SOMETIMES it is very easy to dismiss reports or allegations of brutality and inhuman treatment perpetrated against ordinary citizens by the police, who are constitutionally mandated to, apart from fighting crime, provide security and protection to citizens.
BY CHARLES LAITON
The history of police brutality in Zimbabwe is well-documented
In fact, the Police Charter espouses the need for harmonious relations between members of the police and the public for effective policing.
My personal encounter with marauding members of the anti-riot squad last Saturday evening while waiting to pick up my wife, who was having her hair done in a saloon, shook me to the very core of my being.
At around 5:30pm, I drove from Avondale Shopping Centre in Harare where I had gone to visit a friend and into the central business district where everything looked normal as people went about their business.
I drove along Jason Moyo Avenue, turned left into Cameron Street and headed towards Red Cross building where my wife had directed me to come and wait for her. Apparently, as I weaved past the Copacabana Bus Terminus and got to George Silundika Avenue, I saw people running in all directions, but I could not tell what was going on.
I could, however, tell something was amiss from the screams as people raced towards Copacabana. I then saw a number of vendors carrying their wares and mingling with other people and it then dawned on me that there were some law enforcement agents carrying out a blitz on vendors. There had been a directive for vendors to stop trading at undesignated spots in the city centre.
Unbeknown to me, I was in for a rude awakening. When I got to the Red Cross building, I found parking on the right side of the road in front of the salon, facing the southern direction.
Almost immediately, a menacing group of uniformed anti-riot police officers numbering over 15 swarmed the area, and people started running in all directions as the officers ordered them to leave the city centre.
Within a short period of time, the area had been cleared of people, save for a few parked vehicles and one or two commuter omnibuses that had just left the Copacabana rank, but had been stopped by the officers, presumably for a quick search.
Just as some officers were busy searching the commuter omnibuses, across the road, a man in the company of a woman, whose car was parked on the other side of the road, decided to pull out of the parking bay and drive towards Mbare.
Some police officers blocked his way and ordered him to stop. I then partially opened my vehicle passenger window in order to hear what the officers would say. About four police officers, however, started smashing the car’s windows and the rear windscreen.
They dragged the man out of his car and started bludgeoning him with batons. The man helplessly cried and pleaded for mercy. The woman in the car got out and started screaming at them to leave her husband, before the police officer turned to her and started beating her too. The couple was dragged to the pavement in front of the Red Cross building.
I could hear the police officers asking him why he had tried to leave the parking bay? In the meanwhile, some police officers were pushing and shoving women passing by with babies on their backs. One officer shouted: “Mhanyayi! Munofira mahara!” (Run or else you will be caught up in the crossfire).
The commotion lasted about 20 minutes and since I was in my car, I thought I was safe. A police truck filled with more police officers arrived and the battered man and woman were loaded onto the truck, and their car was left abandoned right in the middle of the road where he had been stopped.
Just as the truck was leaving, going towards Jason Moyo Avenue, some officers started walking in my direction and I heard them saying; “Ngatinoroveyi vari murank” (Let’s go and beat up people at the Copacabana rank).
They started trooping towards Copacabana, but as they passed by my car, one of them came close and poked my window, asking me to wind it down. I was so terrified, but I complied with his order as his colleagues had surrounded me. They started yelling at me without giving me an opportunity to answer any of their questions.
They ordered me to unlock the doors, and when I did so some officers jumped inside and started “conducting a search” while some were calling me “a money changer”.
After failing to find anything incriminating, they continued interrogating me, and I told them why I was parked there.
One of them poked the right side of my abdomen with his baton stick and ordered me to drive away. I then started the car and grudgingly drove away, leaving my wife in the salon. By that time, all the shops at Red Cross building had closed.