The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Mar. 24) – The Central and National Capital District Police Commander was reported yesterday to have admitted that his men may have got "a bit out of hand" in their treatment of the 76 alleged prostitutes in Port Moresby last week.

No, Commander Wagambie - your men did not get a bit out of hand. 

They disgraced the uniform they wear, and once again brought the reputation of the RPNG Constabulary tumbling down.

It seems that no matter what Commissioner Inguba and his closest associates do to try and improve the tattered image of the police force, other elements within that force can be counted upon to destroy their efforts.

Mr Wagambie seems to miss the point.

Those men and women who were ignominiously frog-marched through the capital's streets were innocent citizens.

They remain innocent until a court of law decides that they are otherwise.

And it is not and never has been the responsibility of the police to judge the people whom they arrest.

That is the nub of the matter, not some momentary and unimportant misbehavior by his men, as Commander Wagambie would have us believe.

Their action goes right to the heart of law enforcement in this country and once again mirrors the sheer arrogance of a section of the police force.

Quite apart from the moral and ethical aspects of this matter, it is impossible to avoid the impression that these policemen took a special delight in inflicting humiliation upon these women and men.

This is the kind of macho image beloved of bullies the world over - the inflicting of shame and disgrace upon people who are utterly helpless.

Is it in essence any different at all from the notorious Pinochet hierarchy in Chile, who delighted in arresting dissidents on trumped-up charges, and then inflicted unspeakable sexual and emotional torture upon them when they were completely incapable of retaliating or protesting?

It is not.

It differs only in degree.

We ask those policemen how they would have felt if one or more of that group of alleged prostitutes was a relative of theirs. 

Would they then have so readily made them the laughing stock of Port Moresby?

What those policemen did was not to reinforce the real strength of the police force, or emphasize the nature of the law, but rather indulge in an unseemly and immature demonstration of masculine superiority over their hapless victims.

What part of the law was served by forcing these women to blow up condoms like balloons?

And was the ridicule these women suffered intended to strengthen their belief in the impartiality of the law, and turn them from allegedly immoral harridans into model citizens?

Of course not. 

The fact is that the law is there to protect citizens - we repeat, protect.

And the police are not there to make moral judgments and enforce humiliating and completely illegal punishment upon a group of unfortunate women.

It would be wise for the members of the force to reflect that these women are also citizens, with access to the full rights accorded to each and every one of us.

At the same time they could consider what is the appropriate behavior for their own members.

Police drunkenness while on duty is an endemic and very public disgrace.

Police raids on legal or illegal liquor outlets and the confiscation of beer and spirits to drink in-house is illegal, and in addition creates a boys-in-the-hood image for the police.

Bailing-up motorists on unprovable traffic charges and then nonchalantly demanding a carton of beer or fifty bucks is so commonplace as to be scarcely worth commenting upon.

And the righteous response that members of the public should report such instances to the police stations is seldom followed, because nobody wants to be come the favorite motoring target for the police force.

We support the police force and its many dedicated members.

In particular, we support the Commissioner and most of his senior hierarchy who appear to us to be doing everything they can to return the RPNG Constabulary to its once-proud status.

But we have nothing but condemnation for those policemen who openly defy the laws and then try to pass-off their behavior either as ignorance, or as a minor matter.

Both grounds are simply inexcusable.

March 24, 2004

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/



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