Saturday, July 21, 2018

Reflections on getting shut down by the police

(No longer in BONABERI, CAMEROON)—A day after our run in with the local gendarmerie (see previous post below detailing how police shut down our peace journalism seminar), I’m still processing what happened, and how. Here are some random observations:

--The journalists attending the workshop said they would have all been arrested on Friday had two white foreigners, myself and my colleague Alexander, not been present. The journalists said if they’d been arrested Friday, they’d have to spend the entire weekend in jail before their case was heard on Monday. 

--What would I have done if the police had tried to arrest the journalists? I lay awake last night thinking about this. I think it would be my duty to stand with my seminar participants, and insist that they arrest me, too. I’d hope the stink caused by arresting me might prevent them from taking the journalists into custody.

--Were we targeted because we were English speakers meeting in a French region? In my previous blog, my colleagues said this was the case. However, at least one Facebook commenter said that we may have been treated even worse in the English speaking regions because our activities might’ve been seen as subversive. 

--The raid was led by Bonaberi’s chief of police who met with my colleague Alexander. The chief was reportedly very professional and calm. The officers accompanying him were also non-aggressive. Despite their professionalism, their presence was intimidating.

--After the raid, probably 10 participants attending my workshop came up to me and said, “Now you know what it is like to be a journalist in Cameroon.”

--I got a lesson in turning the other cheek. Before they dispersed us, the authorities let us eat lunch. At lunch, a participant noticed the cops sitting outside, and commented that they need to eat, too. He went outside and invited the policemen to join us for lunch. At the time, I thought to myself that I’d rather feed the leftover food to the dogs rather than to the police. Today, I think the journalists did the right thing. I’m wondering now if this Cameroonian generosity of spirit, this innate magnanimity, can be harnessed to avert what many believe is an inevitable civil war.

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