‘Police brutality reflects society’

2011-05-10 00:00

POLICE officers are recruited from a society in which 16 000 people are murdered every year. Therefore police who act brutally are merely a reflection of their society, national Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele said yesterday.

Referring to cases of police brutality that have resulted in death, Cele said it is unavoidable that this will sometimes happen.

“We are a violent society, a society in which a six-year-old child is raped by her uncle and stabbed seven times, a society in which a 70-year-old man is stabbed 72 times.

“Our police members are recruited from this society and work in this society.”

Cele appealed to people not to act violently and lawlessly.

He referred to protests that begin peacefully, but quickly get out of control, with buildings torched, windows smashed and cars vandalised.

“Criminals don’t respect any law or human right.

“Police officers have to face this every day. They have a right to protect themselves and those who are threatened by criminals,” he said.

Cele said there are certainly cases where police act too roughly, and they have to pay for this. But there are also cases where they are accused of brutality and there is no proof.

One such case was the death of Ermelo protester Mphikeleli Solomon Madonsela (41) earlier this year.

It was alleged that police used live ammunition when their rubber bullets ran out, and that Madonsela was killed by a live police bullet.

However, the Independent Complaints Directorate found no evidence that Madonsela was killed by a police bullet.

“People have a right to protest, but violence must end from both sides, the people’s and the police’s.

“Sometimes police use extra violence and sometimes it is unnecessary, but no one has the right to burn down a house, school or even a police station.”

University of Pretoria criminologist Professor Christiaan Bezuidenhout said most police officers are proud of their jobs and their uniforms, “but there are a few rotten apples who abuse their power”.

The brutality with which some act can be ascribed to the enormous pressure under which they live and work.

They see traumatic scenes and tell their colleagues about them on a daily basis. This can lead to “referred victimhood” where officers take on the trauma of their colleagues, he said.

Police officers also transfer the energy of one situation to another without working through it, which can surface later in the form of brutality.

“Our violent society is a reflection of what goes on in the police. But take the police out of society for 24 hours and there will be chaos,” Bezuidenhout said.

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