Accountability in Policing: How Complicity Perpetuates Institutional Injustice and Inequities in the United States and South Africa
35 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2018 Last revised: 23 Feb 2018
Date Written: January 27, 2018
A comparison of the United States and South Africa is instructive in understanding how complicit behavior perpetuates institutional racism. In both the United States and South Africa, police and prosecutors have often faced accusations of racially biased decisionmaking. Racial bias is not a new concept; it is derived from political systems that separated people based on race. In the United States, the system is commonly known as segregation; in South Africa, the system is known as apartheid. Significantly, in both countries, the racial separation was institutionalized and enforced by governmental agents, particularly police and prosecutors.
However, there are notable differences between the two countries’ accountability systems for policing that reveal a deeper understanding of the causes of institutional racism than would be possible when examining each country separately. One lesson revealed is the importance of understanding the impact of race through the intersectional lens of each country’s patriarchal system and culture. Additionally, the differences in the countries’ structures and functions of accountability systems for policing are instructive because of the similarities in the countries’ histories.
This Article is a culmination of research and interviews personally conducted by the author in South Africa. Many of the understandings regarding the structures and function of policing accountability in South Africa are directly based off the interviews conducted. The Article will begin with an overview of political inequality and three methods that can be used to understand a citizen’s ability to exercise political power. Section II discusses the structural barriers created by using criminal prosecutions as a solution for police violence. Section III examines the barriers to civil lawsuits as a means for accountability against police violence. Section IV analyzes the policing culture of impunity, and how it has acted as a barrier to self-regulation and internal accountability. Finally, Section V proposes lessons on how to improve accountability for police violence in the future.
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