Police violence in South Africa is back in the news in a big way thanks to a truly gut-wrenching video posted online today showing uniformed police officers bind a man's hands to the rear of a police van before dragging him along the pavement. That man, a 27-year-old Mozambican immigrant and taxi driver who had reportedly parked his car illegally, was later found dead in his jail cell. The scene is all the more disturbing because it unfolds on a public street in Daveyton, about 25 miles east of Johannesburg, as a crowd of bystanders appeared to cry out in protest as the van speeds away with the defenseless man in tow.
Here's the amateur footage—taken Tuesday and first published by South Africa's Daily Sun newspaper today—that is now generating headlines across much of the globe. (Warning: While the video itself isn't particularly graphic, the scene itself is obviously disturbing.)
As you can see, a handful of police officers appeared to at first attempt to load the man—later identified as Mido Macia—into the back of the police van, before giving up after he resists. Instead, they bind his hands to the back of the van (and behind his head). As the vehicle begins to pull away slowly, police hold Macia's feet, lifting him off the ground. But as the van picks up speed, the officers are either unable or unwilling to keep pace, allowing Macia to fall and be dragged along the pavement. The van later stops briefly, allowing the officers to catch up and the scene to largely repeat itself—as the cameraperson, the crowd, and a police car follow in pursuit. Macia was found dead in a Daveyton police cell late Tuesday.
South Africa's police watchdog says that it is investigating the incident, but from the sounds of it they have so far taken a wait-and-see approach. "We are shocked by the footage which has been released," Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said. "The circumstances surrounding his death are still allegations... Let's find out what really happened."
According to the IPID, Macia suffered injuries to his head and upper abdomen, including internal bleeding, although it remains unclear if he was hurt while being dragged, or later once he was in police custody. Obviously, either of those options would be damning for the local police force. According to the Daily Sun, the officers on the scene claim that Macia assaulted a constable and took his firearm at one point during the pre-dragging clash. Even if those allegations prove to be true, it clearly wouldn't justify the drawn-out use of force that followed. "If he was parked on the wrong side of the road, they were supposed to give him a ticket, not kill him," as one unnamed South African told the Sun.
As Slate's Justin Peters broke it down last week in a Crime post aptly titled, "South Africa’s Cops Are Really, Really, Unbelievably Corrupt. Wow, They’re Corrupt," police violence and corruption in the African nation are troublingly common:
In a 2007 survey, the Human Science Research Council found that over 60 percent of South African citizens didn’t trust the police. Can you blame them? South African police officers killed 566 people from 2009-2010. The police have been accused of using inner-city crime districts as their personal ATMs, routinely extorting drug dealers, prostitutes, and others. (“My cousin had a cider and she was standing at the gate, not outside the yard and when the police came to her they said, ‘We are arresting you or you give us a bribe,’ ” one Johannesburg resident told Faull.) Sexual harassment runs rampant. “I cannot trust a policeman whom, when I go to report that I was abused by my boyfriend, he sees that as an opportunity to ask me out and he starts touching you,” reported one Durban resident.
According to Amnesty International (h/t Atlantic Wire), there was actually a 7 percent decline between April 2010 and March 2011 in recorded deaths that occurred in police custody or resulted from "police action." Even with that decline, however, there were still 797 such deaths recorded during that time frame.