Just over a year ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America, four policemen caused the death of Mr George Floyd, a black American, after a shop nearby had called in the police to complain that he had paid for cigarettes with a forged dollar bill.
Viral videos shot by onlookers depicted how the four responding policemen mortally manhandled Mr Floyd until he breathed his last. One of the policemen, Derek Chauvin, knelt on the handcuffed Mr Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring the man’s remonstrations that he was dying, and his colleagues suggestions that the man was unresponsive His words, “I can’t breathe”, which he said 16 times, became one of the catchwords of the protests that would follow.
Anti-police and anti-racism protests erupted all over American cities and soon spread across the world, led by the Black Lives Matter movement. The protesters demanded justice and equality. Taking the knee was adopted by sportsmen as a sign of identification with the fight for racial justice.
The firing of the four officers involved – Derek Chauvin, Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tao Thou – by the police department the very next day did nothing to assuage public anger and demand for justice and reform of policing procedure, nor was the payment of $27 million as compensation to Floyd’s family.
The four were charged to court, and 11 months later, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter and could face up to 40 years imprisonment.
More tellingly, the Floyd saga mainstreamed the stark discriminatory practices of white policemen when dealing with white offenders and African Americans, and opened old wounds of several blacks sent to their early graves by overzealous policemen motivated by racial prejudice, especially as the police and the justice system always allowed them to go scot-free. It was this reality that played in the minds of the protesters, comprising both blacks and whites – to insist that this time, the authorities must act, with the protest getting unrelenting and violent. Police killing of other blacks after Floyd only helped to add fuel to the fire.
Despite all the ruckus that attended Floyd’s killing, it has been a case of old habits die hard. According to data compiled by Mapping Police Violence, a research and advocacy group, since Floyd’s death last year, at least 1,068 police killings have been recorded across the US – an average of three killings every day, which is close to its normal rate. That brings police killings in the US between January 2013 and May 2021 to more than 9,000 people.
As a response to the most burning issue in the country, the Democratic Party introduced a legislation called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in June last year which the House Representatives passed in March this year, ushering in a series of police reforms aimed at improving police accountability and preventing officers with a history of brutality from moving from one department to another by creating a national registry to track those with dirty records. It also banned certain police practices, including chokeholds.
Here in Nigeria, killings and extrajudicial murder by policemen and other security agencies are commonplace. It is common to hear of policemen shooting people for the slightest of reasons, like arguing, refusing to give a token bribe or due to a struggle over a girl’s affection. In fact, it reached a nadir when the cases of policemen assassinating people for their wealth went viral and helped to spark off the EndSARS protests across Nigeria, during which youths demanded an end to police killings and extortion. Government’s response was to set up judicial panels of enquiry where victims have been going to lay their complaints. Some panels have even awarded financial compensation to victims.
At the end of their sittings, It is expected that they will make recommendations concerning what they had observed during the panel’s activities, especially compensation for victims and punishment for the culprits.
As a newspaper, we commend the government for setting up these panels of enquiry. We, however, urge the government not to treat their report in the usual Nigerian way of abandoning them to gather dust on office shelves. The authorities concerned must act decisively to grant relief to victims and hand punishment to offenders.
Just like the Floyd saga has not stopped police killing of blacks in the US, the scrapping of the Special Anti Robbery Squad ( SARS) will not stop police killing of innocent Nigerians.
The police authorities must fish out and weed out the murderers from among their ranks. And just like Derek Chauvin is now paying for his crime, those who have been using their guns purchased with taxpayers’ money to kill those they are supposed to protect should be made to pay for their crimes.