By Omar Bah
The president of the Gambia Bar Association Salieu Taal has called for the disbanding of the much-feared police Anti-Crime Unit (ACU).
“I dare say it loudly that the ACU does not know how to police in a democratic space. Their attitude towards civilians is very aggressive. I do not believe training will change the mindset of the ACU. I believe the ACU must be disbanded and replaced with a force that understands the need to provide professional services whilst respecting the rights of individuals,” Taal wrote on his official Facebook page.
He added that its situation speaks to the failure of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) which has failed to usher in a mindset change in the police force in general and instill a sense of service to the citizenry/country as paramount.
“Preserving law and order is not a license to abuse rights. Whilst the GPF has improved in its dealings with civilians and communicates better with the public, the ACU is the big elephant in the room; and a vestige of Jammeh’s legacy. It has no place in a democracy and I am calling for its abolition and replacement,” he said.
The ACU, Taal added, still behaves like “we are in a police state.”
“Last week, whilst driving around the access road to the Independence Stadium, I saw some young girls in uniform hurled behind a pickup truck with an Anti-Crime Unit personalised number plate. The girls looked terrified and intimidated as the ACU were armed with guns looking combat ready. I followed their car and whilst in pursuit, I called the chair of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to keep him posted. The ACU vehicle finally stopped in front of a school near the TANGO office with the girls still in their custody and looking terrified. I got out of my car and asked the leader of the team why he had school girls in uniform hurled behind their pick-up trucks whilst fully armed. He was very rude, tried to intimidate me and told me to leave (go take care of your business). His tone was very aggressive and I had to inform him of my profession and position as Bar President (God knows what would have happened otherwise). He blatantly refused to answer my questions and commanded the girls not to talk to me,” Taal said
He further revealed that at that material time there were bystanders including a teacher from the girls’ school who looked helpless and somehow indifferent.
“I reminded the commander that he is dealing with young girls and that they have rights under the law. I insisted that they should not take the girls away and that I will pursue the matter. I tried to reach the police high command and the ministry of justice to no-avail. Meanwhile, I had my phone on speaker so the chair of NHRC could hear my exchanges with the ACU commander. Eventually, the girls were released. What baffled me was that a teacher from the girls’ school stood by and said nothing. In fact, he blamed the girls for loitering after school. The ACU commander refused to give me his name and sped off rudely. He claimed that I was interfering with his job and that people like ‘me’ are spoiling this country. What was scary was the brazen display of force within a school environment and arrogance from the ACU,” Taal concluded.