When Darrell Wilson gunned down unarmed Mike Brown in the streets of Ferguson, the shot reverberated across the 50 states of the USA, through the Atlantic and echoed in the Dumsor plagued plains of Ghana. We all retweeted, shared, liked and argued why #BlackLivesMatter. The USA which we erroneously thought was the land of the free apparently had cops who were triggered and baton happy. Cops who are ready to shoot you down even if you had your hands up. Not forgetting the ones who continued to chokehold after a suspect repeatedly says “I can’t breathe”
What we however forgot was that the men in the navy blue with “Service With Integrity” emblazoned on their crest equally treated lives, black lives, with little regard. Yes, there are some in the service who execute their duties with integrity but we cannot gloss over the litany of abusive treatments they have meted out and continue to mete out alleged criminals, protesters, bystanders, traffic violators and journalists.
In writing this, I needed to come up with a list of police brutality cases and that was like finding a police on the streets of Accra asking you for “something for the boys”. A simple key in of the words “Ghana Police Brutality” yields a long list of sickening instances where the police have applied a disproportionate and mostly unwarranted amount of force.
Where best to start this narrative than the unfortunate incidence of May 9th!!! When agitated fans started hurling missiles unto the pitch how did the cops respond? They fired tear gas into a packed crowd in the stadium’s stands, ensuring the ensuing stampede turned deadly. Over a hundred men and a few women lost their souls in a situation which should not have deescalated.
We mourned the dead, made monetary pledges to those widowed as well as orphaned after that black Wednesday and together we all said “Never Again” will we let those charged to protect and serve us abuse us in such a manner.
But it seems like we forgot all too soon. Post May 9th has seen a litany of unjustified police assault on unarmed citizens, most of whom were only exercising their basic right to protest. I could run through the several times students who were protesting some grievances against university authorities have been battered, whipped and chased by cops on horses. The instances where opposition groups have been arrested and showered with water cannons simply because they took to the streets to agitate against the ruling government.
I cannot forget that time when members of my community, Madina Zongo, were fired upon with live bullets after they had started a peaceful protest over the repossession of a communally used land by a private individual. After the police dispersed the crowd made up of old men and women and the youth of the community, they went running through the neighborhood like characters from the Call of Duty game. It was like Marine Officers running through Fallujah. Two lives were lost, both innocent individuals and to date, not a single officer has been held accountable for the unfortunate incident. The story was glossed over in the media, a committee was established and 4 years later, zilch has been done.
And so I was not surprised when news of how the protesters of the “Let My Vote Count Alliance” members were treated came streaming in on radio. In my view, they received a baby treatment of police brutality. However, the furor over this case has mostly got to do with the nature of the victims. You see when the Wagashi vendor in Madina Zongo was slapped and kicked to the ground on national tv, people dispelled it and in most quarters, I bet the reaction was “Zongo people are violent. They deserve what they got”. But when the victims were members of the upper class, our senses were awakened. We realized how SOME police officers will treat anyone brutally so long as the victim was not in power. We realized how susceptible we all were to such a treatment. We realized how our lives, LIVES of people not in government, did not matter to (some) police officers.
Of course I am not asking for the police to go about hugging people who threaten them but it is the subjective definition of “threaten” given by trigger happy police officers is the problem. That blurry line between “minimum force” (which the police are mandated to use) and “maximum force” (which they seem to use every single time) is the problem.
And that is why we need to have a steady and serious conversation on the use of force by those charged to serve and protect us. Because in a country where a murderer can get off the hook with a few thousand dollars, a goat and a few tubers of cassava, being shot down by a police who claims to be acting in his line of duty is enough to obliterate your name in history. Forget about even being a hash tag on twitter!