Police brutality has been front and centre in the South African media lately. The latest instance, the death of a Mozambican taxi driver, has the honour of being the “just another” example. And now South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has come out and said that there’s no need to investigate the police force. “It’s fine. It only happens sometimes, and what are a few extra unnecessary deaths in this messed up country of ours anyway?” (my version of his words)
Well, Zuma, I think police accountability is extremely, vitally important. Being able to trust those in authority in one’s homeland is crucial to a country’s development. I agree with your statement that not everyone in the police force is a problem. Unfortunately, they all wear the same uniform, and if I hear that even 1% of the police are untrustworthy, I don’t trust any of them.
This realisation was crazy for me. Growing up in Canada, I grew up being taught that the police and fireman and all of those guys are awesome. I get this warm, fuzzy feeling when I see cops coming into Tim Horton’s to get their free coffee. I admire what they do, and am grateful to live in such a well-protected part of the world. It’s only on TV shows like Numb3rs and NCIS that you see cops doing sketchy things, and I usually don’t associate those stories with reality.
But yesterday, I came to the shocking conclusion that South Africans don’t get to feel the same way. Here’s the sequence of events that led me to this conclusion:
I was chatting to my homeless friend the other day, and he shared some horrific stories about being picked up by police, beaten up, and thrown back onto the street. From his perspective, it sounds like certain officers find pleasure in asserting their power. That is the last person I want to see ‘enforcing the law’ on the streets.
Then yesterday, I was at McDonald’s and saw a few police officers there eating breakfast together. As the familiar warm, fuzzy feelings began to appear, an ounce of doubt appeared in my mind. Are these the good ones? What if one of these guys participated in beating up my friend?
That’s sickening. It breaks my heart that the symbols of safety and honour that I grew up with aren’t actually honourable a lot of the time in most countries.
And I don’t want this to sound like I’m showing off how great my country is. I sincerely wish that everyone in the world could trust their police, their government, and their streets.
Zuma, this needs to be a priority. Corrupt police officers can’t be police officers anymore. They just can’t. If the ones in charge don’t know the difference between right and wrong, how is everyone else supposed to?