Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “police”

Not in vain — book review

Not in VainNot in Vain by Gerald Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Several students are shot by police in a campus demonstration at a small US college, and three are killed. Six policemen were put on trial for the shootings, and were acquitted. Five years later some of those affected by the shooting plan a memorial gathering, bringing together the survivors, the parents of the dead students, members of staff and stuents of the college, and, the organisers hope, members of the police and the local community.

The story is told through the eyes of different participants — the parents of the dead students, some of the survivors, the judge at the trial of the policemen, the defence layer, and one of the main witnesses.

The parents of the dead students have mixed motives. Some want revenge and vindication, some just want to forget and “move on”.

I can’t remember when we bought this book, but, realising that I had not read it before, I took it down and began reading, and found it rather good. The narratives show the different outlooks of different characters, some certain, with clear goals, others filled with doubts, wondering what they are doing, and yet others tring rather desperately not to allow anything to shake the wall of their own self-perception that they have built around themselves.

So I’m glad I found it; iot was definitely worth a read.

View all my reviews

The failure of transformation

In the 1990s, in the lead up to, and immediately following our first democratic elections in 1994, there was a lot of talk of the need for transformation. We needed to transform the institutions of the old apartheid society so that they became more appropriate for our new ideals of democracy and freedom. One of the institutions that was most in need of transformation was the police.

There were some attempts at transformation, symbolic, but significant. Instead of being called a police “force”, it became a police “service”. The old military ranks were abolished — generals, brigadiers, colonels, majors, captains and the like, and replaced by ones more appropriate for civil police — inspectors and such.

But now it seems that these changes were merely cosmetic. Underneath the new terminology, the police were not really transformed, but were simply the old monster dressed up in more politically correct terminology. And in the last few months there have been several scandals that have been broadcast around the world that seem to demonstrate the truth of this. These scandals include:

  • The lead detective in the murder case against Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius was removed from the investigation last week when it emerged he was facing seven attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a minibus full of passengers.
  • Police shot dead 34 striking workers at a platinum mine in August last year – the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.
  • The video footage and the man’s death raised fresh concerns about police brutality in a country where more than 1,200 people a year die while in custody.

via Man dragged by South Africa police dies in custody – Yahoo! News.

An old friend, now a retired Anglican bishop in the UK, who used to live in South Africa but was forced out by the apartheid regime, recently wrote:

S Africa has been much in our news recently.  The Pistorius business has been extraordinarily prominent in our media,  including the BBC,  day after day main headline.  It has, among other things,  provoked the attached piece of gloom,  in one of our most respected papers.  I don’€™t like it much,  as it seems to depend too much on innuendo.  But today’€™s news about the police & a taxidriver does seem to confirm that things are bad in that department.

What can I say?

When one reads the news, especially reports involving the police, it seems, well, so pre-1994.

I’m not surprised at the prominence of the Pistorius business. In Oscar Pistorius we in South Africa have our very own O.J. Simpson, whose trial for the murder of his wife became an international cause célèbre in the media a few years ago. even though the sport he played meant that until his trial, he was little known outside the USA. Every nation in the world takes part in the Olympic Games, however, so Oscar Pistorius’s trial will garner even more public attention. Sporting celebrities charged with murder do seem to attract media attention, and when attention is focused on such cases, the police need to be very careful with evidence, which they seem to have been careless about in both cases. Sporting celebrities charged with murder tend to undergo trial by media. O.J. Simpson at least escaped trial by Twitter.

Daveyton taxi driber arrested for parking offence and dragged behind a police van to the police station, where he died

Daveyton taxi driver arrested for parking offence and dragged behind a police van to the police station, where he died

The Oscar Pistorius case is sub judice, and so I don’t want to say anything about the merits of the case, but the police handling of it raises several questions, one of which is the police’s handling of taxi drivers, which also came up in the other instance mentioned by Yahoo! News.

