On Saturday, Oct. 17, the Nigerian community in Cincinnati gathered in front of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to call for an end to police brutality in their home country and to bring awareness to the #EndSARS movement.
The Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed in 1992 to tackle violent crimes in Lagos. The squad operated undercover, without uniforms and names tags, in order to take on criminals. But as the unit grew, reports of abuse made it difficult for authorities to identify and report corrupt officers.
Since 2018, Amnesty International has documented more than 82 cases of abuse and killings by SARS officers. The #EndSARS movement began in 2017 but reemerged this month after bystander Jimoh Isiaq was murdered by SARS officers during an #EndSARS protest in Ogbomosho, Nigeria.
Videos capturing the violence in Nigeria are surprising to many. But for Nigerians, it’s a sight they’ve grown tired of seeing.
“What is going on there is a humanitarian crisis that the whole world needs to be informed on, especially the Black diaspora,” said Cincinnati protest organizer James Oyewale. “We all need to stand in solidarity.”
Oyewale immigrated to Ohio with his family at the age of 4. The Amberley Village resident has spent most of his life in Cincinnati but identifies more with his Nigerian roots. Oyewale has traveled back to Nigeria frequently throughout his childhood and had his own encounters with SARS police.
“I was in Nigeria this past January when I was threatened to be killed due to my colorful sunglasses,” he said. “Youth are often targeted by the police for many things: having dreads, iPhones, laptops and more.”
The SARS unit is notorious for abusing power, kidnapping, torturing and extorting detainees. For the last two weeks, the people of Nigeria — the most populous African nation — have organized mass demonstrations demanding the end of the controversial police unit.
During Saturday’s protest at the Freedom Center, the Nigerian community in Cincinnati called for an end to the brutality after multiple peaceful demonstrators were reportedly shot and killed by Nigerian soldiers. Videos shared via Instagram and Twitter have shown protesters being harassed and harmed by police. And The BBC confirmed the latest reports from hospital records and witnesses that military officials opened fire Tuesday on around 1,000 people who were peacefully protesting at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, killing at least 12.
This last round of violence confirmed for Cincinnati area protester and videographer Chineze Mbamali why lending support from abroad is especially important.
“Being able to help the cause by raising awareness locally is important, no matter where you are, because you never know how far your impact can reach and who you can inspire to join in the cause,” she said.
Mbamali drove from Lebanon, Ohio to lend her help spreading awareness about Nigeria at the protest on Saturday.
“It’s our duty to speak up in times of injustice to ensure better life for all,” she said. “In order for our children and future generations to not have to endure the same struggles we did, we must peacefully protest to do the same.”
On Oct. 12, rapper Kanye West tweeted, “I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria.”
I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria— ye (@kanyewest) October 12, 2020
Other influencers including Diddy, Drake and Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden publicly called for Americans to stand in solidarity with the all too familiar cause.
The next Ohio based #EndSARS protest will take place on Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Both Mbamali and Oyewale advocate for Cincinnatians and all Ohioans concerned about ending police brutality everywhere to attend.
“I encourage Cincinnatians to lend their voices. Social media has proven to be a very powerful tool of advancement for this movement. Keeping the #EndSARS hashtag trending really keeps the pressure on the Nigerian government to listen to their people, do the right thing and reform Nigeria,” said Mbamali.
“It’s important for people to understand that resisting oppression is always the right thing to do. Whether the oppressed are 6,000 miles away in Nigeria or down the street in Cincinnati,” he said. “Like Martin Luther King Jr. said in his letter from a Birmingham jail, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
For on-the-ground information about #EndSARS follow @yagazieemezi, @feminist.co, @djswitch_ and @ainigeria on Instagram. For information on how to support in Cincinnati and within the United States, follow @dirtyboyjameso , @opalayo and @diasporarising.