Last week we heard about the tragic killings of two police officers at the Sukuta traffic lights. Another police officer was wounded. This awful deed done by some reckless criminals has shocked the whole community. Families have been shattered and the sorrow is felt deep both by family members, friends and colleagues. The peace and tranquility we wish to think The Gambia is known for, is broken in small pieces like a mirror you drop on the floor. You can still see your image in a small piece of that broken mirror, but the edges are sharp and can wound you if you touch them.
The society has become hard and sharp, or has it ever been otherwise? Us humans easily forget the past; we look back at our memories and only remember the good parts of our past. Some people say that things were better when Yahya Jammeh was in power. How can the atrocities made by him and his hitmen suddenly be forgotten? Is it possible just because you were not one of his victims, or have you forgotten your fear and the sense of having enemies everywhere? Perhaps there were not as many unofficial criminals by then, but the officials were more than enough. The Gambia is a passageway for drugs and crimes committed in the name of drugs. Drugs and greed make people crazy and ruthless, drugs affect people’s minds so they are unable to feel empathy. The conscience that is stopping normal people from committing crimes is silenced by the drugs.
The last two weeks I have been writing about violence and what can be considered as violence. The shootings of the police officers is gun violence, wounding the bodies but also wounding the souls. Not only the souls of the families and friends of the victims, but the souls of the whole community. The fear becomes widely spread, witnesses of the crime will never forget what they saw and heard. Mothers are afraid to send their children out on errands. Wives are afraid their husbands will not return home. The sense that there are enemies hidden everywhere is making the evolution of our society to go backwards. Instead of going through our days with our heads held high and with confidence in our steps, we crouch and look around to see if someone is acting in a strange way.
There is a sense that more and more weapons are in circulation. Cutlasses, sticks and stones are now part of the history, guns have become easy to get hold of and the criminals don’t hesitate to use them. They have a different view of the world than others. They use whatever means they can to achieve what they want. If some innocent people are wounded, or even killed, in that process it doesn’t concern the criminals. Here in Sweden we hear about fatal shootings almost every day now. Criminal gangs are recruiting children as young as 11 years to shoot people or to blow up houses.
Family members of criminals are new targets; if someone wished to revenge but can’t get hold of his enemy; a family member will do instead. Some days ago, a mother of one criminal was killed as revenge. The fear is widely spread almost all over the country, and it is not only in the larger cities where these kinds of atrocities happen. It can happen anywhere, anytime, because the drugs that are causing most of the crimes are everywhere.
Criminals are very creative and find new ways of committing crimes all the time. It is hard for the police to keep the same pace as the criminals, as the police are slowed down by their investigations which take a lot of time.
Did you know that in the US, they have three times more guns than citizens? Whenever some people wish to change the gun laws, other people refer to the Second Amendment where it is said that the citizens are allowed to defend themselves with weapons if needed. There seems to be a great need of that defence in the US because it is very easy to buy a weapon. In Georgia, one of the states in the US, it is against the law to keep an ice cream in your back pocket on a Sunday. Yes, this crazy law is for real, so if you ever travel to Georgia, please remember that you can carry a gun and no one would look at you strangely, but if you keep an ice cream in your back pocket on a Sunday, you would be in deep trouble.
Let’s go back to where we started at the beginning of this essay: the killing of two Gambian police officers. Should the government arm every police officer from now on? Yes! Some would say, if the police officers carry guns they will be able to defend themselves and protect others. No! Others would say. Carrying a gun comes with a responsibility, and every person who does that needs to be levelheaded in every situation. Someone who is trigger-happy should not be allowed to carry a gun. A gun in itself is not dangerous as long as it is not used by someone. It is only an item. It is the user of the gun that is dangerous if that person misuses the power it has with a deadly weapon in its hands.
I listened to an interview with a lecturer at a police academy. He said that when the recruits begin their first training at the shooting range, they are suddenly struck by the insight that they are holding a deadly weapon in their hands. It is not as exciting as they believed it to be, it has nothing to do with the feeling they had when they were kids and pretended to shoot gangsters with a gun made of a stick. The police recruits realise that if they make a mistake, a wrongful decision, they can seriously injure someone or even end that person’s life. For a normal person, that is an insight you take seriously, for someone whose mind is damaged by drugs and greed – it is nothing.
We are not used to see police officers carrying guns; it is mainly the special forces who do that. Training a lot of police officers at the shooting range takes a long time and investing in weapons for all these officers is costly. We must ask ourselves if it is worth it. We must also ask for the alternatives, if there are any. Are they discussing this on a governmental level? I don’t know, we are not told. While we are waiting for answers we need to learn to duck and run fast!