Like many South African drivers, I sometimes with the police would take more action against some taxi drivers, who are often a law unto themselves, turning right from the left-hand lane, and vice versa, or driving straight from a turning lane, forcing their way into the traffic. But what I have in mind by “police action” is a ticket and a fine (not a bribe), not a death penalty without a trial.

The behaviour of the Daveyton police looks too much like the defenestrations in the bad old says of apartheid. It looks like the same police culture, untransformed.

What has changed? What has been transformed?

Are we any better off than we were in the bad old days of apartheid?

Yes, I think we are better off.

Things may be bad, but they are not as bad as they were back then.

Consider this, for example Acting police minister welcomes Daveyton cop suspension – Times LIVE:

Acting Police Minister Siyabonga Cwele welcomed on Friday the suspension of police officers allegedly involved in the death of a taxi driver.

“All police officers have a duty to fight crime and those who are not worthy of wearing our badge and uniform, must know that they have no place within SAPS [SA Police Service],” he said in a statement.

Can you imagine B.J. Vorster saying anything like that when he was Minister of Justice, Police and Prisons back in the 1960s?

Back then, if anyone dared to criticise the police for such actions, Vorster would publicly denouce them as unpatriotic communists and liberalists trying to besmirch the good name of our noble and upright police force.

In 1960 Philp Kgosana led a protest march of 30000 people into the middle of Cape Town, a few days after 69 people had been killed at Sharpeville. Philip Kgosana met and discussed the matter with a senior policeman, and after their speeches the people all marched peacefully home again. And that was the end of that policeman’s career. He got no more promotions, because the members of the cabinet wanted another bloodbath like Sharpeville and he didn’t give it to them.

Ok, a Facebook friend of mine takes a somewhat more cynical view. He wrote this morning:

So the police drag a taxi driver after hand cuffing him to the back of a police van. This is what happens when police are deployed by the ruling class to enforce and defend the most unequal society on the planet, to defend a cheap labour economy that dehumanises and criminalises the working class and the poor. This is the fruits of neo-liberalism!

I think he has a point, but, again, Vorster never said anything like this Zuma Calls Daveyton Cop Footage ‘Horrific’ – MSN ZA News:

“The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable,” Zuma said in a statement.

“No human being should be treated in that manner.”

He was referring to a video, taken by an eyewitness, showing police officers dragging Mozambican national Mido Macia, 27, behind a police van on Tuesday.

Macia was later found dead in the holding cells of the Daveyton police station.

Zuma condemned the death. He said the police were required to operate within the confines of the law in executing their duties. He extended condolences to Macia’s family and directed Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to investigate.

There may not be much transformation in what the police do, but there is a transformation in what people in government feel they ought to say publicly about it. That must count for something, mustn’t it?

Peace officers who shoot to kill

In two quite unrelated discussions, my attention has been drawn to the fact that police officers who kill members of the public are rarely held to account.

In one discussion, on the alt.usage.english newsgroup, someone remarked that in some places the police regard walking as a suspicious activity. Normal people go by car. While some thought that this kind of thing only happened in America, I experienced it three times in the UK — the police stopped me when I was walking, and wanted to know where I was going and why. On two occasions it was late at night, and I was walking home from work — from Brixton bus garage where I had finished a late shift driving buses, and I was wearing my London Transport uniform when the police stopped me. Perhaps British criminals go around disguised as bus drivers. The third occasion was when I was going for a walk in the Surrey countryside in broad daylight.

The conversation moved on to the police shooting people on suspicion. Many people recalled the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by London police seven years ago because they thought he was someone else that they suspected. That shooting shocked many people at the time and got a lot of media publicity all around the world. But it turns out that it was not an isolated incident. It was not something rare and exceptional, but something that happens all the time.

From Britain comes this story: Police have shot dead 33 people since 1995 – only two marksmen have ever been named | Mail Online

The identities of just two police officers involved in 33 fatal shootings have been made public in the last 15 years, a Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed.

Since 1995 a total of 55 officers have opened fire on and killed members of the public, but in only two cases have their names been revealed.

