Police shooting suspects

2009-02-13 00:00

THIRTY-SIX people suspected of crimes have been shot dead by police in this province during the past six months. This is possibly as a result of Safety and Security Minister Bheki Cele’s directive that police should not hesitate to kill if they, in their turn, are being shot at, a directive based on alarm at the number of police dying at the hands of criminals avoiding arrest.

Many members of the public are jubilant about the new approach, reflecting a widespread anxiety over the threatening levels of crime in this country. Yet important questions need to be raised. Is there not an element of desperation in the shooting of suspects, which could get out of hand and undermine the normal course of making an arrest and bringing a suspect to trial? Does the cumbersome working of the judicial system produce a temptation on the part of police to take the law into their own hands?

Equally important is the possibility of bystanders being caught in the crossfire. This seems to have happened in a recent shoot-out in Durban where an innocent job-seeker on the scene was killed, as well as seven suspects. Mary de Haas, well-known monitor of violence in KwaZulu-Natal, is right to be pressing for an independent investigation into every incident where suspects have been killed by police action. A measured assessment of all the issues is urgently required.

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