Georgina Guedes

A tale of police brutality in two nations

2014-12-05 07:51

Georgina Guedes

By some very extended stretch of the imagination, I can kind of get inside the minds of the grand jury who refused to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August this year.

Wilson had the “I feared for my life” defence going for him, and the grand jury bought it. When the announcement was made at the end of November, I can remember thinking that it was a silly decision. There certainly was sufficient evidence to go to trial, and even if the grand jury believed that Wilson was innocent, for public relations if nothing else, they should have let him have his day in court.

As a bit of perspective, in the United States in 2010, US attorneys prosecuted 162 000 federal cases.

Grand juries declined to return an indictment in only 11 of them. According to an article published on, Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler once said that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

While Wilson’s case was heard at state and not federal level, this is an indication of how rare it is for a prosecution not to go ahead. On the other hand, when grand juries do decline to prosecute, it is often because the murderer is a police officer.

And then they let off Daniel Pantaleo

However, even though there was some kind of a justification for what Wilson did and the jury’s sympathy was clearly in his favour, the fact remains that he really should have been answerable to a jury of his peers for shooting an unarmed teenager seven or eight times and killing him.

But, you know, that’s how things go.

This week, however, a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death on suspicion of selling cigarettes on the sidewalk. Someone got the whole thing on video, which meant that there could be no pretence of Pantaleo being in fear for his life. He took Garner, who was only asking the cops to leave him alone, down in a chokehold, which is banned by the New York Police Department.

I’m not sure where in a story with video evidence to support the fact that a police officer used forbidden force to take down an unarmed, unresisting man, a grand jury comes away with a decision like that. If I weren’t rioting about Michael Brown’s death, I’d certainly get my sneakers on and take to the streets once I heard the Eric Garner decision.

South Africa on the brink

These past couple of weeks, we’ve been shown figures that state Japanese cops killed 0 citizens in the last surveyed year. UK cops also killed no one. Germany killed 8. The United States police department killed 409 people. And South African cops, in 2009, killed 556. So that’s a lot – especially if you consider we have a sixth of the population.

And sure, in South Africa, we gave up state sanctioned white-police-on-black-citizen brutality in the 90s, but right now we have massacres of striking miners, police trampling on grandmothers’ heads and police shooting looters. The problem on our shores has more to do with a lack of training and an authoritarian outlook by the State (which if you take out the race politics is pretty much what we’re seeing in the States).

So we have two countries with a history of racial oppression, a current poverty division that allows certain citizens to be robbed of their personhood, and a police force that seems to have a very limited desire to resolve conflict without violence (not to mention a gun problem).

The citizens of the United States are rioting because of police brutality and a complete lack of any justice for their victims. I don’t think South Africa is far behind.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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