What do we actually need security guards for?

David Adam muses on the ways in which commercial security firms frequently cause more problems than they solve, and seem to be present in far greater numbers where working class people exist than in any other walk of life.

The recent attempted, forced removal of post graduate student Ebenezer Azamati from an Oxford Union society debate he was trying to attend, shows us that elitism, racism, and privilege are sadly much alive in Britain. The incident with Ebenezer, who is also blind — a challenge for anyone let alone a postgrad student, was upsetting to watch; especially, as the other students stood and gawped or smirked awkwardly while “security” attempted to wrench Ebenezer from the seat he had booked for the debate.

Possibly the elite feel they need protecting from wider social environs. After all the chamber is seen as the “the last bastion of free speech in the Western world”. A “bastion” where the future Lords and Ladies of this country hone their upper class “Ayes and Noes” — a junior version of the House of Commons. Or maybe this debacle, rather than a debate, is the elite in action using the small cogs of power to control — the timeless by-product of wealth.

“Security”. They are everywhere and it’s a growth industry as we “protect” everyone from everything. But is there a deeper reasoning for this level of State and commercial security that we encounter every day — we are monitored and “secured”.

As a political activist I’ve had many run-ins with “the security”, the quasi-official — if you can call having a plastic bib, a set of keys, and a clip board the hallmark of officialdom. Many of the men and women I meet are working class (depending on the definition of working class or the system that is “class”). Just about anyone can be trained to be a security guard.

What puzzles me is that you never find security guards where you’d expect to find them. For example in banks where there is a lot of money. Even at HM Naval Base Clyde Faslane, where they have nuclear weapons stored, there are only two people standing at the front gate. My local supermarket has more comprehensive security, one man, legs apart/arms folded trying too hard to do a Robocop impression. What they are guarding, Cornflakes and cat food? And don’t get me started on the Job Centre, where we the public are so out of control that the furniture is bolted to the floor, the staff only use their first names and G4S (“no qualifications required”) stand about all day passing the odd innuendo to the bored coffee and tea drinking staff.

I remember at a gig once being interrogated by “security”, on finding a packet of mints and my car keys in my possession! They quickly arrived at the conclusion that I must be planning to drink drive — the mints to mask my boozy crime. In reality I just get a dry mouth, hence the mints.

The web is awash with videos of people, being dragged, intimidated, forced, and at times assaulted by these so called security guards, and the irony is not lost that we have these CCTV images and film due to our neurosis with being secured. One incident remains in my mind of two security idiots —despite her pleas for them to stop — dragging a lady out a shop. Eventually, alarmed, passing members of the public (guards fail to realise that they too are the public) forcibly told “the security” to stop. 

I mind also, of another incident: the launch of a new left-wing group which held their launch in the Marriot Hotel (what were they thinking)? We jacked the event, where groups had paid to have a stall, and found an empty table where we set up our own, which didn’t go down well with the £15 Pimms and a tea socialists. Security grabbed my arm and I more than played my part, telling the guy, “you can’t touch me”! Which he can’t in Scotland. At least I got an apology, as witnessed by my friend, while I was physically retrained against my will, and obstructed by Marriot staff — which is of course a criminal offence.

And that’s another thing: the law. Security guards do not actually have any more legal powers than any member of the general public; they have just been employed by a business to help protect it. Did I write this correctly — “no legal powers”? Yes, security guards are members of the public and ‘are awarded no powers or rights over and above any other member of the public. It’s like TV shows, where an actor walks around with a hi-viz vest absurdly telling people they can’t do whatever it is they are doing — usually something mundane like walking side-by-side — until the gaff is detected.

I’m also concerned by the way many security guards (and now bailiffs and the like) are looking more alike police officers in a quite deliberate attempt to look official and to attain official power.    

I could write all day about my own ongoing encounters with “security”, these low paid and often disliked individuals, who I always challenge and will continue to do so. Maybe we’re just too conditioned to “respect” but never “challenge” authority. 

David Adam


Pic: G4S security at the doors, by David Adam