Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Police are getting away with murder

by Imraan Buccus, The Mercury 

The difference between our laws and policies and the realities on the ground has reached crisis proportions

THE COMMISSION of inquiry into the Marikana massacre is revealing the extent of the crisis in our policing. We have learnt that there was widescale torture after the massacre and that weapons were planted near the bodies of the slain miners.

When a massacre is followed by torture and the fabrication of evidence, and when all of this appears to have happened to defend the National Union of Mineworkers against a popular revolt against its authority it seems fair to argue that the era of democratic policing is nearing an end.

Marikana was not the first time the police have acted in a manner that is both unlawful and aimed at defending the ruling party rather than the rule of law. We all remember the televised murder of Andries Tatane in a protest in Ficksburg in 2011. But David Bruce, a former political prisoner and now a researcher, has shown that, in fact, 11 protesters were killed by the police last year.

The first police killing of a protestor happened here in Durban, at the former University of Durban-Westville, in 2000 when a student, Michael Makhabane, was killed by the riot squad. Since then the number of protestors killed by the police has gradually escalated over the years. Disturbingly, the police have frequently been less than honest about these deaths. When Monica Ngcobo, a popularwaiter at Splashes restaurant at the Durban waterfront, was killed by the police in Umlazi in 2005 they claimed she had been shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet while throwing a stone. It later turned out that she had been shot in the back with live ammunition.

But although our policing problem can be traced back to the murder of Makhabane in 2000 it was the militarisation of the police in early 2012, as well as the promotion of a “shoot to kill” language by senior officials that pushed our police over the edge.

Here in Durban the case of the Cato Manor unit that has been accused of murdering criminal suspects and then planting guns on them has made international headlines. The story came out after this unit pursued an investigation into corruption in the police via links to a discredited “businessman”. It has been suggested that people under investigation for gross corruption took the story to the media in revenge. This fact, along with the legitimate concern among citizens about shocking levels of violent
crime, has led to considerable public support for the unit.

However, granting the police the right to execute criminals is not the solution to our crime problem. For one thing studies around the world show that police violence just leads to more violence in return.

But normalising a right to kill on the part of the police is also very dangerous in a country in which the politicisation of the police, and political assassinations, are already rampant. If it becomes acceptable for the police to execute criminals it is just a matter of time before activists are executed too.

The Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town has been strenuously criticised in some quarters for its elitist mode of operation and its hostility to popular organisations.

Mob justice

But it has done an excellent job in raising the issue of the crisis of  policing in Khayelitisha. Corruption has run rampant in the police in Khayelitsha; cases are seldom investigated and as a result the community has lost all confidence in the police. This has led to the community taking matters into its own hands and there have been more than 70 mob killings as people try to deal with crime on their own.

People’s anger and desperation are perfectly understandable. After all, if the police won’t help them to deal with crime what choices do they really have? But a society that has to police itself with mob justice is a society that has failed in its most basic tasks.

Our constitution precludes the death penalty and yet both the police and some sectors of the population are openly killing people. The difference between our laws and policies and the realities on the ground has reached crisis proportions. Urgent action needs to be taken to fix our police. This action must include serious action to root out corruption, a massive improvement in police training and a serious attempt to reverse the politicization of the police. Of course, the disastrous militarization of the police must be immediately reversed, too. It is simply unthinkable for a democracy to have a militarised police force.