I have just read the news that the three policemen who assaulted the journalists of the Ghanaian Times have been interdicted. The news may gladden it, but my provisional response is that, while it may be the routine line of action from the police institution, it does not address the fundamental problems burdening the police.
My concern is that the challenges with the police institution are structural that touch on many facets of life. But for the purposes of the current case before us, I want to suggest that every policeman or woman occasionally undergoes mental assessment. The same routine mental assessment should be extended to other public and private workers who interface with people on a daily basis.
In a country where we take mental health for granted, my suggestion may appear unpopular and perhaps out of order with the popular itinerary of Ghanaian workers. In 2015, the national chief psychiatrist, Dr. Akwasi Osei, recommended mental checkup for the erstwhile president, John Dramani Mahama. Very typical of our partisan politicking that is enshrined in belligerence, the powers-that-be descended heavily on Dr. Akwasi Osei, because he supposedly subjected the president to public ridicule.
Incidentally, Dr. Osei’s recommendation came on the heels of the Dumso regime (erratic power supply) in Ghana. As an expert in the field of mental health, Dr. Akwasi Osei realized that the president was undergoing unprecedented mental stress. Consequently, the president needed to be assessed for possible help.
Last year, we were fed with unfortunate news about a policeman who brutalized a woman who had gone to withdraw her money at Midland Savings and Loans Company Limited. The news, as it were, directed our anger to the police institution. We became more conscious and aware of the extent to which the police is becoming unfit to maintain law and order in the country.
We later read that the said policeman had walked away without the anticipated punishment. Recently, we read about three policemen who assaulted some journalists (including a nursing mother) of the Ghanaian Times. Again, our default reaction was to condemn the policemen involved.
There is no sign in sight that police brutality will end anytime soon if we fail to uncover the reasons undergirding these forms of brutalities and assaults. I want to suggest that our policemen and women undergo routine mental checkup to help them deal with the frustrations and mental stress associated with their work. There is no denying that the police in Ghana work under very difficult conditions. Their salaries are nothing to write home about. The state of their accommodation facilities is very worrying. The climatic condition in our part of the world also subjects them to a very scorching sun without any form of protection.
The cumulative effect of all this is that the police react violently at the least provocation. In most cases, the police react extra-judiciously under mental stress. The same could be said of other workers who engage the public on a daily basis. About a month ago, I went to Madina to get batteries for my voice recorder. The woman I had gone to buy from descended mercilessly on me because I had asked about whether I could get an entire box of the batteries she was selling to me. Apparently, she thought I had doubts about the price she had quoted for the batteries. To keep my cool, I just paid for the four pieces of batteries she had given me; thanked her, and walked away!
As I walked away, my imagination pushed me to believe that someone had either provoked her or my intimidating medicated pair of a lens was portrayed me as a ‘book-long’ or a litigant.
The point I am driving at is that most of the reactions of the police and other public workers have been as a result of displaced anger. To address the perennial police brutalities and assaults, we should endeavor to address their peculiar challenges that confront the institution. But more important, we should make it mandatory for the police to receive an occasional mental checkup.
Indeed, we cannot continue to offer knee-jerk responses to cases of police violating the very laws they are mandated to protect. That said we should also be considerate about how we speak to the police. We should try to understand the difficult conditions under which they work. The media should not feel privileged because they hold the power of the pen that could do enduring damage than the gun!
To conclude, I want to freely admit that nothing should justify police brutality or assault. But to stem the tide of such brutalities in the bud, I want to reiterate my point that instead of the usual interdicting, which is basically a knee-jerk response, we should address the structural challenges that burden the work of the police. In addition to that, we should ask the police and other public workers to undergo occasional mental checkup. This is not to say that they are ‘mad’; it is rather to admit the mental strain their work subjects them to. The public should also consider the difficulties the police face in maintaining law and order and treat them with respect. Until we do this, the image of the police will continue to sink and the protection of law and order will fall into wrong hands.
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]),
African University College of Communications, Accra
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