And from the USA comes this one: Police Officer Who Shot at Amadou Diallo to Get Gun Back –

More than 13 years after the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has agreed to restore a service weapon to one of the four New York City officers involved, a decision that Mr. Diallo’s mother characterized as a betrayal.

Police shooting striking miners at Marikana, August 2012

So when we read in the news about the shooting of striking miners at Marikana and are shocked by it, we should perhaps remember that this kind of behaviour by police is not unusual, and that it happens in other countries too, even in Britain, where the police are normally thought to be unarmed.

Spectacular incidents that make headlines, like Marikana and the gunning down of Jean Charles de Menzez at a London tube station, are thought to be exceptional. Though they are scary, we take comfort in the thought that they are exceptoional.

What is even more scary, though, is that such incidents are not exceptional, but are almost routine, and, in Britain at least, the police can shoot people with impunity, behind the cover of anonymity. Britain may have abolished capital punishment, but carrying a table leg in a shopping bag is apparently a capital offence.

It’s a bit like a cricket match. There are no spectacular boundaries, no sixes and fours, but by running ones and twos the batsmen can soon build up a formidable score. There may not be many Marikanas, but when you add up the ones and twos, it’s even more scary, because it looks as though it’s routine.

Police state, anyone?

Peter Roebuck: the plot thickens

Ther has been a series of conflicting and increasingly weird news reports on the death of Peter Roebuck, the cricket commentator.

An early report, in The Guardian said simply that he had been found dead in a hotel room in Cape Town, where he had been covering the current test series between South Africa and Australia

The former Somerset cricketer Peter Roebuck has been found dead in a hotel room in South Africa.

Roebuck, who was 55 and played alongside Sir Ian Botham and Sir Viv Richards at Somerset, had built a reputation as an acute observer of the game since retiring from playing in 1991, and worked as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. He also worked as a broadcaster for ABC radio and had been covering Australia’s tour of South Africa.

“He could describe a game of cricket in such a way that even if you didn’t like the game, you liked the way that he went about his business,” said Craig Norenbergs, the ABC Grandstand manager.

Roebuck was known as a solid batsman, passing 1,000 runs in nine out of 12 seasons and was Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1988.

The BBC put a different and more ominous slant on it BBC Sport – Ex-Somerset captain Peter Roebuck dies at 55:

South African police said Roebuck had taken his own life and are investigating the full circumstances surrounding his death.

The Sydney Morning Herald, who Roebuck had written for since 1984, reported that he fell to his death from a hotel window on Saturday night after being questioned by police.

… leading one to wonder how he could have been found in his room if he had jumped to his death from the window.

But that’s not all.

Roebuck falls to death after sex assault questioning – Sport – NZ Herald News:

Renowned cricket writer Peter Roebuck reportedly fell to his death from a South African hotel balcony while being quizzed by Cape Town police over a sex assault on Saturday night.

Australia’s The Age news website said an agitated Roebuck had asked another cricket writer to help him, after police began speaking with him at a hotel near the Newlands ground.

“Can you come down to my room quickly, I’ve got a problem,” the website reported Roebuck as saying.

Roebuck then fell to his death while a police officer was reportedly in the room.

I wonder what really happened.

G20 summit

Watching Sky News reporting on the G20 summit.

What’s it all about, according to Sky News then?

  1. The police
  2. The police
  3. The police

Seems that Britain really is a police state.

It reminds me of a book I read nearly 40 years ago:

Halloran, James D., Elliott, Philip & Murdock, Graham. 1970.
Demonstrations and communication: a case study.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.
The demonstration against the Vietnam War in
London on 27 October 1968 was overwhelmingly
peaceful, yet the press and television
coverage concentrated on the tiny violent
minority. The authors have analysed the way in
which the news media determined the quality of
the event and then were compelled to find
incidents to fulfil their prophecies. This
analysis is a study of the structure of our
understanding of “news”, of what counts as
“news” and why the media are committed to
reporting not what happens but what they think
should happen.

Seems that nothing has changed. The media continue to manipulate the news.


