On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African-American bouncer at an eatery and who had just lost his job to COVID-19 lockdown was killed by a bunch of racist white policemen in Minneapolis, a city in the United States of America. It started like a mild drama that would eventually go away when police responded to a call about a man who allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Seventeen minutes later, the drama had turned fatal and the man, George Floyd, 46, was pronounced dead in the hands of or is it under the knee of a police officer by name Derek Chauvin.
That incident triggered a flurry of protests with the hashtag ‘black lives matter’. There were demands for justice which came just as fast when all the police officers implicated, directly or remotely, to circumstances that led to the fatality were all sacked by their police department.
That was not enough to assuage the justified anger of citizens who felt that Floyd did not deserve to die the way he did for a matter that was alleged to be a mere civil offence. The Justice Department took over the case and two days ago, after almost a year, justice was duly served when Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder.
This newspaper is commenting on this matter because of the lessons to be learnt from it as far as the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria is concerned. First, most of the pieces of evidence used in deciding the case were provided by bystanders who felt obliged as required by law to record the dastardly episode using such electronic devices as hand phones. The police did not try to stop them because it would have been against the law to do so. Furthermore, the people came out boldly to demand for justice and provided, without let or hindrance, information that facilitated that process.
Second, the Police department itself did not as much as try to be protective of its officers who had gone beyond the call of duty. They admitted that their officers erred, punished them departmentally by firing them to pave way for an unfettered investigation process. There was no attempt whatsoever to cover-up what was essentially over zealotry on the part of some misguided officers. There was no talk about protecting police image or making unwholesome excuses to justify murder. George Floyd was flesh and blood and not statistic to adorn police crime records. The investigation was not by the police but by the Justice department.
Third, at the end of the investigation, prosecution was swift. There was no attempt to whitewash criminality. The murderer was so classified and he is looking at 45 years behind bars.
Fourth, there was no undue politicisation of what happened in Minneapolis. Yes, there was a racial hue to it but all Americans came out in their numbers, regardless of race, colour or status to condemn the injustice that was done to a man.
Bringing the matter home, this newspaper calls attention to the appalling criminal justice system that has continued to make access to justice by the injured appear herculean. We also point out that extra-judicial killings in Nigeria by security agencies especially the Police are common place. If George Floyd were to be a Nigerian, the case would have remained interminably under investigation. Countless number of such cases are unresolved. EndSARS started as a protest against the perceived brutality of the police. The type that happened in Minneapolis if not worse because what was needed for one to be killed by that squad was to be found in the wrong place at the wrong time. One does not have to be guilty. Soon, EndSARS, like most issues in the country, got mired in the miasma of politics and ethnic cleavages.
What Floyd’s episode has proved is that, in most cases, for justice to be served, the people, too, has a role to play. As pointed out earlier, most of the pieces of evidence that did in the police officers were provided by common people on the streets who witnessed the horrendous act, documented it and willingly, without fear used same to do the right thing in defence of justice. That was possible because there are laws that protected them and made it possible for them to do what they did in the interest of public good. It has, immeasurably, reinforced confidence of the people in the justice delivery system in that country.
That confidence, in our opinion, is what is lacking in Nigeria. Senators and judges abuse, molest and assault citizens publicly and get away with them. In Nigeria, Chauvin and his comrades in crime would have been commended for effectiveness in crime control, promoted and redeployed to continue with their inhuman behaviour.