Amin Kef Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 August 2020:
Police brutality or police violence is defined as a civil rights violation where law enforcement officers exercise undue or excessive force against a subject. This includes, but is not limited to bullying, physical or verbal harassment, physical or mental injury, property damage and death.
Back in 2016 or 2017, the killing of two people at a protest launched a debate about the tactics of the police. Other than that, killing of people by Police in Tonkolili, Freetown, Makeni and other places mean that it is high time we as a nation confront the issue of Police lawlessness with impunity.
The crux of the matter is: How do you maintain law and order in a civilized nation? Does it require the use of guns and firing of live ammunition?
Makeni is not the first time that Police have killed innocent citizens. What is troubling about Police killings is that nothing seems to come out of the numerous investigations that follow. This leaves frustrated victims and their families without justice.
In Makeni and other places where Police have wantonly killed civilians, people no longer have trust in the Police. It can be recalled that following the Kabala incident some years back, a press release from the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), said that: “For far too long, there has been double standards in place for Police Officers involved in incidents of brutality and misconduct. The ease with which Police Officers use live bullets to disperse unarmed protesters is a very worrying sign for peace and tranquillity and the country’s political future.”
Superintendent Brima Kamara, Head of the Sierra Leone Police’s Media and Public Relations denied the allegations, pointing finger instead at protesters for taking the law into their own hands.
He maintained that all civil protests must be approved by the Police according to the country’s 1965 Public Order Act. The protesters in Kabala, he said, did not follow this procedure, which was why the Police had to fire tear gas. In the heat of the moment, Kamara adds, the protesters started throwing stones and other missiles at the Police.
What the Executive Director of the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) Andrew Lavali said is that in the twenty first century, there are alternatives to the use of bullets for crowd control. “Most of the circumstances leading to the use of live bullets in Sierra Leone over the past years are not warranted; they do not meet the minimum threshold,” he said.
The right to protest, he maintained is a “constitutional provision that must be respected by law enforcers. Any loss of civilian life in a protest must be thoroughly and speedily investigated and culprits brought to book.”
Lavali said that as monitors of peace and governance in Sierra Leone, they have found that: “Most incidences of shootings and unlawful killings of civilians are not investigated, and [as] such serve as motivation for reoccurrence of the problem.”
Responding, Superintendent Kamara agreed that the Police should be on the side of the people, including those that are not part of any protests.
“Our responsibility is to protect lives and property, and when we realize that these lives and property will come under threat during a proposed protest, we are bound to prevent it,” he said.
The nation looks forward to seeing the Police using more humane crowd control measures to deal with protesters and demonstrators because it is their right as citizens in a democracy and for Police Officers who deliberately use excessive forces against unarmed civilians brought to book as deterrence to others.
I think is high time someone read the riot act to this out of control, ill discipline Sierra Leone police force. The idea, the Sierra Leone police can justify the use of force on protesters, and no police officer can be held into acount for their actions, or the lack of it, says more about how our country, can no longer be discribed as a police state, but we have nudged our status one step futher to the rank of a BANANA REPUBLIC, with dictatorial tendencies in full display for all to see.
The role of the police can be categorised to four spheres. To maintaining public order and safety, by enforcing the laws of the land. Preventing, and investigating criminal activities, PROTEC LIFE AND PROPERTY. And carrying out other services like traffic functions. At the moment the Sierra-leone police force appears to have abdicated their responsibilities. Throughout the history of the Sierra Leone police, you will be hard pressed to point at a particular time when as a public service institution they are recorded to be operating independently from the whims of the government of the day. It never happened whether is under, APC or SLPP government. They either don’t know their role as an independent body of the state, or they are made to believe they owe their existence to the political leadership of the day. This important institution have always behaved like a chameleon.
The men and women in blue, change their colours to fit the moment. We need to dismantle this blood stain Sierra Leone police force and rebuild it from scratch. Presently they don’t appear to know their role and responsibilities within the state. It feels like they have abdicated their role to act like a private militia for this government. Part of the police reforms, should be teaching them the art of riot control like how to defuse tension, equip them with riot gear like rubber bullets, teargas, and water cannons. Also an independent police complaint commission to monitor their activities. Other than that, the gap of mistust that exists between the police and the communities they police will grow wider.