Let’s not be too quick to judge the Police

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 20 April 2016, 12:00AM

Let’s face it. The Police Commissioner’s two-paragraph response to the Ombudsman’s report about an incident involving an innocent member of the public at the Fugalei market could be interpreted in two ways (see story titled “Top cop responds” on the front page of the Samoa Observer yesterday).

One is that Commissioner Fuiava Egon Keil is so ashamed by the report he does not have much to say about it at all except to sit down with his team, rethink, regroup and change their ways.

The other way to look at it is that he really doesn’t care what Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma and his Office thinks so he pulls out that card we so often see. It’s called ‘ignore it, pray and hope that this incident somehow magically disappears from memory.’

All things considered, we do not and we must not condone the behaviour of the Police as the report highlights. No decent human being deserves to be treated in such a manner in Samoa or anywhere else for that matter. 

Besides, the failure at so many levels identified by the report is simply mind-blowing. Someone could have been killed. It scares me to think what could have happened if Misa Suitupe had somehow reacted any differently than putting his hands in the air. Would they have shot an innocent man point blank for members of the public to see? Is that the new normal for Samoa?

Keep in mind that this is not the first shocking incident involving Police brutality we’ve seen in the not too distant past. Remember the Toamua incident where Police officers beat, rocked and abused a member of the public in broad daylight in front a church?

Indeed, the latest incident is a real indictment on the Police and the Commissioner. It’s an embarrassment, it’s disgraceful and everyone involved in the raid – including the Cabinet Minister who authorised it - should hang their heads in shame.

In his two-paragraph response yesterday, Commissioner Fuiava said: 

“The Samoa Police has great respect and reverence for the laws of Samoa and sensitive to every person’s Constitutional Rights.

“The Samoa Police will continue to do whatever it takes within the law to keep our country and our people safe.”

Well that’s hard to believe, isn’t it? 

Looking at the Ombudsman’s report, there is no respect in the way that man was treated. Reverence? Constitutional rights? You’ve got to be kidding me.  

And lastly, the idea that the “Police will continue to do whatever it takes within the law to keep our country and our people safe” is chilling and threatening.

Are we safe to assume then that this sort of behaviour from the Police is what we will continue to see? Is this the beginning of a new era in Samoa’s law enforcement?

To be fair, there are times when such force is required and the Police should be prepared for it. Such instances include raids on criminals who harbour hard drugs. These people ultimately have powerful guns and other forms of weaponry where our Samoan ideology of mutual respect and dialogue will not work.

But in most cases in Samoa – including this particular case – our people are quite civil. That’s why it’s easy to agree with the Ombudsman here that the Police have definitely gone overboard. 

But should we be upset with the Commissioner and his men? 

Shouldn’t this spark a nationwide outrage against the Police and perhaps a march down Beach Road calling for blood?

Shouldn’t we have those angry Samoans demanding justice and fairness for all from the government and the Police? 

Shouldn’t we be calling for heads to roll over this issue?

Yes. Maybe. But then again, maybe not. 

Now take a deep breath, hold your fire and hear us out for a second.

The failure in this “sorry affair” as highlighted by the Ombudsman started from the Cabinet Minister who granted a so-called Ministerial approval when clearly he shouldn’t have. 

Then there is the Commissioner whose knowledge of local laws – and perhaps cultural norms – have again been brought under scrutiny. Remember the matai and military debacle not so long ago? 

And of course the Police officers who can argue that they were merely following orders. Fair enough.

If our opinion was sought, we believe that if we are to identify the real culprit in this situation, we have to look deeper. If the issue here is the lack of understanding of local laws and culture, then the Commissioner should not entirely take the blame. Who appointed the Police Commissioner in the first place? Who appointed the Cabinet Minister?

That brings us back to that two-paragraph response from the Police. 

We say it’s pathetic. 

It’s arrogant. 

But it doesn’t surprise us one bit.

Is that not the typical attitude we are seeing from our political leaders today?  

Is it not accurate to say that the attitude of the Police merely reflects that of the people above them? 

Isn’t this the very same thing we are seeing from our political leaders when it comes to issues involving abuse of power, positions and blatant wrongdoing? 

Why then should we crucify Commissioner Fuiava and his men when you could easily say the same thing about “corrupt practices,” the blatant abuse of power, positions, government properties and collusion that continues to go unpunished? 

The point is this. When standards, morals and ethics in anything in this life are constantly compromised, there is no ending to the slope because it just becomes a downward spiral. Which is precisely what we are seeing in Samoa today.

We cannot isolate a single incident and draw a conclusion. We have to look at the system, decency and the values that have been compromised by legitimizing  wrongdoing and wrong behavior. 

It is from that we will find answers. 

What we are seeing – including this latest incident with the Police - is merely a reflection of a system that is failing. It has been compromised and the standards have been lowered so much to the point where anything goes.

We commend the Ombudsman and his Office for a job well done in compiling such a thorough and well-written report about their investigation. It must be said that Maiava and his office are a ray of hope for Samoa. We encourage them not to give up. From the media’s standpoint, we especially appreciate their transparency and their willingness to share their reports – unlike so many other taxpayer funded reports that are kept far, far away from the public.

But like the Chief Auditor’s report and the O.P.C report, what’s the point if nothing is done about them? 

Getting back to the Police, if you want to hold the Commissioner accountable, what about instances where Cabinet Ministers have been implicated in far more serious cases of wrong doing and yet they are allowed to get away scot free? Didn’t we just allow certain Members of Parliament to waltz into our lawmaking institution knowing that they blatantly broke the law? So who are we kidding here? Think about it.

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 20 April 2016, 12:00AM

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