On May 25th, 2020, a white police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while he muttered the words, “Please, I can’t Breathe.” The video of his killing went viral, and it broke the long silence on the continuous police brutality in the United States (US). Individuals and groups such as the Black Lives Matter Movement staged massive protests in the US and other parts of the world. His killing reminded me of an incident that led me to conclude that “police are the same everywhere in the world.”
I had a stopover at Togo where I boarded a vehicle to Cote d’Ivoire on September 16, 2013. While everyone seated, the driver warned: “make sure you all have your three cedis, because if you don’t have this money the police officer at the checkpoint would stop you and would not allow you to continue the trip.” Luckily for my friend and I (I travelled alongside a friend), we had an elderly woman journey with us. We met her on the bus we took from Nigeria to Togo. She was so gracious to us. She made sure we had our three cedis bill with us before we left the park. After we drove for about three hours, we arrived at the checkpoint, the police officer who was a woman demanded that everyone remit the three cedis. Each individual hurriedly remitted the sum at her instruction, except a woman who seated close to the window on the second row. When the police officer found out about the woman, she became infuriated and she ordered that the woman descended from the vehicle and she told the rest of us to continue the trip. On hearing her, I wondered why the police officer would make such a declaration. Though I was worried, I could not help the woman. As our driver was about zooming off, one of the passengers volunteered to pay for the woman. While we then continued the trip, I kept asking myself “if she was unable to continue with us, what would have happened to her?” I was unable to answer this question, but I resolved that the police are the same everywhere in the world.
I understand that these two incidents do not carry the same weight; however, they draw attention to the police inhumane actions. This institution is meant to safeguard and protect, but unfortunately, it is the other way. As a result, yearly, we have police kill citizens in different countries of the world.
Can We Draw A Parallel?
Floyd’s killing encourages that we draw the parallels in other parts of the world. It is not only about the U.S policing but about questioning what is wrong with the policing system. Yearly, police in Brazil, El-Salvador, Philippines, Nigeria, and Kenya engage in extrajudicial killings that go unaccounted for. Police kill with no penalty as an equal measure for their misconduct. They wake up the next day walking freely, leaving families and friends to mourn their loved ones that died at the mercy of their pistol.
Even with COVID-19, killings increased. The Nigerian Human Rights Council (NHRC) stated that the Nigerian Police Force killed 18 people in two weeks in April 2020. Also, in Nigeria, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) accounts for most of the unjust killings and incarcerations of young Nigerians. Similarly, in June 2020, the Kenyan police killed 15 individuals and left 31 injured. In the Philippines, the national government gives the police the “permission to kill.” This is seen as a way of deterring drug offenders in the Philippines. According to Amnesty International over 7,000 people were killed between July 2016 and January 2017 by the Philippines police. These examples are a few of what is happening in many nations. These unending anomalies, therefore, call for possible solutions to address the problem with policing.
Possible Solutions for Addressing Police Brutality
Constables (Police) are placed in authority to protect, not to oppress, the public. For officers to carry guns would not just be unnecessary, but also antithetical to the values of civil society.
To address the issue of police brutality, there is a need for a policy change on the use of firearms. A police officer must not be trigger happy. Police must not carry arms while on patrols. For instance, in countries such as Iceland, Norway, and New Zealand, police officers do not carry guns. Richard Hill, a history professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, explains that New Zealand police were disarmed for routine work in 1886, following the principle of the British police that: “Constables are placed in authority to protect, not to oppress, the public.” For officers to carry guns would not just be unnecessary, he says, “but also antithetical to the values of civil society.” While in Finland, “officers have to get permission from a superior officer before shooting.” In a humane society, we need police officers who are more concerned about the safety of citizens and even of their suspects.
Likewise, the use of pepper spray teargasses and rubber bullets “when misused . . . break bones, burn skin, and cause internal injuries.” For these reasons, the modality of use for nonlethal weapons should be followed. Teargasses and pepper sprays should be used at a distance and not at a close range. This could be managed through monitoring.
As part of the recommendation for policy review, the clause protecting police officers from arraignment and persecution should be amended. For instance, in the US, police officers are allowed “qualified immunity.” This immunity allows police officers to evade court injunction if they are acting in good faith. Unfortunately, it seems every action by police is done in good faith. Whereas in Nigeria and Kenya, there is no evidence of police immunity. And even without evidently spelled out immunity clause in these nations, most often police officers are not charged for killing the populace. in the Philippines, the president authorizes the police to kill drug criminals, and this makes them above the law of persecution. Therefore, as a possible solution, every form of immunity, protection, or absolute power granted to police officials must be revoked to permit justice to prevail on the principle, “every offender must face the law.”
Education continues from life to death. Aside from the training police officers undergo to be accepted into the police force, there must be constant training that is scheduled between every three or six months in a year. It must be a continuous process. While this training goes on, employees’ conduct is evaluated. As part of these training, behavioral and psychological training and screenings are provided. Also in this training, the conditions and modalities of use of firearms would be conducted. Consistently, police officers are reminded of their role as saviors and accountability personnel to the citizens. This training should be conducted until an officer retires from service.
For nations to address police brutality, restructuring and reorganization must take place within this institution in nations. This is achievable through policy reform and education.
NB: Scandinavian nations such as New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, and others might not be an accurate yardstick for modeling police reform. This is because they are rich nations with a low population. Nevertheless, they are valuable role models for reforming and modeling growths.
Amnesty International, “Killing at will extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings by the police in Nigeria.” https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/44000/afr440382009en.pdf
Amnesty International Uk, “More than 7,000 killed in the Philippines in six months, as president encourages murder,” https://www.amnesty.org.uk/philippines-president-duterte-war-on-drugs-thousands-killed
Amy Mckeever, “From tear gas to rubber bullets, here’s what ‘nonlethal’ weapons can do to the body,” National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/06/what-nonlethal-weapons-can-do-to-the-body-george-floyd/#close
Mariam Berger and Rick Noack, “From guns to neck restraint: How police tactics differ around the world.” Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/06/06/guns-neck-restraint-how-police-tactics-differ-around-world/
Olivia Goldhill, “How do police handle violence in countries where officers don’t carry guns?” Quartz, https://qz.com/727941/how-do-police-handle-violence-in-countries-where-officers-dont-carry-guns/
Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Philippines war on drugs may have killed tens of thousands, says UN.” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/04/philippines-police-may-have-killed-tens-of-thousands-with-near-impunity-in-drug-war-un
Sara Miller Llana, In Many Countries, Police Rarely Use Their Guns. Here’s Why, “takepart,” http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/many-countries-police-rarely-use-their-guns-heres-why
The Economist, “In some countries, killer cops are celebrated,” https://www.economist.com/international/2018/03/08/in-some-countries-killer-cops-are-celebrated
Wikipedia, “List of killings by law enforcement officers by country,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_by_country
Yomi Azeem, “George Floyd’s killing touches a nerve with Africans who know police brutality at home and abroad,” Quartz, https://qz.com/africa/1863333/george-floyds-killing-touches-a-nerve-in-african-cities/