Are we living in a police state?

22 January 2019 | Columns

Are we living in a police state?

Vitalio Angula

We are all in agreement with regard to crime in Namibia. It has reached alarming proportions and citizens just don't feel safe anymore.

Regardless, whether in the comfort of their homes, taking an afternoon jog on the Avis trail, driving to visit an acquaintance or out clubbing with friends, most Namibians have been or know of someone close to them who has been the victim of a violent crime. Housebreakings, armed robberies, hijackings or having a cellphone stolen has become part and parcel of the everyday Namibian experience.

In order to curtail the prevalence of crime within our society, President Hage Geingob launched Operation Hornkranz, a joint policing effort by the armed forces, namely the police, the army and members of correctional services, to increase law-enforcement visibility in an effort to deter crime. But the noble initiative seems to have backfired with social media set abuzz with pictures and videos of the army and police abusing their authority by using maximum force on defenseless citizens in the form of physical assaults and public humiliation through punishments, such as forced push-ups and people being made to hug each other. The recordings circulating on social media mainly take place at drinking establishments for night time revellers.

The characteristics of a police state denote a state in which the power of the police is used in a manner contrary to established law. The Namibian constitution guarantees all its citizens the right to due process, the right to move freely throughout Namibia and the right to human dignity, which means that no person shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and punishment.

What the police and army are doing is an infringement on the fundamental human rights and freedom guaranteed in chapter 3 of the Namibian constitution.

However, there is a catch! The police have reported a decrease in crime over the festive season. Amongst the successes of the joint police operation is the confiscation of weapons including knives, guns and pangas, which could have been used to hurt innocent people had it not been for the vigilance and foresight of the police. One can argue that the police have done the best they could given the set of circumstances within which they operate and that the ends justifies the means.

A decrease in crime means greater security for our nation's citizens, right?

Those who were unfortunate to have been victims of police brutality can be counted as collateral damage - a necessary evil that brings forth a greater good.

Operation Hornkranz put on display the darker side of law-enforcement. On Facebook, there were mixed reactions regarding the assaults carried out by the men in uniform. Celebrating violence when perpetrated against another human being speaks of an underlying insensitivity towards the humanity of another. It relegates the human being to the status of a thing that can be kicked and slapped around because it has no feelings, and doing so carries no recourse against the government enforcers.

With the operation coming to an end towards the second week of January, this dark episode in Namibia's history is worth interrogating. Some will breathe a sigh of relief, others will wish for a return of the police on the streets. All I know is that the world has suffered too much violence and that violence begets more violence. Those who have been harmed will need time to heal from their cuts and bruises. As for the trauma, those bruises require more time to heal, if they ever heal at all.

*Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.

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