Up at 4:10 am, woken by sound of gunfire. There were about four shots, and the dogs didn’t bark, then about a minute or two later, four more shots, very close together, as if from an automatic weapon. Then the dogs barked. After a few minutes a police helicopter was circling overhead. It’s still circling as I write.

Heard something similar on 5 Dec 1996, when it sounded like a minor war. Turned out to be an attempted heist of a security van at the freeway interchange about 2 km away. This is much closer. Back then there was automatic gunfire for more than a minute, and when daylight came there were empty cartridge cases all over the road verge. This time there were not more than 10 shots altogether.

Update: it’s now 4:45, and the helicopter seems to have gone.

Kill the bastards!

After urging the police to shoot to kill, Deputy Minister of Safety and Security has now advised ordinary citizens to do the same if they are threatened by criminals pointing guns or other lethal weapons at them.

Deputy safety and security minister Susan Shabangu has said that ordinary citizens of South Africa who are threatened by criminals pointing guns or other lethal weapons at them do not have to fire a warning shot before shooting to kill.

Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which governs the use of lethal force when dealing with criminals, made it clear that police and ordinary citizens were entitled to shoot if their lives were threatened, she said in Cape Town.

Laughing off her choice of the word “bastards” to describe the criminals responsible for the violent crime wave sweeping the country, she said that part of her speech had not been scripted. But in her search for the right way to express herself, she had succeeded in getting across her message.

On why police routinely opened murder dockets against citizens who killed criminals who had threatened them with guns or other lethal weapons, Shabangu said there had to be an inquiry into the process.

blog it

Cable theft — under the noses of the cops

It is said that Eskom doen’t like us to talk about blackouts.

The politically-correct term is “previously illuminated areas”.

But when we woke up at about 4:00 am on Friday, with the electricity doing strange things, it wasn’t Eskom’s fault. The lights dimmed, the fan slowed, and then the lights came on again, and the streetlight outside was shining with unnatural brightness.

A few minutes later our dog Ariel came in through my son’s bedroom window, which is usually an indication that there are baddies about. She can be fierce with the postman or the plumbers, but when there are genuine baddies around, she seeks protection.

My son went out with a torch and a big stick to see if anyone had been trying to break in, and while he was out in the garden, two cop cars came roaring down to the end of the road. They asked my son if he had seen anyone, and he said he was still looking, and after a brief conversation among themselves, they roared off again.

Since we were now all well awake, we made coffee, and I began reading my e-mail, and then the lights wen’t off again, suddenly, with no preliminary flickers. After waiting a few minutes to see if they would come on again, I phoned the City of Tshwane electricity department. It takes a couple of minutes to get through — press 1 for this, three for that, 1 for electricity, 1 for power failures, listen to a long spiel from an auntie about Eskom’s rolling blackouts and telling you what web page to look at for the schedule (as if you could look up a web page if you are sitting in a previously illuminated area anyway). Then another plastic auntie asking what suburb you are in, and then asking to confirm that, and finally you get through to a human being.

I said the power was off, told her the street, and said I suspected cable theft. The flickering just before the power finally went off suggested that someone or something was trying to short out the wires. There wasn’t a high wind or a thunderstorm, so it was unlikely to be tree branches. It was not on the hour, so it wasn’t likely to be Eskom’s scheduled load shedding.

Now, 27 hours later, the power has come on again, on Saturday morning. At one point they had about eight lorries of municipal workers there, trying to replace the stolen cable.

And the cops were here!

They did it right under the noses of the cops.

And last night, about 9:30, with the neighbourhood in darkness, no lights, no street lights, nothing, our next-door neighbour’s burglar alarm went off. I phoned to ask if everything was OK, and said I could hear the alarm going off, and then the signal broke up and I couldn’t hear anything they were saying. But it sounded as though they were out, so I called the cops.

Ten minutes later a cop van comes past, goes up the road the other way. I was flashing a torch, and they came back. I told them about the alarm going off in the house next door, and they still dashed off in the opposite direction.

The last couple of days have considerably diminished my confidence in the South African Police Service.

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