A cocktail of ignorance and arrogance from police

2016-06-23 08:16
News24 journalist Jeff Wicks and fellow journalist Karabo Ngoepe

News24 journalist Jeff Wicks and fellow journalist Karabo Ngoepe

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Jeff Wicks, News24

Journalists covering violent civil unrest in the nation’s capital this week have increasingly found themselves in the firing line.

On Tuesday night a TV news crew was robbed in Mamelodi, during the day an SABC staffer was bitten during a mugging and a photographer also found his phone forcefully expropriated at the hands of armed attackers as the looting and wanton destruction continues unabated.

The last people you would expect to turn on you would be the police.

While covering the escalating violence in Ga-Rankuwa on Wednesday, a colleague and I became recipients of some heavy handed police coercion.

Our offence had been filming a squad of shotgun-toting officers loose a salvo of rubber bullets on a crowd of people who had gathered outside a shopping centre.  

As I levelled my cellphone camera and captured the firing line advancing, an officer struck me from my left, kicking my legs in an attempt to knock me to the ground.

I was quickly relieved of my cellphone, with the rest of the platoon taking an opportunity to focus their attention the two who dared film them. 

"What the fuck do you think you are doing?"

"Who are you?"

"Who gave you permission to be here?"

"Who told you it was OK to film me?"

A cocktail of ignorance and arrogance

The main aggressor was the only policeman who hadn't seen it fit to don his balaclava, and was spewing bile as fast as I could start quoting the police standing orders that I was, in fact, allowed to film him.

Police standing order 156 sets out that journalist have no restrictions in filming police officers or anything they want really, that they should be treated with dignity even if provoked, and that cameras and equipment may not be confiscated.

A cocktail of ignorance and arrogance, poured into a blue uniform, then set about trying to delete the footage of the phone.

Rather irked that he'd tried to kick my legs into touch and forced me to relinquish my tool of trade, I demanded his name and force number, which he unsurprisingly refused to reveal.

Thinking the footage of their heavy-handed dispersion tactics was long gone, I was handed back my phone.

The officer and his cohorts, seemingly secure in their anonymity, scoffed at my threat of an assault charge.

Maybe stupidly on my part, I then raised the phone again and captured an image of the policeman's face, resolute that there would be some consequence for the manner in which we had been manhandled.

Red rag shown, I was again relieved of the offending cellphone and showered with puerile insults from the cabal of policemen.

"Show us where you are injured, you are white, there should be a mark, no one assaulted you," one officer jeered, hiding behind the secure cotton of his black balaclava.

At this time my colleague also had his cellphone taken away amid much protestation.

Our bare-faced police official then issued us with an ultimatum while he was stymied by the password protected iPhone: I could either delete his picture, or he would take the phone "to Pretoria Central".

A police communications officer appeared and tried to resolve the issue, but not in the way one would expect.

Instead of ordering the officer [who he outranked] to return the cellphone and provide his details as he was obliged to do, he attempted to placate me into deleting the picture.

This exchange continued for several minutes and once I realised that resistance was futile, I deleted the picture of the churlish policeman, and he provided me with a surname which I have no doubt is fake.

The officer then, in some childish display, took my picture in flamboyant fashion and issued a threat as a parting shot.

"I know who you are, I will deal with you," he said.

Little confidence in police

This begs the question whether they are ill-versed with their own standing orders, or whether they just don't care and are willing to trample rough-shod over them.

What is of greater concern to me is that at no point did senior officers, including the placating spokesperson or an unnamed Colonel who witnessed the entire exchange, step in and set the officer straight.

This bullish hubris is best reserved for bouncers who guard the crimson rope, and cling so desperately what little authority they have.

Instances like this serve to undercut the confidence people have in the police and add to an already tainted image.

I was unhurt in this little drama, and that is exactly what it is and I know it, but if this officer is willing to bend the law with me and do so in what he thinks is veiled anonymity, what else are he and his cohorts doing?

- Jeff wicks is a News24 journalist. Follow him on Twitter.

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