We have now seen the videos from Résidences Vallijee. The Saramandine brothers were beaten to a pulp. Contrary to the Mauritius Police Force (MPF) own Code of Ethics, there were no “display of self-control, tolerance, understanding and courtesy”. Force was nowhere near “the minimum amount”. “Due process” was non-existent.
As is customary in situation like those, social media was flooded with comments on the actions of the police. Arguments supporting them went something like this: We should not generalize. Those were the actions of a few. The police are otherwise performing an amazing task during the lockdown. Their actions were a reaction to what was deemed despicable behaviour by the people who eventually got beaten. The rationale seems to be that none of this would have happened had the same people not acted in the way they did.
Generalization? A few bad apples?
But, there is no generalizing. It’s an oversimplification of the position of those criticising the heavy handedness of the police. Generalization only applies if the criticism was being aimed at police officers. It isn’t.
Being critical of the police in this context is not being anti-police officers. It’s being anti-police brutality! Whether the brutality is caused by one officer or the entire police force is irrelevant. Some might think that being anti-police brutality simply paints a bad picture of an otherwise decent police force and that the actions of a few ‘bad apples’ cannot ruin the reputation of an entire force. This however ignores the fact that being a police officer is a job that is simply not comparable to any other jobs.
Some jobs, as Chris Rock puts it, cannot afford bad apples. There are standards expected of the police. If police officers think those are too high, then they should choose another career. Their behaviour should be beyond reproach. Period. There is no room for bad apples. This is what they signed up to when they took the job; to uphold the law, and to do so, within the acceptable realm of the law; anything but would fall below the standards expected of them.
When you have the power to arrest, to use force, to kill if need be; then the standards expected of you are much higher than the standards expected of ordinary citizens. If you are the police, expect your actions to be scrutinized. There is no margin of error for you. You do not have the luxury of ‘mistakes’. Postmen make mistakes. Accountants make mistakes. Police officers can’t.
Many were quick to point out that the critics were ignoring the fact that many police officers were touring the country and helping those in need. As explained above, the criticism is not against individual police officers. The fact that there are police officers going around the island, helping the needy does not make police brutality go away.
Beatings by the police are not mistakes. They never are. They are a deliberate attempt to humiliate and degrade people who are on the receiving end of the violence. The videos from Vallijee and inside the police station make for uncomfortable viewing but they do not tell the full story. There are other videos of officers ‘’ordering’ people to abide by the lockdown. By ordering, I mean swearing at and insulting people as if this was the only way to get people to abide.
For many people, this is only a slight escalation of their general experience with the police. An experience that involves disdain, arrogance, contempt, where the officer considers himself above the law, superior to the citizens he is supposed to serve. This is not shocking. Stop pretending that it is.
So when the officer verbally abuses the person he previously battered and asks, as the latter lies on the floor, almost unconscious: “Tone fini mort ta?!”, this is not necessarily out of character. It is an extension of the disdain and contempt mentioned above.
When the beatings are recorded, it is not for evidential purposes. The officers are recording because they want to brag about their ‘exploits’. They know that the videos will be shared across social media. In their mind it is the right thing to do. They do it because they think they are untouchable. The person they battered is only worthy of contempt and disdain. They do it because they have the POWER to do it.
Let’s be honest, not many jobs will give you the luxury of battering people in their home, take them to the police station for some more battering while recording the whole thing on video without anyone batting an eyelid. Whether their actions are legal is irrelevant; they do it because they are the police. These situations ONLY arise with the police. It’s called POLICE BRUTALITY. There is no such thing as POSTAL SERVICES BRUTALITY.
When David Gaiqui is stripped naked in a police station, when heads are stamped on or repeatedly hit with a tonfa, when confessions are obtained illegally, when people are duped into accepting false accusations – these are not mistakes. They are part of a systemic problem in the MPF which has gone on for too long. A problem that will go on as long as they keep getting away with it.
The people defending the police’s actions, or pretending this is a one-off incident, or asking us to pay attention to good deeds by the police instead are exacerbating this problem.
The justification for violence should never be on the person on the receiving end of it. It should always be on the perpetrator: ‘Why are you being violent?’, as opposed to ‘Give me a reason to not be violent to you’. This logic does not seem to resonate with many people.
Going by some people’s reaction, you would have thought that it was for the victims of the violence to explain why they should not have been beaten up. The logic goes: The police were merely reacting to people who did not respect the confinement. The latter had it coming. All of this could have been avoided, had they not behaved the way they did. The assumption here, of course, is that the ‘BEAT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER’ policy is acceptable.
For argument’s sake, assume that the people who ended up in hospital were indeed in the wrong. Would this justify the abuse and the brutality? Would this make the beatings lawful? I have news for you folks. No, it wouldn’t. However reprehensible their behaviour, none of it would have justified the brutality. As far as I know, the laws of the land have not been suspended. The Constitution still says that “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other such treatment”. The Criminal Code, still makes it an offence for “a public official or a person acting in an official capacity,” to “intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, on any other person”.
Those harping on about people having to respect the laws of the land (curfew) and defending the upholders of the laws (the police), ironically do not realise that the latter’s actions are in contravention of those same laws (i.e the laws that prevent ANYONE from beating the sh*t out of anyone). Cognitive dissonance anyone?
These are exceptional times. We have never faced anything like it before. And in times like these, the minimum we expect from our institutions is that they strong. They cannot afford to have public confidence in them eroded. The police specifically cannot be perceived as the usual repressive force that it is. They have to be better.
Police brutality is nothing new. Burying your head in the sand won’t make it go away. And, let’s call a spade a spade. It is the poorest and the most disenfranchised of our society who generally bear the brunt of a heavy handed approach by the police. The well-to-do’s and the privileged, on the other hand, have generally been safe from police brutality. Uncomfortable as it is, that’s just a fact. The Saramandine brothers now, David Gaiqui before, Eddysen Pachee (dead in police custody in 2016), Iqbal Toofany (dead in police custody in 2015) to name a few, are/were not exactly the equivalent of the Koch brothers.
Many people do not have the luxury of staying put. Not only do they have to worry about where their next meal is coming from but they also have to worry about the fact some police officers think they have carte blanche to be more abusive during the curfew. The police have failed many of them in the past. Those people now need to be reassured that the police are working FOR them as well. Going around and beating up people will not build trust and confidence within those communities. A lack of trust can only make for a weak and inefficient police force in such hard times.
In these exceptional times, we have all accepted that extraordinary measures were necessary to protect us. We have all compromised and accepted that some of our liberties needed to be curtailed. However, none of what we saw on the videos are acceptable in a society that claims itself to be ‘un etat de droit’. No one can pretend that they are, curfew or not.
But when normalcy returns, we will demand better. We deserve better.