Opinions Fri, 25 Sep 2015

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Police's Day of Madness

Reports of police brutality in the United States against an unarmed black man takes me back to 1999 when a 23-year-old Guinean-born Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times by four New York City police officers. Or to 1991 when Rodney King was brutally beaten by five Los Angeles police officers.

Both of those incidents caused a tremendous public outcry, as has this year's shooting to death of 18 year old Micheal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, with the singular message of 'no justice, no peace'. These are examples of things that might make people fear the world was regressing rather than progressing', (President John Dramani Mahama's speech at the UN).

The above statement made at the UN by President John Dramani Mahama amply demonstrates the hypocrisy of many African leaders. They are unable to see the logs in their own eyes but too quick to observe the mote in the eyes of others. Many African leaders profess to be democrats simply because the word is politically exciting as well as portraying civility in the governance system of any country. As to whether their actions and policies at home are anything to call democracy, are matters for debate.

President Mahama saw it very convenient to consider events in far away United States of America as examples of the world regressing rather than progressing, and when similar or worse things happen in his own country, he meets the Police Authorities and urges them to 'review the unfortunate development to ensure that protests of this nature were handled in line with laid down policies and procedures'. He completely ignored the wounded and the injured.

Let me come to the Police Service itself and the barbarism exhibited with excellence on unarmed civilians with authority and legitimacy to protest openly as our Constitution demands. What is the issue? A group known as LET MY VOTES COUNT (LMVC) organized a protest against the national electoral roll used for the last general elections, which in its view as well as in the view of many political parties contains names which are not supposed to be there. The ultimate of the protest was to picket at the premises of the Electoral Commission and present a petition to the Commission with 'the singular message, we want a new voters register'.

As law abiding citizens, they informed the Police as required by law days before the event. According to the organizers, meetings had taken place between the organizers and the police authorities on the route of the protest. A day or two to the event, the Police as usual filed an exparte motion to secure an injunction against picketing at the premises of the Electoral Commission. My old fashioned dictionary defines picket as 'worker or group of workers stationed outside the entrance to a place of work during a strike to try to persuade others not to enter'. Another of my dictionaries defines picket as 'a group of people who are protesting about something outside a building' etc.

The injunction given to the Police was to the effect that the protestors could not gather or station outside the premises of the Electoral Commission's offices to shout, drum and dance. The injunction did not prohibit the protestors from even walking past the office building of the Commission.

The protestors could have walked past the Commission's office block either to the TUC traffic light or to the Psychiatric Hospital end of the traffic light, depending on where they were coming from. In as long as they did not gather themselves at the premises of the building, in my view, they would not have breached any law in respect of the injunction procured by the Police.

My knowledge of Accra and where the protestors were brutalized by the Police, there was no indication that the protestors were going to picket at the Commission's premises. On the right of the protestors is the YMCA, deep on the left is the former block of O'reilly SHS, then the Catholic Church by the road side.

Straight ahead, the protestors could have gone past the Ridge Hospital or turned left towards Asylum Down or worse still turned right towards the TUC traffic light without picketing at the EC buildings. I had the benefit of watching the apartheid -style Police brutalities on these unarmed protestors live, courtesy METRO TV. I could not believe what I was seeing in Ghana of 2015. The protestors who had 'defiled' the agreed route did not number 200 and by my own estimation, they were nowhere near the offices of the EC. What elicited the reactions of the Police if their actions were not premeditated?

Common sense in our daily lives, even when we are dealing with goats which have strayed into our homes (not those purposefully delivered into homes of some big men ooo), in other words, when goats which have not followed their agreed routes in the community come to our homes, we try to drive them away by just waiving our hands and shouting at them. As soon as the goats turn back and move away towards where they came from, we allow them to go. Our aims of not allowing them in our homes to play mischief or destruction are achieved and we do not inflict any physical harm on them, even goats.

One may ask why I am so enthused in these goat examples, they have become very symbolic of what is wrong in officialdom, when Presidents are not performing, they are dead goats, when judges want to organize some parties, the goats suffer. May be there should be a new adage 'when big men fail, the goat is either the cause or it must be the entrapment'. Why did the Police employ that force of brutality against the protestors even as they were retreating?

I saw young men who had retreated and gone off the YMCA road and even pretending to be buying from some traders along an arterial road being manhandled and brutalized by the Police when the distance between where they were standing and the offices of the EC was about 500 meters away. What was the motivation for the unleashing of tear gases, hot waters, the whipping with 'kobokos' and truncheons when the protestors had not violated the injunction?

The Police would argue again that the protestors had violated the agreed route. Was anybody or any property of the public under any threat at the time when the protestors violated the route to warrant the beastly action of the Police other than a premeditated decision to teach the protestors a lesson? I laugh when the Police and its assigns claim that the protestors broke the law and therefore were lawless. What is the remedy in this country when someone is perceived to have broken the law?

The Police have no powers under the laws of this country to use any form of force, whether primary, secondary or graduated to brutalize people who have violated a law, particularly a civil one, which did not endanger lives and property. Leaders of any protests are held responsible for all acts of violations of the law. The commonsensical approach to the route violation was to ensure that the protestors did not violate the injunction, and even if they did, go back to court and get the court to punish the leaders for a breach of the law.

The Police tried the protestors collectively, found them guilty and convicted them to tear-gasing, whipping, beatings with truncheons and pouring of hot water even as they had not exhibited any acts or threats of violence against the state. The eye of a protestor has been permanently damaged, others wounded. Having taken the law into their own hands and punished people without any trial, they have the guts to arrest, detain and process them for court?

The organizers of the protest should as a matter of urgency sue the Police for acting ultra vires and gross human rights abuses and the violations of their fundamental human rights. The Police must be told that there is a limit to their powers, and therefore cannot be politically influenced to punish members of the public to meet the political agenda of their paymasters. Enough of the madness of the Police. Daavi, give me three tots of mahogany bitters to calm down.

Columnist: Daily Guide

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