Tuesday, September 08, 2020

The Police Against the Poor

Police violence has increased all over the continent. In most cases, perpetrators get away without appropriate sanctions. People are now raising their voices all over the continent to denounce police brutality in their countries.

From Soweto to Nairobi, police brutality cases are on the rise, and citizens are outraged and feel abandoned. Police brutality has become a hot topic globally, with activists and organizations regularly staging demonstrations. In some African countries, violence meted out by security officers worsened after governments imposed curfews to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The South African Police Service has faced unprecedented local and international media attention over several incidents in which people have died or have been assaulted by the police. The country has a history of law enforcement violence due to racial and socioeconomic disparities that have continuously plagued the Rainbow Nation.

A 2019 report by Corruption Watch suggested South Africa's police are the most corrupt public servants — with abuse of power and bribery being ripe. "The trend is systemic and has been institutionalized from the very top," said Wikus Steyl, a lawyer in Johannesburg. Steyl, who represents victims of police brutality, said he wants to see more responsible officers in charge.

According to annual statistics from the Independent Police Investigative Department, South African police officers killed 538 people in the 2017-2018 reporting year, and 440 people in the 2018- 2019 reporting year.  

On March 25, Kenya ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. Shortly after, Human Rights Watch reported that six people had died at the hands of police officers. According to Demas Kiprono, a lawyer at Amnesty International Kenya, 20 people have been killed by police during the COVID-19 curfew. But the numbers of reports of violence are much higher. Five hundred complaints against police brutality have been registered.

"Whenever people see the police here in Uganda, what comes to their mind is impunity, torture and arbitrary arrests, " said Andrew Natumanya, a photographer in Uganda's capital, Kampala.  

"It is bad, really bad. Most people avoid the police intentionally. It is sad that one has to avoid the very people who should provide security," Chineye, a banker in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, told DW.  

The use of force by the police appears to be linked to the criminalization of poverty in Africa, with observers saying illegal use of force is mainly recorded in poor neighborhoods and low-income areas. As a result, police measures and curfews have had a discriminatory and disproportionate effect on the poorest.


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