Edna Yaghi’s Column
“The police are here not to create disorder. They are here to preserve disorder.” – Richard J. Daley
An Arab country – It was late at night and for some reason I couldn’t sleep. Pictures flashing across my TV screen failed to impress me so I took a glass of soda and sat down near a window overlooking the large circle where I live. An orange full moon hung there just above the housetops lending a feeling of calmness to the quiet of the night. It seemed a good time to ponder over the day’s events in the solitude of the moment.
About half a block from my home, I noticed a policeman flagging down cars. At first he looked as though he had positioned himself in the middle of the street so he could pass out a few tickets but then it became obvious his patrol did not concern fining drivers for minor offenses. Then just what was his mission?
When I was young growing up in America, I perceived police to be the good guys who were out to get the villains and make certain that children like me slept safe in their beds. But what I saw that night on the streets of an Arab capital not far from my home deeply disturbed me.
The policeman holding a red flag stopped a yellow cab. After a few minutes of discourse, he dragged out a young man and began to slap him around. The slaps were so loud that I could clearly hear them up on my fourth floor apartment. But it didn’t stop here. Two other policemen joined in and the three then began to savagely beat the young man who was unable to defend himself. They threw him on the ground and kicked and hit him with batons. Perhaps he cussed them, perhaps he cursed them. I have no idea what his “crime” was, but to me, this certainly wasn’t a way to treat any person. There are such things as police stations. The victim could have been taken to the station and booked. Such vicious beating was not at all necessary.
After they had exhausted themselves “teaching” their captive his lesson, they tied him up like some kind of wild animal and threw him, bound hand and foot, into the back seat of their police car. Every so often, they would throw open the back door and beat him some more.
Meanwhile, the flagged down yellow cab stood still. The police officers returned to the taxi and dragged out yet another young passenger. They commenced to slap his face with heavy smacks that echoed through the otherwise still night air. Their second victim, like the first, was thin, young, and gaunt. But after the second smack, he broke lose and took off down the street like a scared rabbit. It was almost comic to watch the captive speed away and a not so fit policeman stumble after him. By now, I had stood up and rushed to another window with a better view. When I saw the young guy escape, I threw up my hands in support and shouted, “hooray” though I knew no one could hear me.
All of a sudden, another yellow cab pulled up just at the edge of the small mob, come to witness police brutality. Out jumped a man and a lady, presumably husband and wife, perhaps the parents of the wayward truant. Two police returned to their car, flung open the back door and dragged out the bound and gagged teenager. They stood him on his feet and again, smacked him so hard on his face and neck that the sounds once more echoed through the late night air. Then they untied him, flagged down another yellow cab and man, woman and beaten youth all disappeared into the vehicle and sped away to a saner destination.
Not too long afterwards, the crowd dispersed and the policemen, proud of the work they had done and heavy with sweat, climbed in their police car and drove off into the night.
Why had the young men been stopped? Obviously they were not hardened criminals or they would have been immediately carted off to prison. What minor crimes then were these two teenagers guilty of? Had they merely challenged the authority of the police who first stopped their cab? Had the cops retaliated to the smart remarks of the adolescents by abusing the authority the government guaranteed all police?
Whatever it was, the treatment of the young men proved many things to me. It proved that there is no real system of justice. It proved that police are free to deal with suspects in any manner they please. It proved that what I witnessed was the way every suspect is treated except when harsher measures are employed. Such measures include severe torture in order to extract confessions for those considered guilty of more serious offenses. It proved that the concept of human rights is far from a reality and it proved that this is how the law deals with anybody who defies authority. It proved that in Arab countries every person is considered guilty until proven guilty.
It proved that this is how Arab governments plant fear in the hearts of their people and how such corrupt governments ensure their own survival.