Law Enforcement and High-handedness

For several decades now, many of us know about the high-handedness of police in countries like India, and in many other developing countries.

Now we know that even developed countries have that bad streak in their police forces.

The key objective of law enforcement is keeping the general public safe, and a related goal is to prevent crimes. The power bestowed on the police for ensuring that the above goals are met are misused and abused many a time. The heads of law enforcement and the government officials in charge of security would not generally challenge their own police officers in cases of abuse of powers, even if that had resulted in serious wrongdoings. This is a general statement, and does not apply to every case around, but the exceptions wherein serious actions have been taken against police officers are rare, anywhere in the world.

The U.S. has now demonstrated that its police officers go scot-free almost all the time even there are wrongful deaths of unarmed civilians at their hands, and the grand juries would never indict the police officers, fearful of setting a precedent which would demoralize the police force.

But what is right and what is wrong ? Are not the grand juries or judges responsible to ensure that any harm caused to a normal citizen on the roads by police officers who should protect the citizen rather than harm him/her, should be treated as crimes against citizens ? Why do the laws of the country not provide for punishment to people irrespective of their roles in society ?

There is something seriously wrong in all our societies, if we are unable or unwilling to mandate reforms to our legislation in a manner consistent with the principles of natural justice, instead of succumbing to special interests.

In developing countries such as India, the police has enormous powers and they misuse the same against the public, do not provide proper and appropriate guidance to the public, question the public on any complaints they bring forth, treat everyone as nuisance, and beat up protesters in general. Such scenarios play out in most countries, especially in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Now, there is strong evidence that developed countries are nothing different – they protect themselves (I mean, the police officers) rather than the general public who they are supposed to protect. Why should the police always get worried that they are under threat all the time ? They themselves should never be above the laws of the land. Why should the police have extraordinary powers to beat up people – what authority gives them that kind of unnecessary powers ? Even when they need to take offensive actions, why not use some weapon different from a gun – even if a gun needs to be used, why not shoot at the legs ? And, why use six bullets against an unarmed civilian, even if he appears to be physically threatening ? Why make decisions which would come to haunt you over the rest of your life ? And, why snuff out life from a young man when he still has not yet had the opportunity to live out his life in full ? Where is the compassion ? Where is the humanity ?

Given all the incidents which have happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, and Florida, I have come to the warranted conclusion that police in no country is above board completely. If the U.S. police could do these kind of public killings with impunity, I believe that the precedent has been set for more such killings in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, where unfortunately the U.S. is the role model in almost everything.

Can and will the government do anything to rein in such incidents ? That is a clear NO.

So, we continue to live in a world of police atrocities against the general public, with no clear governmental mandate to control such errant and deviant police officers who give such a bad name to an otherwise well-regarded profession. I do not agree that being a police officer is “patriotic” service to the nation. I also do not agree that police officers are always under the line of fire, and so could wield unlimited power.

Think seriously about the police.


Vijay Srinivasan
13th December 2014

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