We lose to guns and bullets, we lose ourselves Samoa

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Aumugaolo Ropeti Ale

With the blessing of P.M. Tuilaepa and the Human Rights Protection Party, former L.A.P.D officer and new police chief, Fuiava Egon Keil immediately infused a brand new leadership style upon assuming full responsibility of Samoa’s police force. 

Guns and bullets. They are the new normal now for Samoa and it is generating a lot of fear and public concerns. 

Deemed no longer necessary in the hysteria, the “old way of doing things” in traditional fa’a-Samoa of restraint, diplomacy, mutual respect and compassion (ava, fa’aaloalo ma alofa) was immediately tossed out the window. 

This in spite of serious objection by some of the most experienced senior officers who are more grounded in Samoan culture.

In its place are guns and bullets in the hands of poorly led, poorly trained, unprofessional police officers with complete lack of understanding of their jobs. Village homes and similar targets are treated as war zones and suspects and the innocent alike are seen as wartime enemies who rightfully deserve a bullet if he or she fails to obey the police or poses even the slightest threat to officers’ safety.

Militarized policing is the creation of the American government. It is an offspring of two unpopular wars which has caused both the government and American citizens a lot of pain. These are the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror.” 

Access military firearms and equipment from both wars found their ways into the Los Angeles police department and a number of police departments all over the US. 

These long drawn out wars have not only drained significant US blood and resources, they have also taken an emotional toll on the American public. With the recent disclosure of new information about the decision making process both wars have suffered severe decline in public support. The campaigns since have been discredited as based on lies and racism with its origin at the highest level of the US government, president Richard Nixon and president George W. Bush.  

Historically, facing a tough re-election campaign in 1969, president Richard Nixon identified drug abuse as, “a serious national threat.” And in 1971, he declared a, “war on drugs,” as he pointed to drug abuse as “public enemy No.1.” This announcement was followed by the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973 to coordinate all war efforts. 

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum.

• According to CNN Politics, Ehrlichman’s comments is the first time the war on drugs has been plainly characterized as a political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep, the White House.

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Militarized policing according to the American Civil Liberties Union “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines civil liberties and it has allowed to happen without any meaningful discussion.” 

The recent killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas is a direct result of public frustration over a long history of questionable militarized police tactics that finally hit the boiling point with some blacks.

As for the “war on terror,” PBS Frontline reported that barely twenty four hours, since the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers, president George W. Bush declared war, “The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror: They were acts of war.” 

With strong public support, the US Congress and a UK-led coalition launched the “war on terror” on Afghanistan primarily but later escalated into Iraq, on the grounds of weapons of mass destruction. 

Amongst the many credible voices that spoke out against the war was the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. He was quoted in the Canadian Content as saying, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil.” Greenspan believes Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of oil supply in the Middle East. 

“Militarized policing is counterproductive,” a Stanford expert says.

Stanford law Professor David Sklansky says that the militarization of police departments is doing more harm than good. The question is whether communities need heavily armed police, armored vehicles and military-grade equipment for law enforcement in neighborhoods that are not warzones.

The question for us in Samoa is: Do we really need to arm our police force, is it necessary? Where do we draw the line between unreasonable search and seizure and privacy? Does the average person know that he can be killed by simply putting his hands in his pockets when he faces an armed police officer? Can we imagine the enormity of the emotional and financial cost as we are being tossed around between the thin lines of sanity and insanity? 

PM Tuilaepa and his HRPP government deserve a lot of credit for their dedication and commitment to develop and improve the quality of life in Samoa. They have been doing it with creativity and passion guided by the unseen hand of the late PM Tofilau and his indelible words,”What’s good for Apia is also good for Savaii.” When PM Tuilaepa was asked about his decision to open up Samoan communal lands to foreign investment his answer reflected the same philosophy and I paraphrase, it’s been done in New Zealand and Australia.

If and I say if, PM Tuilaepa had agreed to allow police chief Egon Keil to arm our police force with guns and bullets simply because it’s been done in America, I suggest think again, take a close look at what’s happening on the streets in the land of the free and home of the brave. 

The point here is what is good for New Zealand, Australia and America may not necessarily be good for us in Samoa unless the police is fighting the war for somebody else.

However, considering the complicated nature of law enforcement, police use of firearms are justifiable in some situations as a last resort. But one of the most effective form of law enforcement practises increasingly use by American police experts and professionals alike is “community policing,” something that has been the core of political stability in Samoan society long before the arrival of Western democracy and the subsequent introduction of Christianity. Just because we don’t have “community policing” in our lexicon does not mean it does not exist in Samoa. It does, in the form of fa’a-matai, le pule a alii ma faipule.

These Samoan values of restraint, diplomacy and respect (ava, fa’aaloalo ma alofa) reflect the deep meaning in our culture and profound wisdom of our ancestors. They are not lies, they are genuine. They hold us together as a people. Lose it to guns and bullets and we lose ourselves. Literally. 


ropeti@hawaii.edu

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