On that faithful 25th day of May 2020, if anyone had told George Floyd the African-American that it would be his last, I presume that the African blood in him would have sparked up some rebuke religiously or spiritually such as; ‘May the gods forbid’, ‘ I rebuke that in Jesus name’, ‘It is not my portion’ and so on. That is the African spirit and it does not know boundaries even if you are on the white man’s land.
On that day, the overzealous white-skinned Police Officer, Derek Chauvin possibly woke up thirsty for human blood. To beat the common phrase of a ‘trigger happy police’, he opted to sniff life out of a fellow man employing choke – holding him down by the throat with his knee. I watched in pain wondering what he was thinking to subject Floyd to such a gruesome act resulting in his death. His faint voice of ‘I can’t breathe’ should have melted Chauvin’s heart but it appeared he had non at the time. It was grieving to watch that video on social platforms and cable networks.
This spurred a rampage in the entire Minneapolis that caught the attention of the world. It berthed two hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe. My heart is heavy not just for Chauvin’s action that denied a healthy-looking brother of his right to life. But I grief more for my home country, where many of these have occurred and justice is swept under the carpet.
The #EndSARS and #EndPolice Brutality peaceful protest by unarmed Nigerian youth was a clarion call to restructure the police institution. It was an agitation to end the incessant harassments, molestations, and killings of innocent citizens by the men of the Nigerian Police. Rather than yield positive results or change, it resulted in what seems like a hijack to dent the development causing a shipwreck.
Hundreds of better still thousands of ‘Chauvin’ exist in our Police Force and they carry out life-threatening actions resulting in loss of lives that are unaccounted for. Where the culprits are booked, the legal system has not been able to convict many of such and they are still in the force wielding around with guns purchased with taxpayers’ money. One of the cheering parts of Chauvin’s story was how he was fished out immediately and became a public figure for the negative or wrong reason.
Derek Chauvin was not only charged with three count charges of third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter, he was tried and convicted in the space of 11 months. It started from his trial lasting just 15 days, with 44 witnesses to the case. The peak of it all was that that Judge Cahill did not wait for long but just about 11 hours to reach a verdict and got Chauvin convicted of all three charges.
This happens where the institutions are properly structured and run independently. Of course, the American Judicial system may not be 100% in its modus operandi, but this sweet judgment has put their judicial system on a high pedestal on a matter that attracted a global audience. It has shown to us that justice prevails where the judiciary is independent. Justice of this magnitude is a herculean task in a system knotted in coercion, corruption, manipulation of judges, intentional delay of case files where trials can be dragged for half a decade or more, decayed and dilapidated court infrastructure, poor wages for judicial staff which has resulted to indefinite strike by Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) since April 06, 2021. This sort of system will barely deliver justice and it will only continue to dampen the hope of the masses such that they would rather let the matter off the grid than waste time seeking legal proceedings. This is typical of us as a people and it is prevalent in our judicial system.
Does one wonder how many of the trigger-happy police officers have been shamed nationally? Often, we only hear that the Force has apprehended the officers in question and would be tried. From that point, we are kept in the dark and that is it. Where they are announced to be dismissed, cases of them still in active service abound and they walk freely while the victim’s family remains in anguish. Who has not heard men of the police force in Nigeria boast how they have killed, and nothing happened? In confidence, they make statements such as; ‘I go kill you and nothing go happen’; ‘e de do me make I light (shoot) person’; ‘ I go kill you throw way (away)’ and many unimaginable statements to threaten the armless and innocent citizens they took an oath to guide and protect. These officers have become reckless with words by the power of the guns they carry.
Not to forget the place of the eyewitness, the role of Darnella Frazier was well acknowledged with her video recording of the incident, which she uploaded on her Facebook wall that triggered the global protest of police brutality and racism. As a people, we have heroes and heroines who cover Chauvin-like scenes, but they are soon discovered and dealt with. I have had to travel to Ibadan in August 2020 at the ease of the lockdown and interstate travel. A neighbor was unlawfully detained for 72 hours because the Police sighted him with his mobile phone while his vehicle approached the checkpoint. His offense was that the police saw him holding his phone at one of the (illegal) checkpoints. His phone was seized and smashed living him without a phone a reach his family. This is what happens in our society where the uniform men abhor civilians holding their phones within their premises or sight.
The fear of not being caught has inhibited the type of evidence required to nail an average Nigerian police officer who exhibits ‘Chauvinism’ on civilians. This must be addressed by possible legislation that empowers the citizens to be allowed to use their camera-enabled mobile devices to capture any scene of interest or crime scenes by law enforcement agents. For years now, an average road user on the nation’s highways cannot or dare not receive or make a call or be seen with his or her phone handy while approaching a roadblock or checkpoint by the uniform men be it NPF or NA. It is an offense that would amount to impounding the vehicle, routine search of all passengers, and invading their privacies at will. This should be checked and stopped.
Space would not permit me in this piece to list some names of victims of Police brutality and no one has heard anything about the guilty officers. We need to make deliberate efforts to emulate what is right and not in books. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign was a major trend on social platforms. We also need to champion more home-related issues of police brutality. This is not a time to give up on a life-threatening social menace. If we keep quiet, we all might become victims and our blood spilled on the streets with one to hold accountable.
Beyond protesting and agitating against the excesses of the police, we also need to start drumming for the judiciary to be prompt in delivering judgments of ‘Chauvin’ related cases or issues in our country. It is no longer enough to have the officers apprehended or dismissed, the entire court process from trial to conviction should be publicized at every stage as we saw in the case of Chauvin. The world had a regular update on the case, and it came through to the desire of the majority. Our officers need to go through the trauma of being publicly humiliated, stripped of their ranks, dismissed, and convicted. Their faces should trend across media channels to an extent that they would beg the ground to open and swallow them even before they are convicted.
If this becomes a practice, it will go a long way to reform the police and judicial institutions. Uniformed personnel will begin to think twice before satisfying their urge to take the life of another, whom they never created. It will reduce the rising death profile of our young ones from the hands of police brutality. It will restore confidence to believe in the force and embrace personnel as a compatriot.
A Public Relations, Social Analyst, and Corporate Communications Expert writes in from Lagos.