This is How Policing Has Always Worked. This is Who Police Will Always Be
More and more recently, we have been hearing in soul crushing details, the narrations of mothers, friends, siblings, and lovers who share with us their griefs on national TV, tears streaming down their eyes. You see, their people, like many other Ugandans who have since been disappeared, killed, and brutalized by security forces in this country had people who cared for them, who are now forced to contend with their daily absences. It is these same security forces that continue to patrol the streets, commanding mostly angst and terror, under the guise of keeping Ugandans safe.
There are some for whom this might feel like a new phenomenon. There are also groups of people in this country who have never been able to associate safety with any kind of policing institution. Women know that police (used interchangeably with security forces to mean the same thing) are not the first point of call when an assault has happened. Sexually minoritized people understand that police are an inherent threat to their lives as has been demonstrated several times over, championed by the same people who now demand that the police “reform” their ways. In actuality, the police has not suddenly gone rouge. Security forces are not in fact acting erratically, they are performing their very function – maintain the status quo at all costs, for as long as it still be of benefit.
Policing as we are experiencing it today, is a continuation of our inherently racist and colonial state apparatuses. Modelled after the British blueprint, the institutionalization of these security agencies was first established in 1899. The intent was always to serve as a vehicle of coercion, repression and the pattern of violence was born then. Along the years, these same forces have occasionally taken on newer characters of those who command them, while retaining the model upon which they were founded. The histories of the ways in which we experienced them then, and how we are trying to survive them now, are intertwined. The continuous reproduction of these repressive apparatuses cannot be undone by simply naming and shaming one, two or even four agents as the problem. Rather, we must come to a collective understanding that the well has always and will always be poisoned. We have to ask ourselves why it is that we somehow continue to come back to this very same place. It is not a mere coincidence that there are stark similarities with the ways security forces act now and how they acted in the 70’s. It is not a coincidence that those who fund the security forces here also fund the occupation and subjugation of other people across the continent and middle East. It would be an absurdity therefore to assume that we can defeat this system, without uprooting it at its core.
Knowing this necessitates that as we work on the (perhaps) quicker fixes of demanding that these officers are removed from any kind of service, we pay attention to the often ignored and yet urgent work of dismantling the very system that allows them to exist, altogether. The carceral system of governance that we are currently experiencing must therefore be understood not as a failing of the state, but rather as a deliberate tactic employed by states, here and almost everywhere else to maintain several status quos. The most familiar example to this truth is the continued acts of terror that Black everywhere in the world continue to suffer at the hands of U.S government, regardless of who is in office, as they perpetuate actions that center the U.S as the world’s “top-cop, warmonger and jailer.” The military bases across the continent, the actions of ICE where children are ripped out of the hands of their mothers and caged, and the continued murder of Black people with no consequence are just some of the ways this manifests. Closer to home, the #EndSARs movement in Nigeria, the deep militarization of many countries in the region, and the several relatable stories of police brutality are yet another illustration of this. In understanding the fact that police, military, and any other security forces will always be inherently violent, we too must change our tactics and thus our demands.
We have to insist on understanding the structural problem and thus recognizing the institutional nature of the violence that is meted on us by security. Framing it as a horrendous acts by a few people continues to allow for hopeful, albeit misguided belief, that this system can be reformed. Reform does not beget revolutionary change, and while we might be able to attain some momentarily gains by enacting degrees of pain on those who have caused us pain, it will ultimately not alter the fabric of the systemic problems or their manifestations. I would therefore like to propose, a reimagination of the alternative.
The emphasis on policing, as opposed to addressing the causes of harm, violence and the deep despair people are responding to continues to allow the state to ignore the core of its obligations. In response to valid and righteous demands then, the guise of law and order is used as a tactic, further silencing any dissenting voices. The proposed increase in budget of security for this country, at the height of a global pandemic where millions have lost their jobs, are dealing with new waves of mental health issues, among other crises that are an actual priority, should be unimaginable. And yet, we continue to see here, and world over, this emphasis on further prioritizing more guns under the umbrella of defense and security. Ironically, these have not translated into a safer or more just world. It has done nothing to stop the deepening inequality or shielded any of us from the harsh realities of climate inaction, poor health care, unemployment or governments that see us as easily disposable. Simply put, it does not work.
To begin to understand all the ways in which this is a problem requires us to reconceptualize our very notion of safety, community and how we will ultimately achieve our ability to self-determine in a country that is not so riddled with cycles of violence. We must ask ourselves, but even more those who have decided to lead us, why life is not considered precious and worthy enough that we focus more on protecting it and each other, rather than what we have now. The answer to this is not a kumbaya-movement that absolves policing apparatus of accountability. Rather, we must demand accountability in the form of undoing the legacies we inherited and systemic change that goes beyond hoping a few individuals will come in and save us. They will not.
The endurance of resistance must equally be a struggle for solidarity, taking into account all the different ways in which the police manifests violence across different groups of people. While the more clear patterns today are through brutalization of journalists, murder and kidnaps of those demanding for a recognition of their right to self-determine, this patterned behavior extends to the less mainstreamed inhumanities that are meted on sexually minoritized people in this country, women and all the others whose stories are erased. The goal dear reader, must always be total and collective freedom.