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Did he really hang himself?

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Somebody needs to keep an eye on the police.
Somebody needs to keep an eye on the police.

My overweening late Uncle William was a devoted conspiracy theorist. His eyes would sparkle in those dark late summer nights when we sat in the gazebo, roasting sweet-potatoes on the hearth as he regaled us with the “real” story of Kennedy, the truth about what happened to Jimmy Hofa and how Mandela was actually a double carefully nurtured and conditioned by the South African colonial regime in their secret research facility at Robben Island. Fairly innocuous foreign stories.

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My heart would beat with fear and trepidation when the fool hardy man started on the local “political assassinations made to look like accidents and suicides.” He was a yarn spinner my uncle.

I was reminded of him when I read the sad story of a tout who hanged himself in police custody two weeks ago. He allegedly hanged himself (“Did he?”   My uncle who no doubt would ask, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.) using shoelaces after being arrested for touting. The problem is we only have the police’s word as to what happened.

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And why on earth would they leave a man in a holding cell with his shoelaces on? Isn’t it standard procedure to take away all materials that a suspect can use to commit suicide when the suspect is incarcerated? Why wasn’t this done?

Most importantly why on earth does the Zimbabwe Republic Police not invest in surveillance technology to monitor their cells and interrogation rooms? Clearly they utilise it when it helps them with revenue collection.

I will be bold and tell you I have been to many a police station where interrogation means slapping around and assaulting the suspect in order to coerce a confession. It is a well known secret that a lot of officers do this; I have witnessed it countless times myself although, thankfully, it has never happened to me.

There is a reason why people fear madhikazi as detectives are known and most of the time this has nothing to do with their crime solving skills. Some officers even wear their reputation, encapsulated in nicknames like “Mukandabhutsu”, proudly as badges of honour.

Many a suspect has revealed in courts that they have been tortured whilst in custody but their testimony is at best ignored and at worst interpreted as the desperate rants of a “guilty criminal.” Even when they have the scars to show for it. To date I know of only one case in which an officer was successfully prosecuted for assaulting suspects.

The problem most suspects face is that it is their word against that of officers. Despite what the law says, most people usually assume a person is guilty as soon as they are arrested. Even an acquittal will not matter after that.

The cost of monitoring technology has fallen and it has also become more available on the market. Scores of supermarkets use it everyday to prevent pilferage and deter burglars. It is rather disappointing that the government has not seriously considered to use it for something as important as administering justice.

Cameras don’t lie. To ensure justice and keep an eye at the police and the procedures that they are using to obtain evidence and solve cases they should be installed in every interrogation room.

It should be mandatory for every case to be accompanied by the appropriate surveillance footage to show that the evidence was obtained without the use of force and torture. Jail cells should also be equipped with cameras to monitor prisoners so that “accidents and suicides” don’t happen.

And if they do happen we know exactly and unequivocally what happened without relying on witness testimony which is the most unreliable form of evidence there is.

Whilst they are at it they might also want to consider other forms of technology as well. I have always been baffled that although every person is required to have their fingerprints taken and stored in the National Registry Database, the police do not appear to be utilising this by running fingerprints from crime scenes into this database.

Am I missing something here? I might not have any investigative experience but I do not recall many TV show episodes where a geek does not save the day by running fingerprints or DNA against some database. We have Abby in NCIS, Garcia in Criminal Minds and CIS which is entirely made up of geeks are just a few of the shows that come to mind.

In my opinion at the very least the arresting officer who allowed the suspect to retain his shoelaces should have been reprimanded or faced some form of disciplinary action. This is not the first suicide either. In 2012 a man hanged himself with blanket strips whilst in police custody.

I do not know what the penalty for touting is but would a man really kill themselves over this? Was he mentally disturbed? Would a reasonable man have prevented this? These are my uncle’s questions not mine but an electronic “eye” on the police would have shed some light and perhaps prevented such a needless death.

My uncle used to speculate over the story of Chidhumo and Masendeke. Did they have inside help? Who among them really murdered the guards during the escape? ( Chidhumo always maintained his “innocence” and blamed it on Masendeke who, understandably, blamed Chidhumo.)

The state opted for a socialist solution, hang them both that way you are sure the murderer, whoever he is, is dead. How did they manage to escape and evade the police? One thing is clear, it is very unlikely that would have happened if there was proper surveillance at the facility.

Understandably that was way back when everyone, except a few rich fellows, had a black and white television, if any. Back when VCRs and radio cassettes were the staple and computers were strange monochromatic machines that wanted to take over the world in movies like the Demolition Man. That was then but this is now. What excuse do they have now?

Image Credit: Sysconinfo


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