Khaya Dlanga

Cops or thugs?

2010-04-20 10:42

“Fuck the Police”. In the early years of gangster rap this NWA track was the anthem of angry black youths in the United States of America. It was specifically directed at racist cops whose sole existence seemed to be the ability to terrorise them into fear of the cops. But the anger wasn’t just targeted at white cops, it was aimed at all cops.

If the South African police aren’t careful, they will soon hear “Fuck the Police” because of the way they treat innocent citizens.

I work in the advertising industry. A few years ago I wanted to start an advertising campaign that would directly counteract the negative attitudes people have towards the cops. I wanted to call it the “Love The Police” campaign. I felt that they weren’t respected as much as they ought to be. The public had no appreciation for the work they do. My idealistic mission was simple: if we show them that we respect them and appreciate the work they do for us, they would treat us law-abiding citizens better.

I am tired of hearing people say they are sick of cops. This past weekend, cops stopped friends of mine -who had not been drinking - around 01:00 outside the Morningside police station. The police wanted to conduct a breathalyser test on the driver. Unfortunately many cops seem more interested in conducting these just so that they can solicit a bribe. Even more unfortunate is the number of people who will not hesitate to pay one. In fact most people know that if they pay a cop a bribe they can still drive home, drunk.

Intimidation

Back to the story about my friends: The cops had no breathalysers left at the Morningside police station. They started to intimidate my friend who had been driving and told him that he had to drive with them to town so that they could test him there.

I am not very familiar with the law, but I don’t think cops are supposed to do that. My other friend, a woman, who was a passenger called me and told me that the cops wanted to take my driver friend to a police station in town where a test would be conducted. I suggested that she tell them they would wait at the police station instead while the cops drove to town to get breathalysers as it was not their fault that they didn’t have the necessary equipment.

What they got was a verbal eruption that would have rivalled Mr Visagie and Malema’s Eyjafjallajökull-like eruptions last week. They were intimidated to a point where one of the cops said to my female friend that she must not think that he would hesitate to hit her just because she is a woman.

I had a very similar encounter with a friend of mine just two months ago, outside the very same police station. My friend said something to one of the cops who stopped us that made us think we were going to get a beating. My friend said to them, “Why are you hiding here next to the police station? Why aren’t you out there fighting real crime and arresting real criminals?” What happened after is a long story I don’t want to get into. I couldn’t help but agree with my friend at the time.

I like the tough talking police commissioner Bheki Cele, including the minister and deputy minister of police. They seem to mean business. Some even say that the commissioner is the kind of guy who looks like criminals would be scared of. Unfortunately what the commissioner doesn't know is that a lot of innocent people feel victimised by the cops. Instead of feeling safe around them they feel unsafe.

The department of police should go on an education drive that teaches citizens their rights upon being stopped by the police. We don’t know what our rights are. My guess is as good as anyone else’s. The more we know our rights, the more we are protected and the more the cops themselves are protected. When they stop you, you never know if they’re going to treat you like a criminal or not. This is a crime.

Living in fear

Those of us who live within the law are beginning to live in fear of those who are meant to serve and protect us. This is not right. This is not just. This is not a police state. This is a free country and our police need to treat us as free men. Sometimes when we are out there we just wonder who it is that can protect us from those that are supposed to protect us. They seem to treat everyone as if they were criminals.

Of course this is not to say all cops are this way. To blame the police alone for accepting bribes would be unfair of me. We as a society are guilty of continuing to enable this kind of behaviour.

I understand the pressures that they are under. They deal with life and death situations every day. They get paid peanuts. But it does not excuse the way some of them treat innocent members of the public. It’s hard to respect a cop that acts like a thug.

There is no denying that we need them. We cannot disrespect them and call them names, but they ought to remember that respect is a two-way street. In all fairness those of us who are innocent should “Love the Police” and not fear them. We want to respect them, but they must help us along. I don’t want South Africans getting to a point where they start saying “Fuck the Police”.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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