Stop The Warrior Cops Now!
Anyone who has paid any significant attention at all to the lyrics of rap music, will note a deep seated dislike for and distrust of the American law enforcement establishment. This dislike, distrust and often, outright hostility is borne out of repeated run-ins with the law in their day to day lives and the lives of those close to them, for reasons both justified and much less so.
For decades, the perception has been there in the African American community in the US, reflected in their culture, that the police disproportionately target black males. From the Rodney King incident in 1992, and the countless others before and after, this perception has only grown.
Looking in from the outside, the evidence to support this is significant. This analysis shows that between 2010 and 2012, black males aged 15-19 are 21 times more likely to be shot by police in the US, than their white counterparts. Even though the records are not complete and many police departments are guilty of this, such a disparity is very unlikely to be explained away.
As you read this, the reactions – ranging from despair and disillusionment to mindless violence – to the grand jury verdict on Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown after shooting him multiple times on August 9 this year, continue to pour in. After hearing all the evidence, the grand jury decided not to indict the officer, who will not face prosecution.
jay smooth (@jsmooth995) tweeted at 0:47 AM on Tue, Nov 25, 2014: here
The fundamental danger of a non-indictment is not more riots, it is more Darren Wilsons.
It brought to mind the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17 year old black boy in Florida who was shot in the chest by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer. The case went to trial and Zimmerman was eventually acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter.
Just a few days ago, Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black boy in Cleveland Ohio, was killed by police officers. He was holding a replica gun. The person who called 911 said the gun was “probably fake” on two occasions, and also said the boy was a juvenile.
That there seems to be a definite racial slant to these events is harder and harder to reject, but there is something just as important at play here.
Christopher Roupe, a 17 year old white kid with dreams of entering the Marines, went to answer the door in his home in Georgia and was shot and killed by a police officer, who came to serve his father a warrant. He was holding a Nintendo Wii controller.
The increasingly militaristic posture of the American police force since the 1980s has been a source of considerable concern for some time. As a result of the War on Drugs, legislation was passed to enable the transfer of military grade training, weapons, and most importantly, military mindset from the US military to its state and local police officers.
As Diane Weber noted in 1999,
The so-called war on drugs and other martial metaphors are turning ‘high crime’ areas into war zones, citizens into potential enemies, and police officers into soldiers […] The sharing of training and technology by the military and law enforcement agencies has produced a shared mindset, and the mindset of the warrior is simply not appropriate for the civilian police officer charged with enforcing the law.
Following the start of the War on Terror in 2001, this trend of militarization of civilian law enforcement has gone into overdrive, this time, driven by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon. This is despite the fact that the high risk situations that this military training and equipment is most suited for, are rather few and far between. Most of the time, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams end up making drug busts, serving warrants and other mundane matters best carried out by regular police.
This kind of ‘Warrior Cop’ mentality has permeated much of American law enforcement, to the extent that more officers simply shoot first and ask questions later, leading to a lot of unnecessary fatalities. In addition, the US criminal justice system appears to provide cover for these officers whenever it relates to shooting incidents. Grand juries rarely indict police officers, and Darren Wilson is just the latest example.
So, while the issue of institutional racism weighs very heavily, there is also the issue of policemen given far too much latitude without being held accountable for their actions.
It got me thinking a lot about Nigeria, and how our uniformed men, both in the police and the military, are similarly trigger happy and often get a free pass. In our case, this impunity is the result of years of military rule, which entrenched the culture of extra judicial killings, detention without trial, physical assault, and so on.
Nearly every day in the news, there is one story or the other about people who are supposed to enforce the law, violating the rights of those they are supposed to protect. Rather than feel safe around the police, the default reaction is one of distrust and disgust. Most Nigerians have at least one horror story involving the police, army, or any of the plethora of uniformed men we encounter daily.
More than 15 years after the end of military rule, Nigeria’s security apparatus remains stuck in a military-era mentality where it can ‘do and undo’. This has cost us. The extra judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf and some of his followers in 2009, set the stage for what we know today as Boko Haram. In trying to combat the militants, the Nigerian Army also stand accused of several human rights violations, which has reduced the willingness of the populace to cooperate.
Also, the police here is regularly used to intimidate political opponents. Just last week, opposition lawmakers found the gates to their place of work locked against them, and some resorted to climbing over those gates. As far back as the 2nd Republic, the use of the police by the ruling NPN culminated in the heavily rigged elections of 1983, a key factor in the military’s return to power.
Watching events in Ferguson and St. Louis from thousands of miles away brings back all these memories. Nigeria’s ongoing experience with an unaccountable security apparatus has been a nasty one. Hopefully the Americans act before things get out of control.