall show: A key mistake which the police made, in the fog and confusion of battle, is that they did not handcuff and detain this grown woman as well. It could have saved them a lot of time later, in figuring out who is who and what is what.
To help break down this piece of street theater, I picked this article from Komsomolskaya Pravda, the reporter is Tatiana Telpis. With the help of experts, she does a good post-mortem on the entire incident and helps to clarify some issues which are very confusing to the public. Her piece is entitled “According to the law, how should the police have conducted themselves with the boy on the Arbat?”
Telpis speaks with Alexander Knyazev, the Press Secretary for Moscow’s Chief Of Police, as he responds to the question whether the Moscow cops are systematically cracking down on homeless street urchins and beggars. On the video, one of the cops is heard to say: “We are conducting an operation…”
Knyazev: No, this was just a routine patrol. The woman in uniform [whom you see on the video] is an Inspector specializing in underage juveniles, the other two lads that you see [in the vid] are both city patrol cops.”
Telpis: Can it be confirmed that the boy was approaching motorists and weaving in and out of cars? It is said that he had an open [beggar’s] bag in front of him.
Knyazev: Yes, we can confirm that he was approaching motorists. Our [police] associates witnessed this themselves, this is precisely the thing that made them turn their attention to the boy. The police officers established the fact that the boy was begging for money. We are currently conducting an investigation: We are analyzing the actions of the police, and also the situation in the home of the child. Eventually we will have enough information to decide whom to punish, and for what.
Tatiana next sat down with Police Major Roman Khabarov, an 18-year veteran on the beat. She asked him to view the video with her and to assess, with his professional eye, the work of his colleagues. Tatiana posed 10 important questions which Kharabov helped her to clarify.
Question #1: On what basis are the police allowed to detain a child?
Khabarov: I can tell you right away: What happened out there, according to our Russian law, is not called a “detention”, it is called “delivering a minor to the police station”. In order to “detain” a person, you need to, as a minimum, suspect him of being a party to some kind of crime or infraction. The basis of delivering a child to the police station — for example, if he is hanging out on the street without parental supervision or the supervision of legal guardians, if he is engaged in the act of begging, if he is loitering. These points are carefully documented in the legal instructions, in part in the Federal law called “A prophylactic for unsupervised [children].” The first two points [which I mentioned] apply to this boy. Especially given what we now know and see in the photos and videos taken at the scene. There is a 9-year-old boy, alone in the street, he is reading poetry, collecting money for this in an open bag. And I also want to remark: Driving a child to the police station is not the same as punishing him. It is done for the purpose of making him safe and to get to the bottom of what is happening with him. Where are his papa and mama, why is he begging for money?
[to be continued]