Thursday, May 19, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Some people tell naughty children that the police will come and get them, if they are not good. No one ever told me that. But I heard it.  I still do.

Good cop, bad cop has become an accepted turn of phrase.
It is a reality of life anyway, on which it just, well, depends, I suppose.

The police  have been there, in my life, always. In fact, they are one of my earliest memories. I remember waking in the middle of the night to the sound of them hammering on the door of the servants quarters in the yard. The door of the woman who worked for my parents. Real fear gripped me as I heard their loud voices demanding that she open the door.
 I loved her. I was little, and she was like a mother to me.
 I heard my father open the bathroom window and talk to them, and then shut the window and tell my mother softly that they were checking passes. My mothers ghostly form drifted into the room I shared with my sister, and touched us both and whispered  to us to go back to sleep.

I remember the police vans  of the time, with the brown fingers of the men in the back wound around and gripping the wire mesh. I was not sure that I could trust them for myself, but I was told I could.

At university and in the communal houses of my early adulthood I knew the sound of the security police kicking open a door and bursting in. In their uniform of tight jeans, running shoes, leather jackets and moustaches, in the Eastern Cape, I knew some of them by name.  Their faces had shouted into mine a couple of times.
I would be lying to say I was not afraid , but being young then, and white, I had felt invincible.

Not so, anymore.
L has been hijacked too many times. Once with a gun to his head, and the trigger pulled, but the stolen, mismatched bullets stuck in the chamber. That drove him to a solitary life on the Crocodile river, with an old land rover and a long drive back to Jozi.
Another was with AK47's in a barrackaded schoolyard .
There was another one, but the details get confused after a while. That drove him back to the Fairest Cape.
The point is, we have not, not been touched by crime

So, last week I did not march into the police station because we  do not understand the issues around crime. I served on the Community Police Forum in the Langkloof precisely because I try - to understand the issues, that is.
I marched into the police station because, a short while earlier my son - my seventeen year old, tall and lanky son, with a new cell phone, a bank card, a snazzy purple asthma pump and no doubt a wad of crumpled tissues(rhinitus) , in his pocket  - had come riding home on his very good bicycle, with his beanie on his head - visibly shaken.

The two policemen who stopped him now know the exact contents of his pockets - because they made him empty them. They know how good his bike is because they checked it over. They know the colour, curl, length and height of his hair because they pulled his beanie off and checked it out as well...

I have been told that they -  asked where he had been, whether he had been using, what he was doing there (on the streets of Sedgefield), whose bank card he had  ,how his asthma pump worked (he had to demonstrate),whose bike it was -  because they can and will stop, search, and make a young man spread his arms on the bonnet of their vehicle and pat him down, wherever and whenever they like.

I took the complaint as far as my son would let me, which wasn't very far.
He is not very happy.
To him the police are far from being friends.
I understand the feeling.
I thought those days were over.

1 comment:

  1. Must have been terrifying and one can understand a mother's fury after some heavy handed uniform roughs up your sweet, harmless child whom you know and love. After watching Michael Caine's movie, Harry Brown, one comes to the conclusion that all over the world,controlling crime is a huge challenge. In the movie, Harry's friend -an old pensioner was battered and stabbed to death by youths in the slummy complex where he was forced to live. The police treated it with the usual apathy. Retired RAF Harry Brown who served in Ireland turns vigilante which catches the attention of the police who, assuming this to be gang violence, quickly respond with anti-crime operations. This causes the yobs to start violently rioting, resulting in brutal battering of some law-enforcement members. When Harry is exposed, his exposer questions his motive saying "this isn't Ireland, Harry" he replies - "At least in Ireland they were fighting for a cause - this... to them - this is just entertainment."
    Getting off the point a little there but what I really think is- rather suffer the indignation of mistaken identity by a vigilant police force than live with the sad lethargy that the law enforcers of today approach their work. Hope your son is doing OK now.