THE WAY FORWARD
The granting of permit to human rights activists to hold processions and demonstrations in promotion of causes of their choice have been the hallmark of a new image of civilian/ police relation. The suspension of prosecution of those arrested as a result of demonstrations which turned out to be conflict ridden did help to boost up the image of law enforcement.
Hardliners counselled that such approaches would encourage more defiance from the people. On the contrary, the compromising spirit did not encourage violent demonstrations. In fact, it has led to a more peaceful atmosphere. Hence recent demonstrations took place without much difficulty in crowd management because of size. They were symbolic in nature and posed no iota of threat to national security.
The principle behind the new concept of community policing is to reduce or eliminate any antagonistic relation between the police and the public they are employed to protect. Criminal prosecution is pursued only in extreme cases where it serves the public interest. The criminal justice system moves towards remedial justice where those who run into problem with the law are not punished, but rehabilitated to live normal lives.
The office of the Inspector General of Police could serve as a harbinger for peace and security if public relation mechanisms are put in place to promote compliance with the law instead of relying on coercive approaches.
The death of a Gambian after George Floyd’s catastrophic murder puts the Gambia on the map. The system of policing in the country must become refined so that our citizens would have moral authority to promote the rights of our citizens abroad. Countries that wish to promote the interest of their citizens abroad must refine their own criminal justice systems.
When permits are given for citizens to hold procession that pass on peacefully without any threat to life and property, any observations from media coverage or other sources after the event should be tools to guide future engagements in the issuance of permit and not means to gather evidence for prosecution. Both the public and the police are learning how best to control crowds. There is need for more dialogue to share lessons on how to manage demonstrations. Forum for discussion and sharing of lessons should be arranged by the National Human Rights Commission as the best way forward for community/police relation.