Police Brutality - A Setback Of A Modern Police Force


The incident of a Mozambique taxi driver who was tied to and dragged after a police car and then reportedly beaten up in custody in Johannesburg city last week has caused sharp reactions from within the police itself as well as among the public. The man later died in a cell at the local police station and the eight implicated police men will all be charged for murder. While the case is shocking in itself, this is far from representing an isolated example of police brutality in South Africa.

Police brutality forms one of several types of police misconduct. Misconduct often amounts to violations such as intimidation, false arrest, corruption, racial profiling and various forms of abuse, including physical abuse. The word “brutality” indicates use of physical force. In its 2012 report, Amnesty International documented several cases of extrajudicial killings and torture by the police in South Africa. The statistics speak for it-self. Following the decision to re-militarize the South African Police Service (SARS) in 2009 – a decision which entered into force in 2010 - we have witnessed an increasing number of deaths and injuries of persons in police custody or as a result from police action.

The role of the police is to keep law and order and makes its citizens feel safe. Police brutality creates the opposite effect – namely fear. When citizens in South Africa express that presence of police make them feel unsafe and that they do not know who to trust anymore – then this implicates a serious sign of societal distrust to the main law enforcement agency. It signalizes that South Africa´s police lack confidence, support, trust and legitimacy among the population which in itself can foster further instability and increased violence.

There is a fine line between law-enforcement agencies perceived exercising fair rule of law, including force, and ones perceived biased and prone to arbitrary use of physical power. The “militarization” of the South African police has according to President Zuma provided the police means and power to “act decisively” and has resulted in lower crime rates. Lower crime rates are isolated speaking good news but seen in context; at what cost? Is this “deliberate policy” – approved by the South African government - really benefiting the South African society? When actions of the police foster more violence – then where does it end? Has the use of “maximum force” by the South African police become the standard rather than the exception?

That use of police force in some cases will affect innocent people or be applied excessively in certain situations seem common in most countries. Police officers often find themselves in and encounter violent situations – it is part of their job. That mistakes can happen is also understood by the majority population, but this does not include semi-formal use of force. The case of the Mozambique taxi driver can hardly be categorized as a legitimate “mistake.” It demonstrates lack of respect for citizens and human beings and a conduct that breaks with acceptable practise in any democratic society.

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