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Reflecting on #DisabilityAwarenessMonth Focusing on Prisons

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

Introduction


Note: We juxtapose injustices, within the context of jails and prisons, in the United States and on the continent of Africa; specifically South Africa. We seek to highlight similarities versus differences in an attempt to bridge the gap across the Transcontinental divide. It is our intent to increase awareness and promote solidarity in our quest for systemic reform of institutions of incarceration.


Fall/Winter Edition: Issue 6

A transformative discussion about Disability in Prisons ensued with special guests: Heather McKimmie, Director of Avid Program Disability Rights Washington and Sunjay Smith, Activist & Founder of Crip Justice. In light of the theme for the 2021 International Disability Awareness Day, the theme this year is, 'Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world'.


It is thus important that people with disabilities be made a priority especially in terms of access, in all its positive forms.

No copyright infringement intended. Image signed by Bazaat & Sins Invalid.


It is common sense that the trajectories of one’s story span deep. And that is the reality with this episode: it is a pea with two pods that are different in many ways. And certainly human in every way.


“My name is Sunjay Smith, the founder of Crip Justice. I had my negative experiences with policing. But I also started to notice that issues of police violence against people with disabilities were going unnoticed. So I started documenting police violence against people with disabilities.”


What is police brutality?

The Amnesty Organisation outlines police brutality in-depth and in brevity.


The brief is vivid: police brutality is boundless. You find it in the streets of Minneapolis to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It manifests as the unlawful use of force by police and it can end in death, injury, and devastation.


The organization further mentions that many times, in the USA and elsewhere, police tend to kill or seriously injure people during racism-fuelled protests.

Amnesty Organisation holds that it is common for the police to use force in response to protests or demonstrations.


Hong Kong police were, for example, repeatedly deployed weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets in an unlawful way against protesters throughout 2019 and 2020. Undoubtedly, there is hardly any justice for victims and survivors as per the realities of brutal policing and the referred article.


Hence it is focal to know your rights. Yet, it is more important to be informed about the legal permissions police have to know when they are overstepping their boundaries.


Hence it is important to know your rights and to know what police are allowed to do. And to know when they are overstepping their boundaries.


The term “police brutality” is thus used to refer to human rights violations by police. This is not limited to beatings, racial abuse, unlawful killings, torture, or indiscriminate use of riot control weapons including guns at protests.


In reality, the unlawful use of force by police, unfortunately, deprives people of their right to life. Torture or other ill-treatment comes after the unnecessary or excessive police force.


Thus, unlawful force by police violates the right to be free from discrimination, the right to freedom and security, and the right to equal protection under the law.


Are police allowed to kill us?


To answer whether police are allowed to kill, strict international laws and standards are relevant in how and when police can use force – particularly lethal force.


Since the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (BPUFF) is the key international instrument that deals with police use of force, it becomes increasingly important to know how legislation protects you. Notably, it is obligatory that state authorities, including police to respect and protect the right to life.


International law holds that police officers should only use lethal force as a last resort. Thus, this means the deadly force is strictly necessary to protect themselves. Other than that, it should be used to protect others from the imminent threat of death or bodily harm, and only when other options for de-escalation are insufficient.


Police brutality is a human issue


Many killings by the police that society has seen globally do not meet this criterion. The lives of George Floyd, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and too many other Black people were unlawfully killed by police while unarmed.


The protests in Iran in November 2019 resulted in police shots that killed hundreds of harmless protesters, including at least 23 children. The Philippines, witnessed the police shooting poor people who were suspected of using or selling drugs. It is reported that the same protectors were on the ground begging for mercy.


The brief is vivid: police brutality is boundless. You find it in the streets of Minneapolis to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It manifests as the unlawful use of force by police, and it can end in death, injury, and devastation.


The organization further mentions that many times, in the USA and elsewhere, police tend to kill or seriously injure people during racism-fuelled protests.


Amnesty Organisation holds that it is common for the police to use force in response to protests or demonstrations.


What international law says


The most relevant thing to remember is that the obligation of state authorities, including the police, is to respect and protect the right to life.


Under international law, police officers should only ever use lethal force as a last resort. This means when such force is strictly necessary to protect themselves or others from the imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when other options for de-escalation are insufficient.


Many killings by the police that we have seen around the world clearly do not meet this criterion.


In the USA, George Floyd, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and too many other Black people who have been killed by police were unarmed.

During protests in Iran in November 2019, police shot and killed hundreds of protesters who posed no risk, including at least 23 children.


And in the Philippines, witnesses have described seeing police shoot poor people who were suspected of using or selling drugs as they were on the ground begging for mercy.


The reality in South Africa: police fatally shoot teen


South African police officers were arrested over the deadly shooting of a 16-year-old boy, which had sparked violent street protests. Nathaniel Julius, the police violence victim who had Down's syndrome, had gone out to buy biscuits when he was shot dead in Johannesburg's Eldorado Park suburb.

The Julius family said Julius was shot after not answering officers' questions. They added that this was because of his disability. The police initially lied and said Julius had been caught up in a shootout between officers and local gangsters.

The BBC reports that Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) held that it had decided to arrest the officers after "careful consideration of the evidence at hand".


Archbishop Malusi Mpumlwana, head of the South African Council of Churches, told local media outside the Julius household, "There is no evidence of any provocation and it's difficult to understand why live ammunition could be used in a community such as this. We can't say Black Lives Matter in the United States if we don't say it in South Africa," he said.


Summing-up


It is a perpetual need that society ensures that police stop using force against the law and that those who kill unlawfully legally account. Watch the rest of the episode on our channel.


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