Dressember Day 15: The Police Came Today

*Before we begin, may I issue *all* the apologies for the spacing and lack of spacing throughout. WordPress needs to get on it, you know? How am I supposed to have Christmas cheer with this in my life?

An unexpected visitor dropped by to see me today. It was the police. Apparently after I had gotten back from Marathon (Kent jammed my paper shredder which only has a capacity of SIX SHEETS and I needed to destress by getting the world’s largest lemonade) I had tripped our security system’s alarm. But it had never started beeping–therefore reminding me to enter in the code–so I forgot all about it. The next thing I know Gus is barking at something on the porch, I ignore him, and I eat another cookie. It could not be a more average day. I come to find someone looking through our windows. And this someone has a gun and a badge.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“Woof.” (That was Gus, not the officer).
“Ma’am did you trip your alarm?”
“…It’s definitely possible. Whoops.”
“Everything’s okay?”
“Is that your truck out front?”
“No, it’s my husband’s.” (Still weird to say).
“Is he home?”
“Do you have the same last name?”
“What’s your first name?”
“With an ‘I’ or a ‘Y’?”
“Y. Duh.” (I didn’t say duh).
“That’s all I need. Bye.”
“Do you want some cookies?” (I didn’t offer him cookies. Tis never the season to share cookies).
ANYWAY, all this to say it fit perfectly with a book I’ve been reading in honor of Dressember. The Locust Effect is by Gary Haugen, the President and Founder of International Justice Mission. He was a human rights lawyer before IJM, and he realized one crucial thing: how poverty will never be eradicated in the developing world until violence is.
It’s an interesting premise. I didn’t care too much about it, and, as has become my custom, didn’t adopt it as fact until I learned more about it.
Well, I’m learning now. You guys, this book has changed my life. I always knew I lived a completely different life from those in third world countries, but I never understood that they live, for all intents and purposes, in an absolute nightmare. And I don’t say that lightly. The things an ordinary citizen in Nairobi or Peru experiences are things similar to what I have had actual nightmares about.
I took a couple passages that really hit me and wanted to share them with you all. Please, please allow your heart to break. Let it break with compassion and a fiery anger at injustice, but not with hopelessness. How can we possibly fight this? you may ask, but you don’t need to worry. International Justice Mission has been fighting for years, and they’re doing all the right things. They’re starting at the sources and implementing sustainable and ethical programs and principles. And here is some of what Gary Haugen and his colleagues have witnessed in this time:
“When my colleagues in Cambodia first started working with the police ten years ago, basic recruits essentially received a uniform and on-the-job training with virtually no formal training in basic policing or criminal investigation. Police were expected to arrest sex trafficking suspects but had received little training in gathering intelligence, managing informants, conducting surveillance, or planning and executing a raid. Police in Peru were expected to gather evidence in child rape cases but had never received a single day of specialized training on how to investigate a rape case or interview a child witness. Police in Uganda were supposed to restrain perpetrators of land theft, but they had received virtually no training on safe tactics for arresting and controlling a suspect.”

“Insecure about their own capacities, blamed for just about everything, disrespected by the public, and threatened by violent criminal elements, the police cover up their lack of training and knowledge by keeping outsiders at a distance with intimidation, rudeness, and a severe lack of transparency…If they can’t find a suspect, they may just round up a group of people nearby and torture them until someone confesses, or imprison suspects’ relatives in their stead…Police in the Ivory Coast threw a 16-year-old child bride into jail, because her husband had been accused of murder. She rotted in jail—without any charges against her—for over a year before anyone noticed.
If scared and shy victims of sexual assault are difficult to interview, police slap them and yell at them as if they were interrogating the suspect of the crime. IJM staff in Southeast Asia have had to intervene to stop police when they slap, threaten to slap, and withhold food or bathroom breaks from child sex trafficking victims in order to get them to ‘tell the truth.’ In East Africa we have had to intervene when police officers got frustrated and abusive with the parents of child sexual assault victims in the midst of difficult interviews. The police lose patience and take their anger out on the parents, who then threaten to beat the children if they don’t ‘tell what happened.’ 
If police are conducting anti-trafficking or anti-slavery raids, they simply make a perfunctory appearance at the scene of the crime without any serious effort. Many times we have watched anti-human trafficking raids in South Asia and Southeast Asia in which the local police waited at the front door while the suspects ran away with their victims out the rear exit (and NOT because they were paid off—they just didn’t know what to do).”

