Suppressing resistance

On May 13, at about 5am, men who appeared to be police officers ordered a motorcycle taxi to stop in Jinja, Uganda. The taxi driver, assuming the men were trying to enforce the country’s strict dusk-to-dawn coronavirus curfew and ban on motorcycle taxis carrying passengers, sped off instead. In response, the ‘officers’ opened fire, shooting the taxi’s passenger, food vendor Evelyn Namulondo, in the abdomen.

Namulondo sadly succumbed to her injuries in a nearby hospital two days later. The Ugandan police denied any involvement in the incident, and claimed in a statement to local media the men who shot Namulondo were not officers, but ‘rebels’.

Her family is not convinced with the authorities’ explanation, and for good reason.

Namulondo is only one of at least 12 people reported to have died at the hands of security personnel enforcing Uganda’s lockdown, with several others badly injured.

In Uganda, it seems, the police view their new responsibility to enforce coronavirus rules and restrictions as a free pass to inflict violence on civilians they deem to be ‘unruly’. And the problem is not exclusive to Uganda.

In Angola, security forces enforcing curfews killed at least seven people. In Nigeria, 18 people were killed by the police at the start of the lockdown. And in Kenya, the death toll stood at 12 as of mid-April.

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I covered Namulondo’s story for a British media organisation. As I talked to her distraught relatives and watched authorities scramble to shift the blame for her death, I could not help but draw parallels between the senseless killings of civilians across the continent by police officers supposedly working to ensure ‘law and order’, and the cases of racialised police brutality in the United States that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the US, George Floyd was brutally murdered during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her own home, in her own bed, for the ‘crime’ of having a former boyfriend who is allegedly involved in the drug trade. Many more Black men and women were killed, shot at, beaten, arbitrarily arrested or intimidated by police officers for allegedly committing misdemeanours, or like Taylor, merely existing.

These incidents in the US and the killing of Namulondo and others like her across Africa since the start of the coronavirus pandemic have one thing in common: They were all committed by police forces that were established to protect white supremacy.

The white supremacist roots of American policing is well known – the first police forces in the US were ‘slave patrols’ formed to surveil Black people and contain Black resistance. Abolition of slavery did little to change the core purpose of policing in the country, as all expressions of Black freedom were criminalised.

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Excerpted from: ‘From Africa to the US, policing has its roots in white supremacy’

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