“I am more scared of the cops than criminals”

Palesa Morudu

Palesa Morudu is a South African writer based in Washington DC. After yet another police shooting of a black man in the US, she reports on police violence and the unanswered questions about the killing of the South African Lindani Myeni in Hawaii. 

My everyday deep fear about living in the United States is an encounter with the police.

I am more fearful of the cops than any random criminal in the streets. 

Last year alone, police killed 1,127 people according to a comprehensive report on police violence from Mapping Police Violence (MPV).  

Four months into 2021 the MPV says “there have only been three days… where the police did not kill someone.” 335 people have so far been killed. 

One of them is Lindani Myeni, a native of South Africa, who was killed by the police in Honolulu, Hawaii on 14 April. Myeni had just recently moved to the United States with his American wife and their two small children.  

In a Facebook post full of American flag emojis that has since been removed, Myeni seemed clearly excited about his decision to move to the United States.  

He said, “Thank you America for taking care of me and my family and showing me true family values.  A country with a hard and sad history but yet find a way for an African man from Ubombo to feel completely free…” 

The circumstances of his killing are unclear. According to the Honolulu police and the partial bodycam footage they released, Myeni attacked them as they confronted him after responding to a 911 call about a burglary. A woman can be heard in the body cam screaming “it is him” in reference to Myeni. The police are yet to release the 911 tapes, the dispatch recordings, and the full body-worn cam footage for a full picture to emerge. They claim that Myeni was a violent man and that the police were in the fight for their lives.

His widow Lindsay Myeni and her lawyer Jim Bickerton are demanding a full disclosure of what transpired. They have filed a suit for wrongful death against the City and County of Honolulu and the unknown police officers who killed him. “The last thing I wanted to do was to have to go to court just a week after Lindani’s death, but our requests for information have been ignored. I trust that asking a jury of our peers to look at this case will help us get the information we need and the justice Lindani deserves,” Lindsay said. 

But will he get justice? 

The data in the MPV report on police killings tells the horror story of policing in the United States. It points to cops who are quick to go for their guns and shoot, and often when seemingly responding to “suspected non-violent offences.” Of the 1,127 people killed last year, 96 percent were shot dead by police. Of the total, 601 cases involved police responding to a suspected non-violent offence, and 121 involved alleged traffic violations. 

According to the report “black people were more likely to be killed by police, more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed.” 

The report says only 16 cops were charged with a crime in all the cases of a police shooting in 2020.  

One of them is former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd in May last year. The entire world saw Chauvin snuff the life out of Floyd for 9 minutes and 37 seconds in a video captured by Darnella Frazier, the teenager who also testified for the state at Chauvin’s trial.  

Jerry Blackwell, the prosecuting attorney, told the jury that the case “isn’t that complicated… It’s so simple that a child could understand it. In fact, a child — the nine-year-old girl who was among the bystanders at the scene on 25 May 2020, and testified at the trial — did understand it.” He said, “you can believe your eyes… It was what you thought it was. It was what you saw.”

Only one cop, Chauvin, among the 16 who were charged, has so far been convicted. In a twisted way, Floyd’s case was in a sense easy. The weight of eyewitness and video evidence, and police who were willing to testify against him, meant that Chauvin could not escape a guilty verdict. The New York Times noted that “the outcome was a rarity in America: Very few prosecutors have ever convicted a police officer of murder for killing on the job.” 

In Myeni’s case, there are seemingly three sets of witnesses who know what took place. It is the woman who screamed “it is him;” the police; and Myeni, who is now dead. Until a full picture emerges of what transpired on the evening of 14 April, his name is now added to a long and continually growing list of victims of American police violence.  

Myeni’s remains arrive in South Africa on Friday. May he rest in peace. The cops who killed him should be held to account. The South African government and its people must demand #JusticeForMyeni.

Picture source: TheSouthAfrican

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