Thursday, November 19, 2009

Are South African police trigger happy?

This story is again about the South African police and is related to the previous story.

The South African crime rate is on the rise and the police are under intense pressure to curb it before the soccer World Cup in 2010. The new Police Chief Bheki Cele was appointed by President Jacob Zuma two months into his presidency. President Zuma said that the police need to toughen up to deal with the high level of crime but not to be “trigger happy.” Mr. Cele calls police to use “deadly force” only when necessary. The government recently proposed changes to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act to allow the police to use “whatever means necessary to effect an arrest.”

But there is a noticeable spike in the loss of innocent lives. Although there are no statistics for the numbers of innocent people who have been killed by the police, there are three recent incidents that the South African media has covered in recent weeks:

Two off duty officers who were “under the influence of alcohol” shot and killed a street vendor who wanted them to pay for the sweets they took from his stall.
On October 31 a trainee officer shot and killed 21-year-old Kgotatso Ndobe when he ran from the police as they were approaching his house. His family said that he was smoking marijuana and got scared that he would be arrested.
And 30-year-old Olga Kekana was killed on October 11 when the police mistook her car for a hijacked vehicle. Two of her friends were injured as well.

Dianne Kohler Barnard of the Democratic Alliance said, “The proximity between the recent spate of police attacks on civilians, and the police commissioner’s wild talk about shooting to kill, is surely no coincidence.” Family members of the victims question the police’s “apparent inclination to shoot first and ask questions later.” The law states that the police are allowed to use lethal force only if their lives are in danger. They are not allowed to shoot fleeing suspects or those who are suspected of committing serious crimes, as it used to be under apartheid. The police “watchdog,” the Independent Complaints Directorate, said it will “not hesitate to take action against those officers who act outside the ambit of the law.” But the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation says the officers are left unsupported, “Heated political rhetoric which encourages the reckless or unlawful use of lethal force does not serve to support them in legal jeopardy.” The officers arrested are currently going through the judicial system.

Giving more power to the police is a double edged sword. South African criminals are some of the most vicious criminals in the world and I can see that the police there need all the help they can get. But there needs to be a system of “checks and balances” to make sure they do not shoot someone just because they have a gun. How does it make them any different from the criminals they are supposed to stop?

1 comment:

  1. Yes they definitely need some sort of system. Almost instantly, I jump to the conclusion that they should try our way of doing things. Then on the heels of that thought realize how many criminals are returned to the streets, even when they are guilty. Maybe there is a middle ground on this. We will probably never know, but it is a thought. Thank you again for your stories. I just love them.