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Even black police officers are guilty of racial profiling and it has to stop, writes Nomusa Mthethwa.
Johannesburg - It was a sunny Saturday in May when I rushed to Sandton City to get my copy of Khuli Chana’s Lost In Time autographed.
I felt that his personal touch was needed on one of the finest pieces of music I’d heard in a long time.
Not surprisingly, it won best album of the year at this year’s South African Music Awards.
I jumped the queue because I was late for work and asked one of the music shop employees standing near the table to give Khuli Chana my copy so he could sign it.
While I was explaining my situation to the hesitant staffer, Khuli Chana called out to us: “I’ll sign it for you quickly. I wouldn’t want you to get fired because of me.”
So imagine my shock and horror when I read the reports on Monday morning that this kind rapper, with a warm smile and soft eyes, was mistaken for a criminal.
What? Khuli Chana a kidnapper? That wouldn’t sound right; even if it was one of his monikers. (After all, having a lot of AKAs is a rapper trait.)
The police cite a case of “mistaken identity”, but I’m certain they would have realised there’s a difference between a blue and grey BMW and wouldn’t have shot at him six times, without restraint, if Khuli Chana was white.
He was not just a victim of police brutality, but a victim of racial profiling.
Racial profiling is defined as law enforcement suspecting someone of committing a crime based on the grounds of race and/or ethnicity.
It is a term usually used in countries where people of colour are a minority.
But it seems that even in a post-apartheid and “non-racial” country such as ours where the majority of SAPS officers are black, a young black male is equated with a criminal predator who doesn’t even deserve the decency of being questioned before getting shot at like a rabid dog.
The stereotyping of black men as criminals is so entrenched in our society, so embedded in our public consciousness, that race and crime essentially are no different.
A person wouldn’t even have to mention the race of the criminal to know that they were talking about a black man.
Black. Criminal. Criminalblackman.
The negative correlation between blackness and criminality has evolved so tremendously throughout our country’s history to the present, that it has now become embedded with black people’s psyches.
As a young black woman, I cannot count the number of times I have been stalked by a black sales assistant in a store to the point that I have had to turn around and ask her: “Can I help you with anything?”
So is it any surprise, then, that a black man is just as likely to be harassed by a black police officer as a white officer?
It could be argued that this particular incident shouldn’t be seen through a racial lens; that rather, it is indicative of a more prevalent problem of police brutality.
Yet my mind can’t fathom how four police officers could not tell the difference between a blue and a grey BMW?
No, the colour of the car became unimportant when they saw the colour of the driver.
This murderous shoot-to-kill policy that the SAPS has so blithely implemented, compounded with these negative perceptions and biases police officers have towards black males, has resulted in black men all around the country dropping like flies in the spray of bullets released by trigger-happy fingers.
The SAPS needs to get rid of officers who still shoot to kill.
And it needs to provide proper training so that suspects can be apprehended without being killed.
It then needs to address the issue of racial profiling by researching to what extent it has infiltrated the entire police service.
Then it had better come up with policies and accountability procedures that will deal with guilty officers.
A national dialogue should be convened by the police commissioner so that this subject can be discussed and solutions found.
The SAPS’s general militant stance has to be addressed or more law-abiding black men just going about their business will find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.
I pray that I never have to get a phone call that one of my brothers or cousins was murdered in a case of mistaken identity because the colour of their skin made them an instant suspect.
Whether it was thanks to the police officers’ poor aim or the strong body of a BMW, Khuli Chana gets to say goodnight to his daughter and see her grow up, but there are other unknown black men who were not so lucky.
* Nomusa Mthethwa is a freelance writer and columnist for CHEKA Digital, an online street culture magazine.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.