Random Notions with Bimbo Manuel
Yes, Kole. My apologies. As usual, power went off as I typed your letter and the first part must have come to you by some miracle because even the UPS shut down almost immediately – that is the only type of equipment we are able to get here, mostly unreliable.
So, I was addressing Ferguson. Remember Captain Ron Johnson? The big, black highway patrolman drafted to take charge of things in Ferguson when it looked like it was beyond every resident white cop. Calm yet steely, strong yet wearing an understanding, disarming mien, he mixed freely with the protesters at the beginning but when it looked like the ‘connecting with the brothers’ tactic was not quite working, he showed steel. As a last resort, the governor declared a curfew and ordered in the dreaded, rarely seen National Guards. You don’t fool around with those guys. It was an obvious sign of official estimation of the trouble in Ferguson. Even the Attorney General, another black, I think, ordered a fresh autopsy.
I could not help wondering what informed the choice of Captain Ron to deal with the trouble – his competence? His race?
There have been differing perspectives to the development in Ferguson, some seeing the protesters and their demand to be heard, others seeing only the vandals riding on the back of the unrest to express themselves, looting, foul-mouthing, smashing and grabbing; even some more seeing the brutal force with which the police has reacted raising questions about police action if it had been a predominantly white or Latino community. Wherever your dominant thoughts lie, it is clear that not many are indifferent. I confess that it will be mind stirring as usual to hear what your think.
But that can wait.
The main reason for my letter to you is to draw your attention to some things I find poignantly thrown up in all the goings-on in Ferguson, United states of America namely governance and the use of oppressive force.
In my country Nigeria, I know you will insist yours as well, excessive power and the oppression it births are items we have learnt to accommodate in our psyche – police brutality is no longer news, corruption with impunity does not shock anyone anymore and though we have been variously hailed as the bastion of true personal and constitutional freedom on the African continent and our press praised as vibrant, with the credit for that being carefully politically given to the ‘democratic’ government, questions remain.
However, a constitutional state makes two unambiguous promises to its citizens irrespective of their social standing, ethnicity or convictions, mainly that no matter the exigency, they will be respected and protected as equals before the law and that in any circumstance that the law is called into recourse, its interpretation shall be even and unbiased in their favour or against them.
In this context therefore, I wish to remind you of the rather tedious and impassioned conversation, if it can now be called that, we had with another of our brothers and friend, Ime James, during which you both expressed a conviction about the fairness and rightness of the laws that govern us and the application of those laws.
I must draw references from your new country, America, but I do not mean to fault your people. It is just that this Ferguson situation provides such enticing parallels, even fascinating contrasts.
Consider the status of the average black person on the streets of America, irrespective of nationality, and we are not talking about the minority who have managed to claw their ways to the top in a generally unfriendly environment, and pitch that against the situation of the average Nigerian on the streets of his own country where it is assumed he/she is in the majority and he has all inalienable rights of citizenship. Tell me what you see, sir.
Do you not see parallels in the reaction of the police in Ferguson and when Nigerians have been pushed to the wall and insist on their voices being heard? Though that insistence is usually rare and far between, I admit.
In case you think my point vague, have you considered that according to the international news networks, the black man is many times more likely to be stopped on the streets of America than his Caucasian or Latino ‘equal’ just as the ‘masses’ are many more likely to be harassed and detained for the most frivolous offence in Mushin and Okokomaiko than his ‘counterpart’ in Ikoyi and Maitama? I await your correction of my warped viewpoint.
Could it also be possible that this may actually be something in the spiritual gene of the African, to be available, be the butt of violent oppression?
I acknowledge though that there are very many sharp contrasts and that may be where we differ as we did the last time.
In the first place, someone of authority in Ferguson decided after things started to go out of hand in Ferguson to send Captain Ron Johnson into the fray. Point: it is a predominantly black community. It is blacks protesting. The community police are predominantly white. To deal with the issue, they send in a black man. In Nigeria, when trouble starts in Lagos, they send in a man from Maiduguri who cannot understand a word of what the people who feel aggrieved are saying. His job: get them off the streets or shoot them dead. So, they give him armored personnel carriers, kit his men in fearful looking helmets and guns to make Saddam afraid against men and women armed only with placards usually. And the protestdies, everyone goes home, till another day. You may make a veiled case for state police but is a point worth considering?
That is not all…oh dear, Moji wants my attention.
However, I want you to know that we are “…one nation under, we are on the move…getting down for the funk of it…!” Second bass meanwhile…