Law Enforcement Corruption
This is a topic that I am a little uncomfortable discussing truth be told. Maybe it’s because I feel like my country, The US, tends to hold itself up as an ideal, while the truth is that in recent years we have become exceedingly corrupt. Perhaps it is because it hits so close to home (we’ll get to this later, I promise). So before going off on my tangent, I would like to say that I am not down talking down any countries, I am merely suggesting ways to cope with the situations that I have had come up. My perception is based wholly on my experiences as a racially ambiguous female American traveler and I think it’s only logical and respectful to recognize that this is an ethnocentric and egocentric article. My perceptions don’t mirror yours anymore than yours will mirror mine. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from each other nor do our differences make our experiences and perceptions any less valid. With that being said, my racial ambiguity has brought up issues with racism and the police in my own home country. Despicable, I know. But it doesn’t make these issues any less real.
So let’s address the elephant in the room.
The truth of the matter is that corruption in government exists for a number of reasons. Some basic catalysts are poverty and power control driven people. There is no real way to avoid corruption, per say. But there are ways to deal with it. In many cases, you may think that you will simply avoid any issues by staying under the radar. To this I have to ask, do you know what you look like where you are going? If you are a westerner, many lesser developed countries see you as a wealthy person regardless of your social status back home or your skin color for that matter. Perhaps your appearance graces you with the ability to blend, as mind does at times. But let me tell you what, the second I open my mouth it is game over. I am immediately spotted for what I am. This is, in my personal opinion, the root of most problems that foreigners have to deal with, with regards to government corruption. Call it racism, call it ignorance, call it what you will, but it can lead to conflicts that have the potential for serious escalation if you don’t handle yourself properly.
Let me provide you with some dreadfully depressing examples that have led to three important and unfortunate lessons I have learned in my travels.
A few weeks ago some coworkers at the schools where I teach decided to journey to Bolivia for a couple of weeks. They put all of their savings in a backpack and wandered across the border with high hopes for a romantic Christmas getaway. Upon arriving a man approached them in the bus station and asked where they were going. They informed him and he told them that he was going in the same direction so it was only reasonable to share a taxi. Of course, looking to pinch some pennies as travelers on Peruvian wages, they took him up on the offer. The cab was shortly thereafter stopped on the way to their hostel by a police officer. The cop came up t
o the side of the cab and told them that he was going to have to confiscate their belongings-including their backpack with all of their savings. Their newly found “friend” who had offered to share the cab, handed over his belongings. Seeing this, they thought that it was okay. Immediately after everything was handed over, they were shoved from the cab and left on the side of the road. Unharmed, but completely broke.
This brings us to lesson number one:
Just because someone says jump, doesn’t mean you have to leap. If someone, law enforcement or otherwise, says they have the right to take your belongings, ask by whose authority. If they say theirs, tell them you are making a phone call to the embassy because you are unsure of the situation and you are uncomfortable. This means having the embassies number on hand.
I had a similar experience to theirs once. It too involved a taxi. It involved a lot less money and a lot more violence. I was robbed at
knife point by multiple men. The cab, rather than taking me to my destination, took me somewhere isolated and robbed me. The situation escalated. I was able to escape by screaming my bloody head off and running into a dark African corn field. When I was able to contact police they were not helpful. They made me wait forever to take a report. They then wanted me to return the next day to file a report and wanted me to pay money to file said report.
This brings us to lessons two and three:
Just because they are police, doesn’t mean they are good people. Do not assume that they want to help you. And, in fact, in many cases, as jaded as this may sound, it is safer to assume that they don’t want to help you and perhaps they are being paid off or in cahoots with the same people who have put you in the unfortunate situation that brought you to them in the first place.
And lesson number three, if there are weapons involved-give them what they want. The fact that I am here with minimal scares and residual long term injuries is testimony to my cooperation and quick thinking. I threw my money at them. I had no interest in getting hacked up by machetes. Nothing will make you come to terms with your mortality faster than a crisis such as this. Don’t be cocky, do what you have to in order to stay alive.
Perhaps the wisest thing that you can do is know your rights as a foreigner in another country and take additional safety precautions. Be wary of things like public transit and be hesitant to help anyone that insists on helping you, even law enforcement. Just because you come from a country where you feel that you can confide in the police, doesn’t mean that your new location will mirror the situation of your homeland. I would rather you learn from the experiences of my friends and me than experience them personally.
( I like to make note of this article, was coproduced by Tina Stelling, who is one of the world’s best writers)