Ferguson, a window into Pakistan's own cases of police brutality
I have been arrested. I have been handcuffed. I have been put in jail. I have had a police officer put a gun against my temple in the middle of the road in Defence. I have had a police officer threaten to indict me with charges of rape and murder if I do not give him money. There is no record of any of this because I never committed any crime. My “crimes” ranged from driving on the road at 2am to being in a car with a girl without possessing a ‘Nikkahnama’.
I would not call them bribes, it was extortion. It was a blatant misuse of power by the police. In all these instances, I did not report the instances, I did not tell anyone and I did not file any charges against the police officer involved. I just learnt where all the police checkpoints are and found routes back home avoiding each one of them. My ordeals were over within hours, all I suffered was indignation and financial loss. Others have not been so lucky.
I have had friends beaten up by the police. I have had friends sexually harassed by the police. They have all suffered in silence. The model town incident was meant to be a watershed moment for Pakistan. However, the politicisation of the issue meant none of the police officers involved suffered any rebuke. Do we even know their names?
Today, a large protest was held in New York City against the decision of the grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson, a white officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August. The incident was caught on video tape and led to mass protests all around the country. The nepotism prevalent in our country was also present here. The police initially refused to name the police officer involved, the right wing media insisted that this was not about race. The protestors holding up a sign “Black Lives Matter” disagreed.
The decision of the grand jury to even send the incident to trial shows that racism is still prevalent in the United States. However, the public pressure created by the protestors forced the authorities to send the case to a grand jury and start a national debate around the issue. The people refused to suffer in silence.
When a similar incident happened in Pakistan last year, there were no protests. In 2011, the Sindh Rangers shot Sarfaraz Shah, an unarmed 22-year-old boy point blank. The rangers harass him, drag him by his hair and push him against a vehicle. He is then shot twice and left to bleed on the streets. The video was aired on national television channels and shared profusely on social media but to no avail. We never even learnt the name of the criminal, the officer.
In both instances, the police officers claim the victim was a criminal, a robber. However, that gives the police no right to the extra-judicial killing. Why have courts at all, if the police officer will act like the jury, judge and executioner at his own whim?
I realise that our capacity to police may not be able to prevent all crimes in the country, they are also helpless against acts of terrorism or mob violence but the least we should expect from our protectors is that they would not be the ones responsible for the crimes.
One could agree that all these instances of police brutality should be seen as acts of individuals rather than an institutional failure. However, if we fail to hold the police officers accountable for their actions, actively providing them institutional cover then police officers will continue to act with complete impunity.
We are all equal before the law; some officers after wearing their police uniform seem to forget that. All the protesters in America were not related to Michael Brown but they stood up against the injustices they suffered despite tear gassing, baton charging and arrests by the police.
If we continue to forget cases like Sarfaraz’s, then we will continue to suffer in silence.