The interview with the PRO touched on areas of relevance to the general public, most essentially, the relationship between the police force and civilians. The Police P.R.O was quick to point out that the force was going through a period of transformation and from his attire and speech, together with the young beautiful lady who he was with, I believed his every word.
Immediately after the interview, when the camera and lights had gone off air, I brought his attention to my experience at the gate. My concern was not that I was stopped at the gate but was rather the manner in which I was brought to an abrupt halt. “Hey!…hey!…come here!”. Those were his words as he adjusted his “weapon” so I could see he was armed. I did not see the need for such behaviour and would have blown up if I wasn’t already late for the broadcast (by his and he I mean the officer at the gate and not the PRO).
Close to a year later, I have still managed to stay on the right side of the law. This might be due to the fact that my public appearances have been rare and that I have rarely driven on our highways. My comfort has been in sitting in public transport and watching the commercial drivers battle it out on the traffic with the traffic police.
My attention was brought to a rather not so obvious realization since a month ago however. In the space of five weeks, courtesy of the closest people around me, I have been to the police station a record 4 times. When I say times, I do not meant the number of times I have stepped my foot into the station but rather the number of cases that have taken me there. On those occasions, I watched in utter disbelief as the transformation that the PRO spoke about played plainly before my eyes. Law enforcement had evolved!!!
Throughout this epiphany, I wondered whether this transformation was only with the particular police station I had visited (the Kairaba Police Station). The way the officers were dressed; the way they comported themselves; the way the approached even the most obviously hardened criminals; the way they laughed around the most serious offences whilst still finding amicable solutions to them before proceeding further was a joy to watch. These officers deserve my praise!!! Law enforcement in The Gambia had grown out of the period of petty witch-hunts, abuse of power, corruption, disregard for the law etc etc etc…Or so I thought?
I had a very interesting discussion with some brothers of mine a few days ago about law enforcement in The Smiling Coast. The question was simple. “Between an army/military officer and a police officer, who would you rather have a dispute with?” The answers were different mostly because the experiences were equally different. My issues with men in uniform in the past were mostly with military officers and I usually recall an incident I had when I was in my late teens which always gets the crowd laughing. However, over the years I have found it much easier to communicate with military officers. A portion of my past was spent around them so that might explain my comfort around them (even though I have been caught in some pretty tricky situations with them…more confusing than tricky). My past with the police however, has not been too pretty. My few encounters with them in the past were met with pettiness and grave misunderstandings but my experience at the Kairaba Police Station was like a movie on the evolution of the force. I was a proud Gambian! Well, apart from the single scuffle with the grammar police when one of the officer claimed that a “fetel accident” had occurred a week prior, when he actually meant “fatal”. Imagine my surprise at the possibility of a man accidentally shooting his toe off!
I promised myself after that experience to pen a short essay in praise of the officers at Kairaba Police Station and not in anticipation of me getting in trouble with the law, but just in acknowledgement of their patience in dealing with cases taken to them. I was never in trouble when I went there but just the way they went about things felt extremely professional (albeit a tad repetitive).
Imagine my surprise however, a week later when someone dear to me experienced the other side of the force…the side I thought we had left behind forever…the side that makes one want to “unGambianise” oneself. I was disappointed to learn that an officer of the law had decided to take it upon himself to act on his emotions and got a young woman in trouble just because he COULD. I was equally reminded of when a brother of mine was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was therefore picked up and had evidence “allegedly” planted on him (I was advised to use allegedly..xam nga rek..ndakh mu taneh) and therefore spent two nights in a filthy cell whilst the S.O. claimed to be off for the weekend.
The young woman spent a day going back and forth with the police for the simplest of offences just because he enquired from the officers if it was criminal to not paste her car license (that’s what they call the hexagonal stickers pasted on the windscreen right?) on her windscreen – ok I agree, xaleh bu jigeen bi defa xamadi nak. After a while of searching for the law which stipulated as requested above, the emotions started to show, the anger shone right through and it was all hell loose on my friend… for questioning the authority of a law enforcement officer!!! As people get more and more educated, they will question more things. They will need reasons for getting stopped on the highway and as law enforcement officers, our force officers should be patient enough to listen and explain without feeling the need to “show power”.
These two separate incidents showed me just how one bad potato spoils the..umm… whole bag? Just when I was happy to see our officers in uniform take charge in a manner I have only seen in the movies, I was disappointed to learn of separate incidents that made the entire force look terrible. Luckily enough, these incidents did not occur at the Kairaba Police Station so I will still congratulate the officers there placed on the good job they’ve been doing.
“To protect and serve” I thought of those words the entire time my people and I were discussing these happenings and I could only apologize in my heart for the system we’ve seen around us. Two years ago I penned a red black nonsense on the attitude of TDA officers who looked me dead in the eyes and told me to “wait until the white people finished eating” before I could go into the Senegambia Strip. The essay did good enough to start a moral debate on tourism in The Gambia and how Gambians are disrespected and disgraced without regard for logic. Things changed for the better since then even though things are far from perfect.
Today I hope the growth I have seen at Kairaba Police Station is a gradual wave of change sweeping through the entire police force. The police force needs to be a force we all love, respect and praise (well apart from the criminals of course). We cannot continue to see officers of the law as enemies but many people cannot be blamed for having that view point. A uniformed officer no matter his or her rank must never seek to abuse his power to fuel his ego. We all have pretty huge egos but egos have no place being on our highways or our law enforcement offices. Our egos stay at home.
Author: Latirr Carr]]>