Reckless rhetoric won’t stop gang  war

Reckless rhetoric won’t stop gang war

TEMEKI Tšolo, Minister in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s office, is in the eye of a storm after he allegedly ordered the police to kill criminals.
Tšolo told a public gathering in Mafeteng that the police should “cock the gun” and be ready to shoot criminals.
There was immediate outrage from some who saw the statements as an open-ended licence to the police to use brute force in the battle against crime.

We share Tšolo’s frustration with the carnage of the famo gang wars that have earned Mafeteng the deserved and dubious distinction as the murder capital of Lesotho.
Dozens of men have been killed in the tit-for-tat killings, most of which happen in public places and in broad daylight.
Innocent people have been caught in the crossfire and villagers live in fear.
Yet we think Tšolo’s order to the police to cock their guns is reckless political rhetoric that might be music to the ears of voters but will not solve the problem. Talking tough is not a policing strategy.

There is danger that the situation could escalate as criminal gangs might start targeting the police. History has shown that fighting fire with fire is not the best crime busting strategy.
If criminals know that the police are under instructions to shoot to kill they are likely to respond with more violence.
Tšolo could be overestimating the police’s capacity to fight a violent war against hardened criminals who don’t think twice before killing. He is also underestimating the gangs’ ability to respond with equal force.

Gangs, by their nature, don’t play according to the rules but the police have to adhere to strict procedures or they become villains themselves.
Tšolo is also giving the police unrestrained authority to use force yet he doesn’t have control over how, when and on whom they can use it.
In doing so, the minister is also tacitly endorsing the same violent methods the police have been known to use on suspects.
A better solution is to enhance the police’s intelligence-gathering and investigative skills.

The fact that the murders have continued for more than a decade reflects that the police lack the skills to either prevent them with preemptive measures or solve those that have happened.
It is no secret that hundreds of murders have turned into cold cases because the police have neither the means nor the skills to solve them.
Tšolo’s suggestion only works in cases where the police are pursuing a suspect or have stumbled upon a crime being committed.
But policing is much more than chasing criminals. Rarely do police find criminals in the act.

The biggest problem here is that of too many guns in dangerous hands. Illegal guns are involved in nearly all famo gang murders.
We appreciate that there are routine operations to confiscate illegal guns but we do not believe those are going far enough.
The penalties for those caught with unlicensed guns are too soft to deter others from arming themselves. And in a place where the gun is your only form of protection the necessity to be armed far outweighs the danger of being caught with one.

Tšolo should be lobbying parliament to have strict gun laws.
At the same time he should also be finding ways to deal with the culture and environment that makes it necessary for people to own illegal guns and join gangs.
He should be pushing to cut the number of young people lured into violent gangs. The “cock the gun” mantra won’t stop the killings.

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