One day as you are driving, you’re pulled over for speeding by an unmarked van. You know that you were not speeding and ask for proof from the officers. Your request angers the officers who assault you, confiscate your phone, and take you to an ATM to withdraw money. As you retell your story, those around you tell you to report it to the cops, but they don’t know that it was the cops who did it. Your name is Dare Olaitan, and you are a 29-year-old living in Lagos, Nigeria. The officers who robbed you were members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or SARS; a unit that has been tasked with fighting violent crime, but has been accused of committing the same crimes they are meant to solve.
Over the past weeks, increasing pressure from Nigerian citizens led to the Police Force announcing that they will be disbanding the SARS unit and that human rights groups will assist in the creation of a replacement squad and current SARS officers will be moved to new assignments. While this might seem like a victory, this is not the first time the SARS unit has been disbanded and redesigned under a new name.
Here in NYC, during the height of protests against police brutality, many people made the same arguments against the NYPD’s Anti-Crime Unit. Officers who dress in plain-clothes and are often involved in the city’s most notorious police shootings and crimes against unarmed citizens. This summer, the police commissioner announced that the Anti-Crimes Unit would be disbanded and the officers would be assigned to new units.
Two cities thousands of miles apart, on two different continents, but the stories are almost identical. Police units that in theory are meant to protect citizens, but are agents of the government being used to inflict pain. This past week as Nigerians continue to take to the streets to demand change, the army started shooting unarmed citizens and killed and harmed many people. Because of social media, we can see these human rights violations in real time and many people have been appalled by what they saw.
While I do agree that we need law enforcement, what we don’t need are officers who have no respect for the law or those they protect to be moved around from department to department remaining safe from repercussions. Our elected officials and our officers work for us. Our taxes pay them, and our votes give them their jobs. We do have the right to make our voices heard, even if those in power don’t like what is being said.