“Police Power” Under The State of Public Emergency Powers: Concerns Raised About Extreme Measures, Power Abuse During COVID-19 Outbreak

by Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: The Inspector-General of Police, custodian of the enforcement of the regulations and restrictions of the State of Public Emergency Powers and Order, must caution the police force against trampling on citizen’s fundamental rights and order tight security around vulnerable targets.
Mamudu: We do not think brute force is very efficient in times of a deadly pandemic like this except that there was a similar Flu Pandemic in 1918-1919 (a century ago). It was called Spanish Flu, and over 500 million people (33% of the World Population then) were infected, and the virus killed between 20 to 30 million people.
Concerns have been raised about extreme and draconian measures, power abuse during the virus state of public emergency powers turning the Gambia into ‘Police State’ responding to Coronavirus. The Police being given greater powers to charge people for failing to follow a directive if people breach social distancing and self-isolation requirements must not be extreme and draconian to enforce the COVID-19 State of the Public Emergency powers and restrictions. There are concerns raised about abuses of power amid the pandemic. We called on the IGP to avoid overreaching security measures in their response to the virus outbreak, stressing that Police must not quash dissent. We urgently remind the IGP that any emergency responses to the Coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary, and non-discriminatory.
Mamudu: There is a reason why the government approaches the fight against HIV with resources and information and not guns and teargas. Grim reality; the government can force you out of a brothel, but no government can force you to wear a condom.
No government can force you to sanitize your hands. In times such as these, it takes information, education, edification, a deep voluntary desire by each citizen to stay safe driven by information, education, and a deep sense of care and responsibility, for self and others. Someone should tell our police commanders that we are living in extraordinary times, and the fight is not against innocent unarmed civilians but a very deadly Coronavirus.
Mamudu: The Coronavirus is no respecter of presidents, kings, governments, ministers, uniforms, teargas, guns, or boots. COVID-19 does not even respect doctors. It can render entire police battalion and armies useless, and these coronavirus patients are afraid of contracting the disease from doctors; doctors are afraid of getting infected by patients. It is a perfect medical and security standoff, sure to breed a disaster. How does a country handle this? However, it is a war foretold, but our fundamental human rights cannot be violated and ignored in these dark times: the clear warnings the Gambia Police Force.
From global experiences, we can see that everyone is a potential victim of this virus. None of us is safe, especially with the doctors, nurses, and the Police elsewhere who are victims of this virus, and leaving the street diseased forget that the untreated will soon reinfect the cured.
Mamudu: The Inspector-General of Police should caution officers and men of the Gambia Police Force to be deployed for the enforcement of the State of public emergency powers and social restriction orders to ensure that the fundamental rights of Gambians are not infringed upon under any pretext. Also, persons on essential duties, duly exempted from the restriction orders, should be accorded due courtesies and unfettered access to and from their places of duty.
Mamudu: As I write this, more than 1,500 officers of the New York Police Department are COVID-19 positive. Another 1,354 NYPD uniformed officers are and 4000 officers on sick leave.
Even in the midst of this, and all the pressure that comes with breaking large crowds and ensuring business premises remain closed, NYPD officers have not taken to savagery.
Here in the Gambia, we cannot tolerate the Gambia Police Force busy terrorizing, abusing, canning, and beating those we have sworn to protect. We do not know that in the end, beating COVID-19 will take voluntary effort from all of us, not brute force by the Police.
This collective voluntary effort to beat COVID-19 is more efficient by way of information sharing, education, and edification, not baton or Police truncheon and whips.
Mamudu: The IGP must notes that the global community is now in extraordinary times, with extraordinary measures the public emergency powers restrictions taking its tolls on every component of our social life. Therefore, all police officers deployed for the enforcement of these restriction orders must be professional, humane, and tactful and must show utmost respect to the citizenry. To this end, the IGP has to direct Command Commissioners of Police to immediately commence conduct monitoring of Police Officers deployed on enforcement duties in their areas of responsibilities.
Mamudu: If we must drive around estates daily, sharing information through megaphones, so be it. The State of Public Emergency Powers and Restrictions,2020 without comprehensive and sustained COVID-19 awareness is useless. It is such knowledge that will impact behavior.
Yes, everyone is interested in stopping COVID-19 so that we do not suffer the fate of Italy, the US, and China. However, our efforts cannot be based on repression, violence, and abstract ideas. All measures must be appreciated in context.
It is no secret that a majority of the population lives on less than GMD200 a day, and many families cannot afford three square meals a day. Incentives drive every human behavior. What is the incentive for a “hand to mouth” banana trader preoccupied with basic survival and immediate needs, to abandon his job at the market and stay home?
Are we providing enough education and incentives to help people revise their daily priorities to remain at home or self isolate? You can whip people off the streets, but you will not force them to wash hands, self-quarantine, identify possible infections through contacts or influence their behavior once they are contained in their crowded suburbs.
Mamudu: The Police must be reminded that the State of Public Emergency Powers and Restriction order only prohibits ‘gatherings, processions or movement’ following the protocols of social distancing recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), not spreading and infection of the virus. It does not prohibit any person from being at any specific place and time and space. Furthermore, the State of public emergency powers and restrictions does not authorize the Police to beat up anyone. The Police can, of course, arrest and charge anyone who violates the State of public emergency powers.
Mamudu: If fact, to fight COVID-19, we need to build trust between the institutions of government and citizens. We are creating an environment where citizens feel respected, facilitated, and are appreciated for their efforts. An environment safe of intimidation to enable voluntary behavioral change and information sharing.
Mass brutalization erodes trust and breeds a culture of fear. People will begin to tell lies because they are afraid. Can those mothers and fathers, sons, and daughters forced lie in mud pools while being clobbered at in the streets volunteer information on say, those who may have come into contact with an infected person?
Mamudu: The IGP has to equally charge Divisional Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIGs) across the nation to ensure adequate supervision of personnel under their watch, as well as due compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure guiding this particular task. The AIGs and CPs are also to ensure robust anti-crime patrols and surveillance around vulnerable targets such as medical facilities, shops and markets, residential areas, financial institutions, and Automated Teller Machines (ATM) points, amongst others so that criminals do not take undue advantage of the current COVID-19 challenge to perpetrate crimes against the citizenry.
We must strive for a country that upholds the DIGNITY of her people irrespective of the circumstances. COVID-19 must not be the reason to dehumanize. COVID-19 should not be the gateway for stigma. Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.
At while at it, we must commend patriotic police commanders and officers in many other areas across the Gambia who used straightforward means to get people off the streets. You can act with restraint and still achieve the desired results. We want a better country, but many of us have no problem with justifying the brutalization of unarmed, innocent civilians.
Mamudu: Meanwhile, the government must express profound gratitude to all Gambians for their resilience and voluntary compliance with the social restriction orders and cooperation with the Police at all times. We must urge citizens to continue to observe all precautionary measures issued by relevant health authorities in order for the nation to defeat this deadly pandemic.

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