Recently, the Ganja Users Association (GUN) of Namibia made a statement urging that higher salaries be paid to the police. They did this in response to the shameless and consistent police brutality they claim that their members endure. After seeing various videos circulating on social media where Namibian police and army members are playing judge, jury and executioner as they brutalise unarmed people, we conclude that the problem is deeper than salary level.
We support more competitive salaries and benefits packages for our security officials. Of course, in this pandemic time of near-catastrophic unfunded budget deficits, there is no money to pay anyone a salary increase. Underpaid police forces are always at the root of bribery cases and other forms of corruption. Cops that work every day and cannot feed their families or pay their bills, come to work frustrated. They find ways to extract more money and they vent that frustration on anyone they perceive to be vulnerable.
The root cause of police brutality for the few that take things too far is not salaries. It is about a police force (and soldiers involved in policing) who have no respect for the rule of law. They do not recognize the human rights of every breathing person. They have weaponized their uniforms.
Other factors that cause excessive police violence concern the unique institutional culture of police departments. This culture stresses group solidarity, loyalty, and a “show of force” approach to any perceived challenge to an officer’s authority. An officer demands to know where you are going and why. You question why you must answer and get thrown to the ground and kicked. This happens too often in Namibia. It must stop.
A key contributing factor is the individual violent police officer or soldier’s personal sense of powerlessness. When people with guns and ‘authority’ feel isolated and dissatisfied with their lives (at home, in the community, or on the job) they will be prone to violence as an outlet.
Adding to the perfect storm of unchecked police brutality in Namibia, is the fact there is no downside when they do it. In the rare case of a cop that kills an unarmed person in Namibia, there are few repercussions. Police and soldiers on duty beat people with no backlash. No one loses their job, gets demoted or transferred, arrested, tried, and jailed.
These errant police force members taint all the honest and true cops on the job. They handle the public with an arrogant demeanour that says, “I can beat you with a stick and get away with it”, because they can. Whites, tourists or someone they recognize as ‘in power’ are exempt from this threat. Even the toughest bent cop fears crossing swords with these groups of people. The rest of us are targets.
Another problem is that people in the public who get beaten, largely do not complain. They do not level law suits, stand witness in other people’s legal actions or intervene in blatant injustice done to others. They are scared of being beaten, apathetic, or do not know where to lodge an official complaint. Too many Namibians accept police brutality as a fact of life. This mindset must change.
The government should set up citizen review boards in each city. This board can inquire about all accusations and be the focal point for public input into community policing. They should be able to implement punitive action against security officials proven to be acting against the public interest.
The public must speak out against police brutality. They must use their phones and video these incidents. When someone comes to report a crime and the police on duty lazily sends them away, this must be recorded. A complaint must be sent in immediately. Post it online. Send it to the Ombudsman’s office; send it to the media houses. If no reasonable response is received, they must take the matter to court.
The light of day must be shined on the dark shadows of police excessive use of force. That is the only way to rein it in. When the officers who violate the law know that their proclivities towards violence will be exposed; they will be held accountable; they will lose their jobs or be demoted; or lose several months’ salary on suspension – there will be change.
The majority of police officers and soldiers work hard to protect the safety and security of this country and its people. But, the climate exists where violence is done outside the parameters of decency and respect for the law. Too many people are silent about this painful and illegal situation. Evil thrives when good men do nothing.