Probe urged into 36 deaths of suspects shot by police

2009-02-10 00:00

KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas has called for an independent investigation into recent shootings in which police killed suspects wanted for different crimes, warning that such shoot-outs may lead to the death of innocent people.

In her response to questions from The Witness, De Haas said 36 people have been shot dead in shoot-outs with the police since September last year.

“There were 20 deaths reported at the hands of the police in the last four months of 2008 and at least 16 people shot dead between January 22 and February 5, 2009.”

De Haas cited the Durban shooting on January 30 in which eight people were killed by police, one of them reported to have been an innocent jobseeker who was caught in the crossfire.

“The tragic death of Thulani Kunene … is a grim reminder of how easy it is for innocent people to get caught up in shoot-outs.

"To make matters worse, it is not clear whether the public would ever have been told about it had journalists not followed the discrepancies in the police story up themselves.”

De Haas criticised KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Cele’s earlier statement encouraging police to defend themselves by shooting to kill.

His words, she said, “have created a climate in which the police think it’s quite acceptable to shoot suspects dead if they pose a threat to the police”.

She said this raises the question of whether police make any attempt to persuade suspects to surrender.

De Haas added that the public tend to sympathise with the police because of the high rate of crime in the country.

“There is quite a bit of public sympathy for the police when they shoot people dead, because people are so fed up with crime.

"This is very short-sighted, because shooting suspects [apart from human rights issues] treats the symptom, not the cause, because the whole truth, and the networks involved in crime, remain hidden.

"Shooting of suspects may promote a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat killings, especially if any members of the police have links with the criminal syndicates implicated.”

She said the police should be trained to shoot to disarm suspects, not to kill.

Independent Complaints Directorate spokesman Dikeledi

Phiri confirmed incidents of death by police action are being investigated, but could not say how many people have died in KZN in the current financial year.

De Haas said the solution to fighting crime is preventing illegal gun ownership.

“There are extremely serious problems with SAPS crime intelligence, and it is disgraceful that these problems have not been addressed … ”

SAPS spokeswoman Phindile Radebe said the police are investigating the claims that Kunene was an innocent bystander.

sandilez@witnss.co.za

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