“Think of it this way: ‘Doctors’ are not doctors anymore when they start making money off of making people sick. ‘Teachers’ are not teachers anymore if they accept payment from third parties to obstruct a child’s education. ‘Water engineers’ become something entirely different when they start taking money to contaminate the water. Likewise, poor people simply do not have ‘law enforcement’ in their community when corruption becomes endemic to the police in their community…
Corruption of the police force in the developing world means that the poor are priced out of the very protections against violence upon which everything else depends. This was the unspeakably painful realization that pushed tears into the exhausted eyes of those mothers I spoke to in Peru when they realized that the police would do nothing to help their raped daughters, because they did not have money to pay. Likewise, researchers in India found that the poor could not afford to pay the bribes that the police demanded for simply filing a criminal complaint or for the costs of investigation.”

“With the expectation that law enforcement services are for paying customers only, there’s little actual incentive to enforce the law: My colleagues have repeatedly watched in amazement as police officers in the developing world refuse to chase a suspect who runs away from them, refuse to fill out a criminal complaint on behalf of a victim who has come to the station, refuse to visit a crime scene, refuse to interview an eyewitness eager to provide testimonial evidence, refuse to show up in court when ordered to testify, or refuse to leave the police station to arrest a suspect. 
Additionally, if you are under pressure to ‘reduce crime,’ but you want to do as little actual crime-fighting as possible, you can make it look like there is less crime by discouraging the reporting, registration, and investigation of crime in the community. Perversely, instead of exposing the crime, the police cover up criminal activity as a way of reducing THE APPEARANCE of crime.”
When someone tragically and wrongfully is shot by the police in America, we have looting, fires, theft, riots, and protests. But when police corruption like this is the norm, in fact, expected in nearly all of the developing world, we respond with an automatic monthly deduction of $25 to our favorite charity. (Guilty).
I’ll clarify several things:
1) The many lives being torn apart or lost overseas does not negate the tragedy or the wrongfulness of the bad policing being done in America.
2) I recognize there are corrupt policemen and policewomen in America, even, we have found out, entire corrupt or racist police departments. But what we see in developing countries is a whole other breed of corrupt. If a policeman slapped a 10 year old rape victim so that she would tell the truth, the nation would be in an uproar and he would be fired in an instant. Again, situations in other countries don’t negate what’s going on here, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accept America’s corruption, but it does help us realize that we are not starting from level one. Justice should be fought for everywhere.
3) Donations to charities are still good, but we must understand it will take so much more heart, so much more activism and awareness and involvement and yes, even cash(!), that we must do more.
I am so grateful to live somewhere with a police force that is trained, equipped, and ready to fight crime. They have the training–both before they get the job and after getting the job–that continues to educate them on so many topics from serving warrants to hostage negotiations. And because of taxpayers, they have guns. Really good ones. And Dodge Chargers. And pepper spray and handcuffs and tricks up their sleeve to just freakin’ make justice happen.
I am so grateful to live somewhere I can have a security system for $15 a month that is hooked up to a whole mess of people who will come to my home and do whatever needs to be done to keep me safe. They’ll hop in their car and speed to my house. They’ll look in my windows and ask me questions. They’ll take notes and write a report. They won’t put money over my safety. They won’t force their way into my home once they learn my husband isn’t there and I’m alone. They won’t decide one day that they don’t really feel like responding to my call.
That’s why I wear a dress. It’s because I want the same thing for my sister in Guatemala who was raped and her rapist, who was caught on camera, was never brought to trial. And I want it for my sister in Cambodia who was kept in a brothel for 3 years instead of 3 weeks because the police kept accepting bribes from the brothel owner for their protection. And lastly, for my sister in Rwanda whose in-laws starved her and her children out of her own home by destroying every crop she had planted after her husband died.
It’s definitely bigger than a dress.

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