In the wake of the rising incidents of White policemen killing Black American youth on the streets in the name of anticipatory crime fighting, an interview of a White father worrying about his Black toddler son from his Black wife was touching. He said, within the latitudes that his job allowed him, he was thinking of moving to England. He reasoned that though White racism is unlikely to be absent in England either, at least he will have the comfort that the police there are not lethally armed as in America, so that though his son may still confront racism there, he is less likely to face the danger of being gunned down on the streets. Indeed the pictures that emerge of the American police in the media often tell very disturbing stories. In the recent firearm mayhem White biker gangs created in Waco, Texas, which left 19 dead, the gang members were merely rounded up and made to sit, while armed policemen stood guard. Some policemen were sitting with them and even seen talking to the arrested men. Contrast this with pictures of Black men arrested on the streets, where the police are often seen pinning the arrested men face down on the street or against a car, dread locking them, handcuffing them, or else guns pointed at them in combat readiness. Although media pictures are selected to catch the eye of the readers, therefore not always perfectly faithful to the reality on the ground, this general difference in approaches can be also confirmed by google searching images of arrests of Black men and White men. It is interesting in this regard that President Barack Obama is mulling the idea of downgrading the armoury of the civil police of his country to at least not resemble the military. If the police are trigger happy by nature, they can be trigger happy only if there are triggers to pull.
These thoughts come to mind in the wake of the gunning down of a youth in the Sawombung area along the Ukhrul road yesterday by the police. According to the account of a survivor, Konthoujam Vivek, they were returning towards Imphal in a car with friends from a favourite picnic spot of Imphal residents, when a police party signalled them to stop. Sensing that they would be in trouble for they smelled of liquor, they zoomed off without stopping. Thereupon they were chased by the policemen and at a turning they found themselves cornered between the chasing policemen and another police party coming from the opposite direction. It was there they were fire upon and his friend Konsam Kourounganba was hit fatally while he received a shrapnel injury in the neck. What a tragedy this was. It would be enough to give goose pimples to any parents. Like the man in America worried about his son, many of them must be also considering sending their children off from Manipur. They will have their shares of problems wherever they are, but elsewhere it would be less likely for them to die the senseless death that Kourounganba met.
Given the law and order situation in the state, it would be unreasonable to expect a sizing down of the police force or their armoury. It is also true the policemen too live on the edge in the present circumstance. But there is nothing that says strictly disciplining them will harm their morale. In fact, they may stand to gain from a reorientation. Let them know there is no room for mistakes, especially those caused by recklessness. There is no gainsaying that as of today, the armed wings of the Manipur police constabularies, the Manipur Rifles, IRB and the police commandos, are given to brutish arrogance that only the intoxicating power of the gun can give. This was evident even in the case of the escorts of the Manipur Speaker beating up a man for not giving way to the Speaker`™s convoy promptly enough, even though it was well past duty hour. These men are not empowered or protected by the notorious AFSPA. Yet, the climate of impunity usually associated with the AFSPA is loudly evident in everything they do. Like those covered by the AFSPA, they have come to think they are out of bounds of ordinary law. This is what is making life dangerous for everybody. The government must take action to reverse the trend. It must ensure that those found callous about causing deaths and injuries to another are made accountable and punished as per the law in proportion to the harms they cause.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam