Somewhere early 2020 when COVID-19 showed its head in Ghana, ‘SARS’ was the word flying around. “It is like SARS of 2002” was one effective way of explaining that whole mess of a pandemic to us all the general public. Somewhere during the latter part of 2020, there was another ‘SARS’ word flying around—this time around, from Nigeria.
It wasn’t a disease—well, not in the literal sense. But metaphorically a disease, nonetheless. The Nigerian police, supposed to protect the public, had been for many years abusing, extorting, and even killing members of the general public—Nigerians had had enough. They famously rose in mutiny against this tyranny.
Right here in Ghana, over the course of these years, two sets of contradictory things have happened. On the one hand, the Ghanaian police, an entity supposed to safeguard the peace have been quite typically demonized. The actions of the few (ahem! ‘many’) bad nuts, have affected the public perception of the whole.
On the other hand, some policemen and women, while in service of their country, have met very gruesome ends—they have been murdered in cold blood. In these instances, the redeeming angels, the very few good nuts (like the policeman regulating traffic at the Gimpa intersection. Someone, give that man a trophy already) get highlighted. The police is a force of good after all, the public seems to, very briefly, admit to themselves during these circumstances.
Come to think of it, we the people of the world have been through a whole lot these past years! After this whole episode of our lives is over, we humans interspersed worldwide ought to really meet somewhere and give ourselves a very big round of applause. May our generation be spared hell, for we’ve been through it already. Can I get an ‘amen!’ (Sometimes I remember all of a sudden that I am supposed to be a prophet.)
PART I: PLEASE, THE POLICE
Like all life as we know now, Europe says the police service has its origins with them—so there you have it, modern police systems find their roots in Europe. The pseudo-continent had at the start of the 18th century, experienced exponential escalations in crime, especially in their cities—perhaps, in part owing to the industrial revolution the region was experiencing.
The law enforcement mechanisms in place during and prior to this period had been, among others—and Mr. Gandhi would not like this—something close to: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Except when I stole an eye of yours, you could go for my heart; and for your tooth, you could take my lungs. Citizens settled their cases among themselves—most of the time.
There were the duels. Oh, the duels! If you think certain past African practices absurd, then hold Europe’s beer for their duels. It was perhaps the height of human baseness, and Europe supposed mother of all civilization as we know it (supposed) was home, too, to this human folly.
So then, you, at the height of your profession—legal, financial, health, business—all those fanciful professions; you, a man (I’d like to include here ‘woman’ but then, in this aged senseless charade, it was strictly ‘man’); you, having accumulated such vast wealth in the course of your profession; you waiting to go on pension, or already on pension, enjoying or intending to enjoy the fruits of your labour—when wronged by your fellow man, would say something close to, “I need satisfaction”, meaning ‘meet me outside.’ And the two of you, each wielding a weapon—sword, gun (choose your choice) would battle it out.
Mostly it was ‘honour’ at stake—one man would invite another man out to duel, sometimes to death, because his honour had been hurt by the other. Is it not these rich people, supposed esteemed people who cared for honour, so much so that they were willing to, within a blink of an eye, cut their own lives, or another’s life short? The gentlemen’s duel—it was called.
A man who lived long, avoiding such battles was a cowardly man—what is long-life if a man has never defended his honour? In these duels, the loser—specifically, the injured or dead man—was automatically adjudged the guilty party; the winner/living/un-scratched, innocent.
Reasons to duel? Oh, maybe you told another man that he smelled like a pig; or that his wife had a flat chest; or that he was short, or fat; or perhaps you found yourself, pen in hand, staining another man’s white shirt with blue ink—all these things could lead to dueling, injuries and perhaps death.
Increased crime rates in the subcontinent in the 18th century necessitated the creation of a law enforcement agency—one differing from the dueling, mob justices, militarism, etc. the region had for centuries prior witnessed. So then: the creation of the police—an institution initially vehemently argued against. It is important to note however that Europe in its institution of the police, faced vehement protests by its populace—prominent and average citizens alike.
The fear was that a law enforcement agency formed under the executive arm of government would mean making this organ of government too powerful, and easily prone to breaching civil rights. This argument was, however, defeated with this exponential increase in crime. Crime necessitated the creation of modern police system as we know it now. (no shock there.)
“I don’t get no respect”
Fast-forward to today, and the police—these crime fighters, these men and women employed to safeguard the peace, these people serving a very vital societal purpose—are worldwide, subject to no respect. Why? Because they do not deserve it? Yes? No? If we choose to go with ‘yes’—it must be a soft yes, at least.
For the institution itself—the basis for its formation: ‘to safeguard the peace’, ‘protect society’, etc. all these are words and phrasings deserving respect. These are things the institution ‘ought to be’, and that—that deserves all the respect it can get.
So then, our ‘yes’ to the question: ‘do the police not deserve respect?’ perhaps is in reference to what the institution ‘actually is’, or at least, what the institution ‘has become’. Maybe, that is where derisions against the police stem from.
‘Service with integrity’—says the slogan of Ghana Police, ‘To Serve and To Protect’—says the motto of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Yet these agencies, like many other police institutions worldwide, are subject to insults—insults that seem to suggest failures in mandates. If failure be the cause of these mockeries and disdains, we must note that the police does not exist outside the realm of governance. Perhaps (perhaps!—emphasis necessary) they are what we made them.
“The Murderers”—USA Police
“Defund the Police” is actually the slogan of a movement in America, seeking to, as the name suggests, defund the police. Some have gone so far as to call for a total abolition of the nation’s police service altogether.
