Armed police and unarmed civilians
We all know that the business of the police in any nation is to protect citizens and their property, and to uphold the law. They are never meant to be judge and executioner.
But it seems there is an upsurge in police use of excessive force on the very people that they are supposed to be protecting, and this needs to stop.
In Namibia, we can recall the police shooting of a so-called ‘struggle child’ at a demonstration. We also remember the Marikana massacre of striking miners, police killings of protestors in Ethiopia, the current wave of police shootings of unarmed Black men in America and various other fatal incidents that continuously occur the world over. When will society put a firm foot on the ground and stop the unwarranted use of deadly police violence against unarmed civilians?
I think I share the same opinion with a lot other people that the abuse of power by police in South Africa right now on students exercising their constitutional right to protest at various universities is excessive and unwarranted.
It is almost as if governments are proudly waving their well-written constitutions that allow freedom of speech and the right to assemble, while their own police forces are reacting to people’s exercise of those rights with bloody repression. It’s like giving something with one hand and taking it away with another. Elected leaders seem to be saying: “You have these rights as long as you exercise them when and how we choose.”
According to unfolding news reports, the South African police were deployed to academic institutions to protect the premises. It seems like a contradiction to me that the police would be on the grounds of an institution of higher learning, philosophy, growth and development and yet, they would draw their guns during such an assignment as if students waving signs were a group of violent gangsters from the worse drug and criminal areas in the townships that make the police fear for their lives.
If the police force is so afraid for their lives that they cannot analyse threats properly and act with restraint, then there are various other protection materials, such as stun guns, tear gas, armoured cars and riot protection gear (including bullet proof vests) that they can use.
They must avoid using deadly force at all costs when attempting to control a volatile, emotive crowd. Killing unarmed people rarely decelerates a conflict. One thousand annoyed and determined people chanting and waving posters is one thing; one thousand terrified and furious people attacking the police who threaten their lives is something else altogether. If the people weren’t angry before, they certainly will be after they see the dead bodies of their protesting comrades lying in the street.
While I am no expert on crowd control or policing methods, one need only see the negative outcomes of such clashes in so many instances around the world and right here in southern Africa, to know that a different approach is needed.
Considering that such incidents of police use of their guns on unarmed citizens have taken place repeatedly, I would suggest that police stick to the use of water cannons or teargas or other non-lethal means as a way to disperse crowds that are acting outside of their legal right to free speech and assembly. I would suggest that they not be allowed to take loaded guns into such situations at all.
Ordinary people deserve to take a stand against what they feel is unjust. Those students in South Africa have every right to protest against the high tuition fees without fearing for their lives when they speak out.
Are governments becoming so intolerant of different points of view that they must turn their countries into nations of barbarians and attack the very people that they are supposed to be taking care of?
Namibia has seen all these happenings and now is the right time for the authorities to take note and make sure such incidents do not recur locally; we must learn from other countries’ mistakes.
Step one is this: Police need crowd control training. Step two: They need the right equipment that offers alternatives to handling disorderly masses or when they feel their lives are under threat. This business of immediately pulling their guns and shooting citizens needs to be stopped.
At the beginning of this year, we have seen students locally protesting against increases in fees just like in South Africa and we should not be surprised when they start protesting again with the proposed fee increases by the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
I would urge our authorities to be smart and be prepared. Police deployed in these situations should bear in mind that it may be their own children exercising their right to protest university fee increases who gets shot down next time.