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Western Cape Anti-Eviciton Campaign, 29 June 2008

Police Intimidate & Assault Delft-Symphony Pavement Dwellers – American journalist pepper sprayed for taking photos

Delft-Symphony — Last night at 22h00, three police vans pulled up to Symphony Way dressed in riot gear. Without warning, they began pepper spraying people in the settlement and attempted to arrest a 58 year old resident named Auntie Tilla. When it was all over, the road’s pastor had been assaulted, beaten and abducted and five residents had been pepper sprayed multiple times. An American journalist had also been sprayed merely for taking photographs of police officers. The Anti-Eviction Campaign believes this intimidation and violence is uncalled for and condemns such cowardly actions by police. As of today, residents and the American journalist have laid charges of assault against Superintendent Van Wyk and the police under his command. Pavement Dwellers call on police to work with them to protect them from speeding drunk drivers rather than against them.

The incident began in the late afternoon when a drunk (on-duty) police officer from the Delft police department arrived at the Symphony Way pavement settlement and began to harass residents. Auntie Tilla, a loved and respected elder in the community, was bothered by the officer’s actions and attempted to make a citizen’s arrest for public violence and consumption of alcohol while on-duty. However, after bothering residents, the cop jumped into his car and sped away.

An hour later, a caravan of 3 police vans with over 15 officers arrived in front of Auntie Tilla’s shack and began threatening residents and seeking to arrest them. American journalist, Toussaint Losier likened the police operation to “cowboys jumping out of their vans looking for a fight. Without their name-tags on they had the clear intention of intimidating and assaulting residents”. But residents banded together trying to protect Auntie Tilla from being arrested. As a response, Van Wyk ordered police to pepper spray residents.

Brother Alfred Arnolds, a respected pastor who lives on the road with residents, was sprayed, assaulted, beaten by police and then thrown unconscious into one of the vans. He describes the event as follows: “When they came back it was like they were going to shoot some kind of movie. The way they came at Auntie Tilla and Etienne, I had to intervene…As you can see, this government has no sympathy for us. That is why we are living in these conditions”. Arnolds claims that after he awoke at the police station, he was kicked and beaten again, striped of 150 Rand, and then left injured in from of the station.

Toussaint Losier, a student from the university of Chicago as well as a journalist for the Boston Banner, was was taking pictures of the incident when Superintendent Van Wyk came and pushed the camera out of the way threatening: “you can’t take pictures of police officers conducting their operations…[and added] you shouldn’t be supporting the people on Symphony Way”. Knowing he was protected by South Africa’s constitution, Toussaint identified himself as a journalist and took a picture of an officer shoving a resident. Immediately afterwards, a police officer came right up to him and sprayed him directly in the eyes.

Twenty minutes after the police had abducted Pastor Arnolds, residents marched to the Delft police station where where they were ignored and laughed at by detectives and other policemen. Residents then went all the way to Bellville Police Station where they laid the charges of assault against Superintendent Van Wyk and called for the arrest of the special operations gang of Delft police who were under his command at the time.

While residents wait, hoping the law might finally be on their side, Tilla offered others a bit of perspective on the incident: “Why are they making us live like this when there are empty houses right here [across the road]. They think we are animals, but we are not animals. We know our rights!”

In reality, this unwarranted brutality by Delft police officers is merely part of a larger campaign by provincial and city government to vilify, intimidate and control the families who have nowhere else to go. Residents refuse to leave the road until they are given the houses that have been promised to them for decades. They know that if they leave Symphony Way, they will be swept under the rug, forgotten and stuck in a ‘temporary’ shacks for another ten years. But because they choose to protest and not be silent, they are bearing the brunt of this oppressive government and violent police gangs.

For comment, contact Ashraf at 076-186-1408. He can connect you to the witnesses and victims of the crime.

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