… And the Police
The long-awaited verdict on the case of Policeman Dennis Chauvin for killing George Floyd came in on Tuesday. And many say that people were relieved when it was declared “murder”. Meaning that until the end they weren’t sure the jury had let him leave. We all know the facts of the case … we’ve all seen the tape … and we’ve all been involved in the debate over the last year, passive or active; therefore, your Eyewitness does not have to repeat them.
What he would like to do – as he always tries to do in these matters – is to give context to the broader issue of our reality of living in Guyana. George Floyd’s case was about policing in America, so what are some lessons about policing in Guyana. Obviously, Guyana is not America – though many people want it to be – but, as an organization, policing everywhere is subject to similar systemic challenges, as they all have to fulfill the same function: maintaining order in society .
The Police is therefore the most ubiquitous branch of the State visible to the ordinary citizen, and exerting considerable power. This includes the ultimate power of the State – to take the lives of citizens if they decide that the “order” of society – including their own – is at risk. To deal with this potential “threat”, States have organized the Force very militarily from its beginning in the 19th century. And though there have been reforms since then, the military orientation remains stubborn.
In Guyana, there have been decades, for decades, of addressing this orientation by renaming the Police as “Police Service” rather than “Police” – and changing their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS) to function ‘ the “kinder, lighter” approach. But we haven’t got anywhere, have we? In America, they have long recognized that, in a racially diverse society, part of the problem is that some underrepresented groups in the Force are also an unusual force barrel – as with the African-American Floyd. This has also been the case in Guyana, but nothing has ever been done about it.
Police accountability is always an issue: with so much power, it is always vulnerable to abuse. Take the force used to subjugate Floyd: we all agree it’s excessive (to state the obvious) but only because one person has a smart phone to video the event. But what about that Police killing that 18-year-old Sewdatt in Cotton Tree? They say he attacked them with heartbreak … but the parents insist he was just an adversary. Will that poor boy, whose life was taken out, ever get justice?
And will the Police “force” ever become the Police “service”?
… And organizational culture
Legendary management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. He was, of course, talking about business culture and its impact on management strategies for achieving their goals and objectives. Unless you change the culture of the business you want to be successful, even if you produce the best strategy in the world, it will fail.
And we return to our Force, where we should therefore be spending a hell of a lot more of our time on changing its culture to one of “service” if we ever expect to get less arbitrary police killings and abuse others here. We have to start with recruitment, and this means higher salaries to discourage people from seeing their role as a busy lunch money. The training will also need to include the basic courtesy that the Police should extend to citizens. Have you ever been stopped by the Police on the way?
We’ve had too many George Floyds here. And they all probably have cutouts.
… And politics
When the PNC returned to power after 23 years, it was clear that, under Granger, they had learned nothing. He, like Burnham, was cynical about the judiciary and the Police who moved to overturn it.
The judiciary must stand firm.