“The Thieves”—Ghana Police
These are comments by Ghanaians under a certain article. “The police must be purged!” “One of the worst institutions!” “It is better to find justice yourself than to rely on Ghana police—people of low intelligence causing embarrassment” (This commenter seems to be showing pro-dueling tendencies.)
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Ghana stands a better chance of finding success in her bid at creating a functioning police service than, say, USA—a country with a long history of injustices. The nation’s past (and present) legislations, justice systems, like all aspects of its national lives, were created with the protection of its White citizens only, in mind.
Blacks have been on the receiving end of endless, ever-changing forms of torture, attacks, monstrosities, in all shapes and forms—from all sections of society. Hence, the nation’s fight towards a functioning police service does not end with: restructuring of the police service, war on corruption within the police service, re-training of police forces, etc. The journey towards a fair and just American police service has one mighty hurdle to cross—the hurdle of racial prejudices. And if ever there was a difficult root to uproot, it is this.
Ghana has no such institutionalised racialism existing in her law enforcement agencies. The creation of an effective, fair, just police service, one that actually and consistently lives up to its mandate of: ‘service with INTEGRITY’ is a much more doable task in the Ghanaian context. Like every development imperative, Ghana is not short on the ‘how’. Our problem is not with: ‘but how are we going to do it’, for we know—we always know.
Our main problem always lies with our tendencies to consistently sweep things under the carpet. The police occupy such crucial place in our national lives that we cannot afford to keep them relegated to positions of ‘bottom-priority’. Is it not bizarre that an institution created with the intention of ‘safeguarding law and order’ is overlooked and derided? What does that say of a country’s law, order, and safety atmosphere?
People are, among others, being murdered here and there in Ghana—we need the police coming through here and there. Policemen and women are getting murdered here and there in the country—we need the government coming through for them.
PART II: GOOD COP, BAD COP
Batman and The Joker
A historical perspective is still necessary, so I am going to begin, again, with Europe—a subcontinent, not the origin of law enforcement. It is important that we remember that, so as not to feed those erroneous centuries-long Eurocentrism—that which calls Europe the origin of civilisation as we know it.
Europe is not the origin of law enforcement. Peoples interspersed worldwide, long existing before this modern conception of nationhood, all had, in various forms, their own peculiar, sometimes similar, law enforcement mechanisms set in place to maintain law and order. Yet, the police agency as we know it now, its structure and form, its mode of conduct and performance, et al. has its origins in Europe.
And what is it that they say?—necessity is the mother of all inventions. Crime, perhaps like never seen before in the subcontinent, was the order of the day, owing, in part, to its newfound economic El Dorado—industrialisation.
Industrialisation meant—and I noted this in a certain article of mine ‘It’s 24th December, And We Are Going Nowhere’—a shift in rural to urban population, and consequently, the congestion of cities.
This coupled with the European society’s capitalistic underpinning meant that there were winners and losers—wealth creators and poverty-ladened remainders, and an overall increase in the gap between rich and poor. Such disparities in wealth in any human ecosystem would undoubtedly mean, too, the creation of criminals.
In this dichotomy of good and evil, the good (those with properties needing protection) always favour the inhibition of the ‘other’—the perpetrators of crime. And that is why in 18th Century Europe, a people who had years prior, resisted vehemently the creation of the police agency, found themselves, by the end of the century, agreeing to the establishment of this institution.
It might just be impossible now to conceive of a time when people resisted the idea of the police. As noted, the 18th century European’s reason had been the fear that this agency when formed under the executive government would only go on to make said government too powerful, and what would ensue is the violation of human rights, civil rights, all such rights owing a populace in any society.
We all humans, even the most airheaded, are quite the prophet when it comes to matters like these. All over the world, these sentiments of the18th Century European populace, have been proved right. In recent history, USA has been the highlight of this foreboding. All this calls to mind our kinsfolk—as noted in the early paragraphs of this article—Nigeria. But I cannot really get to SARS here.
Prior to their acceptance of the police, Europe had scrambled for almost anything. Key amongst these law enforcement prospecting had been the military. And the military, they get things done.
We must remember that to ‘get things done’ in the military conception, means warfare against enemies—external enemies. And this military training, this same fervor employed against external enemies are undoubtedly (subconsciously, perhaps) repurposed against internal enemies if the military is given the tasks of ensuring law enforcement within a country.
And Ghanaians found out the hard way sometime in April of this year during the La protest. Europe was soon to realise this fact. They were soon to find that citizens were not objects that when forced to lie flat on the floor would remain there still (although some objects are notorious themselves for never lying still).
This characteristic brute force employed by the military only served to create hardened citizenries and criminals. Europe was to find that in the bid to ensure peace, violence could never serve well, that purpose. You cannot attain a positive by employing a negative.
This checkered journey towards peace was to produce a very interesting result. And this result finds itself in the Black Lives Matter uproar, in the End SARS outcry, and if Ghana remains in her complacency, we would be creating our own brand of hashtags too, all with this same end—a fight against the police.
And how do societies get to this point? That an institution established with the sole purpose of protecting society traverses such a road that it finds itself at the other end of the spectrum, falling from hero to villain. So much so that society, to its own dismay, finds itself fighting against this entity of peace.
Society’s beef with the police is not necessarily with its mandate. No levelheaded, well-meaning, lawful citizenry would ever debate the concept of maintaining law and order. In fact, societies with their economic feature, especially so in capitalist societies, yearn for protection—not just of life, but notably of property. Society’s problem, I reiterate, then can never be with the mandates of the police, but with the ‘how’—their approach.
[TO BE CONTINUED—I really mean it.]