Tina K. Russell

April 15, 2008

You’re Not Helping

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:06 pm

allAfrica.com: South Africa: Zuma Backs Deputy Over ‘Shoot to Kill’ (Page 1 of 1)

DEPUTY Safety and Security Minister Susan Shabangu’s controversial “shoot to kill” comment has received African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma’s backing.

Shabangu told an anticrime rally in Pretoria last week that police should “kill the bastards” and leave concerns about the regulations to her.

This is after Shabangu became the latest of a line of ministers and senior officials to encourage the police to shoot criminals first, starting with safety and security minister Steve Tshwete in the late 1990s , but this view has done nothing to improve the levels of violent and organised crime.

The problem with “kill them all,” though it’s often a tempting position, is that it sets you back. You need the public’s support and sympathy, which you won’t have if you, and the officers you represent, seem like a brute. Also, it draws battle lines in ways that do not benefit you: you declare too many enemies and not only criminals will resent you, but so will the families of criminals, people who dislike criminals and dislike the overly aggressive tactics they use, and most people with a passing interest in politics. Then, people will be less likely to support or sympathize with the police, will be less likely to help them in investigations and less likely to be candid, and be more likely to create an environment were fear and hatred of the police–both unnecessary and counterproductive–can come to a boil.

And, as this guy points out, it frames the issue poorly. It’s an admission of failure, and it legitimizes the rank thuggery of criminals. Rulers rule because they have followers, and it’s difficult to have followers when you look just as bad as the enemy, even if you aren’t. Here in the United States, we committed a massive error of political framing when we declared a “war on terror,” because that made al-Qaida terrorists look like legitimate state players, and rallied every disaffected, nationalistic youngster bitter towards America to al-Qaida’s side. You can never declare police work in any way that makes it seem like a friendly duel at ten paces, because it undermines your position and moral authority, which, in the age of mass media, are requirements for victory. (Just ask Abraham Lincoln, were he alive, who brilliantly used the Emancipation Proclamation to reframe the battle as freedom-loving people fighting a backwards and ignorant enemy, rather than the South’s preferred framing of a second American Revolution.) Public sympathy is like friendly terrain, the wind at your back, the advantage you need in battle, and it’s something you should never surrender. And Ms. Shabangu, besides being brutal and immoral, has done exactly that.

Johan Burger of the ISS [Institute for Security Studies] said Shabangu’s comments not only looked like an admission by the government that it was failing in its fight against crime, but was irresponsible, as courts were unlikely to sympathise with police officers who use excessive force.

“The deputy minister seemed almost exasperated on Wednesday, and while it is important for government to be seen to be taking a strong stance, it is not correct for her to have said she will take the blame, as it is police officers who will be held accountable in court for not abiding by the regulations,” said Burger.

He said the police should rather examine weaknesses within and outside the criminal justice system that are contributing to crime such as “socio-economic factors and policies that are not being properly implemented”.

I know that’s a liberal talking point, but it’s important… to reduce crime, you often do need more police officers to impose order. But, that can only be a temporary fix, and you must root out the problem by figuring out what is fostering and supporting crime in the community. It’s sort of like, when ants raid your kitchen, you set out ant traps and baits to try and fight the incursion. But, you also seal up the food and clean up to keep them from entering in the first place. A solid police policy does not lean entirely on the efforts of hard-working cops, but also tries strategies of relieving them by ensuring that the elements that support crime–poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, and a certain pervasive cultural poverty that requires a multifaceted approach to fight–are removed. It’s also important to keep criminals from having easy access to guns… just so you know.

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1 Comment »

  1. Susan Shabangu is right i agree with her it is time that criminals are put in their place we are tired of living behind closed doors and feel like prisoners in our own home South Africa we want to be free to walk the streets and not be afraid. Thank you Susan for not being afraid to say what most of us are thinking.

    Comment by natasja — April 18, 2008 @ 2:10 am


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