The F-word: Our police are a convenient fall guy

2012-08-25 13:59

It has been a bad time to be a police officer in South Africa.

Talk of whether they acted appropriately or proportional to the dangers they faced from striking mine workers in Marikana had hardly abated when it was the turn of the Western Cape police’s top brass to explain themselves to members of Parliament.

Our honourable MPs wanted to know what the police were doing about the ever-present scourge of drugs and gangsters in Western Cape townships.

The legislators were unimpressed with the answers they got from the police on their plans to eradicate gangs on the streets of historically coloured communities.

They sent them packing, demanding they return with better answers.

It was such a typical response.

South Africans like making social problems police problems.

And a cop is the ever-available fall guy.

They were left holding the can during apartheid when they enforced laws they had had no say in enacting.

Today they have not created the social conditions they operate in and are not responsible for why we have such a high crime rate.

Such is our low regard for police that we blame them and their training when criminals attack them, and only as a second thought remember to condemn the criminal.

We stop short of saying police deserve to be attacked by criminals because they had bad training.

Now we want them to solve the problem of gangs and drugs. When they cannot, we see this as yet more proof of the intellectual and moral inadequacies of the South African Police Service.

It is all self-righteous nonsense.

To blame police for gangs and the violence that they mete out is to be either disingenuous or blind.

Gangs are a direct outcome of the communities they thrive in.

It is not genetically coded in young men who happened to be classified coloured and who were born on the peripheries of Cape Town to end up as gangsters.

If our legislators think that it is mere coincidence that gangsters and drugs tend to emerge in the poorest communities where life prospects are minimal, then we have a greater problem in lawmaking circles than on the streets where drug lords rule.

It is one thing to complain that police do not detect and arrest drug dealers, but it is another to pretend not to know why some communities are more likely than others to suffer the scourge of drugs and gangsters.

Instead of making it a police problem, legislators should be asking themselves what measures they have put in place to ensure that conditions in drug-infested communities improve to give youngsters in those areas a fair chance in life.

They should be calling the local municipalities in to ask them what recreational facilities are available for the young.

They should be asking if the education system and social security nets are available to help the majority who would rather make a living in more honest ways.

Instead of calling the police in, they should be asking the person in the mirror what they are doing about drugs and gangsterism.

Police can do nothing to arrest the hopelessness of the majority who find solace in the use of drugs that ravage poor communities.

Jail or ending up a young corpse has for generations failed to deter many from becoming part of gangs.

It is to literally cop out to hope police will solve the problem. Police can arrest truckloads of pushers – while top prosecutors either mysteriously forget to read wealthy drug lords like Glen Agliotti their rights or enter into deals with them that ensure they don’t spend a day in prison even if they confess to murder – but drugs and dealers will always be part of those communities until drugs stop being treated only as a policing issue.

If politicians are serious about eradicating gangs and drugs, they should think seriously about changing the society that breeds these criminal gangs and the policing will take care of itself.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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