Corruption and Vice

A reader who enjoyed A Run Of Bad Luck asked me why I wrote about policemen who were corrupt and immoral. I’ve given it a bit of thought and this story best explains how it came about:

On a troop hike with the scouts. I’m the little one in the middle with the white hat.

June 1985, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. There is a full moon and our scout troop is playing what we call a Wide Game. We sometimes play these games in the parks, on this occasion we are playing in the streets and dark alleys surrounding the scout hut.

Mostly we’re concerned for our safety. Not safety from the evils that lurk in the streets at night, nobody really cares about them, but safety from the big scouts. They’re eighteen years old and strong enough to dangle us by our ankles if they catch us. It’s all part of the game. We decide to find a place to hide, somewhere the big scouts won’t find us and somewhere we can lie in wait to ambush the really small scouts.

Our team may well be winning, we can’t tell from this far away. All we know for sure is that the game isn’t over yet, because when it is we’ll hear Norman sounding the Kudu horn. Until then, every tiny scout that isn’t in our team is fair game.

We pick a spot down an alley behind the shops and houses. We’re nicely out of sight in the shadows and we can see the entrance to the alley quite clearly. A perfect spot for an ambush. In the houses nearby there is a radio playing music and we can hear voices. It’s a warm night, the windows and doors are all open. We’re watching for the other scouts, expecting to see them trying to sneak past us. Instead we see three policemen go into one of the houses.

The radio falls silent. The voices are raised, men and a woman. The policeman demands to know who she will vote for. We cannot hear her answer, but we hear her scream when they hit her. We cannot see them hit her, we are still hiding in the alley, but we hear the blow striking her flesh clearly enough.

We look at each other in the moonlight. We know we shouldn’t be witnessing this. The policeman demands again to know who she will be voting for. Something metal clatters onto the floor in the house and the woman screams again. We don’t need to discuss what to do now, we get up from our hiding place and run away up the alley. We’ll take our chances with the big scouts.

That wasn’t a nice thing for a young boy to experience, but I’m grateful that it wasn’t me that was on the receiving end of that beating. Nobody I know has suffered treatment like that, but I had heard it, heard the blows landing and heard the frightened screams. What made it worse was that she was beaten by the very people she should have been able to go to for help. What I learned that night was that policemen aren’t always good, and they’re not always on your side.

Of course, I write about British policemen, not Zimbabweans, and I like to hope that there’s a difference. There is, I suspect, less tendency to election rigging, but there will still be all the same temptations to abuse the power and authority that comes with the uniform.

I don’t believe that all policemen are corrupt, but what I do believe is that they’re all human. There isn’t a magic about the uniform that suddenly makes them honest and fair. They’re living with the same wonky moral compass that the rest of us have to contend with. Most of them will be honest, because most people are. Some of them will be evil. Many will have elements of both.

I write about the corrupt and immoral policeman, and I write about the good policeman, and sometimes it can be the same man.


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