Police brutality only raises the stakes

2011-05-28 18:03

If South African police are to avoid a war of sorts, solid police work should be their weapon of choice.

Fighting fire with fire only escalates violence in violent societies, warns Richard Pithouse, a politics lecturer at Rhodes University in Eastern Cape.

Brazilian police murdered 11 000 people in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo from 2003 to 2009, Pithouse says. There, police are geared for war when they raid shanty towns because they are met by criminals brandishing Uzis and other assault weapons.

Comparative international studies have shown that in countries like Brazil “the more violent police become, the more violently criminals react”.

Locally, social networking sites were abuzz this week with posts showing little sympathy for slain police officers because of an increase in police brutality.

On Monday, after the brutal weekend slaying of Constable Cannon Cloete (23) and Warrant Officer Gershwin Matthee (39) in Wallacedene, near Kraaifontein in Western Cape, a Facebook post read: “That’s excellent, now they know how it feels to lose family members at the hands of police without any adequate reason.”

Many others shared this view, while calls have increased for a ­national summit to address police brutality and police officers being killed in the line of duty.

With 88 police officers killed in the last financial year – down from 110 in 2009/10 – and 36 so far this year, General Bheki Cele has lashed out at the “lack of public sympathy” when a police officer is killed.

But Pithouse says the difficulties and dangers facing police officers and the serious problem of police violence “run together”.

Statistics from the Independent Complaints Directorate show that police brutality has increased ­significantly in recent years.

In the 2009/10 financial year, police assualted 1 667 people: 89 more than in 2008/09 and 287 more than in 2007/08.

Last year 524 people were shot dead by police, up from 568 in 2008/09 and 281 in 2005/06.

“In South Africa, when police raid shack settlements, they treat everybody like scum. Ninety percent of people living in shack ­settlements are law abiding, church-going citizens. But police kick down doors and treat everybody as criminals,” says Pithouse.

The result is that these communities do not believe police are there to protect them and so do not assist police in investigations.

“Our conviction rate for criminals is so low that they do not fear being caught. Police have to focus on effective investigations...and not this macho thuggery that only alienates police from law-abiding citizens,” he says.

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