Guns, booze, rednecks and traffic cops don’t mix (well)

I’d be very uncomfortable saying that anyone deserves to die, or be killed, mostly because I don’t know what the word “deserve” might mean in that claim. Regardless of this, though, it’s nonetheless sometimes the case that people do things that are more likely to cause harm to befall them. This is why Formula One drivers would pay higher insurance premiums than professional cricketers. It’s also sometimes the case that people might have the sort of character that leads them into situations of increased potential harm. Risk-takers would be an example, as would people who make a habit of causing offense.

Eugene Terre’Blance was one who caused offense, due to his racially divisive views. He was more likely to be killed than most of us are, other things being equal. Given his racist views, one can imagine that he might well say more inflammatory things, and provoke greater hostilities, if he was involved in an altercation with a black person. Yet we can still sympathise with the grief experienced by those who happened to look upon him fondly, for whatever reason, once he had been killed.

On January 5, a less celebrated death befell Luke Fairweather, an ex-Western Province cricketer who also managed a Western Province youth cricket team. I learned of his death at Newlands yesterday, when we noticed that the flags around the ground were flying at half-mast. Apparently, Fairweather was well-liked by many, and his death has brought tributes from notable cricket folk such as Omar Henry. And as sad as his death may be to those who knew and were fond of him, the circumstances of his death were peculiar, and make one wonder about whether things might have gone differently, for someone else in the same situation.

As reported on IOL, a “City of Cape Town traffic officer allegedly shot Fairweather during a scuffle over parking”. Fairweather died soon thereafter, and the traffic officer was arrested on a charge of murder. But how the hell does one get shot over parking? Well, according to a witness, slamming the police officer’s head into a parked vehicle may have had something to do with it. The police spokesperson, Lyndon Sisam, said:

The traffic officer approached a motorist parking and told her she was not allowed to park there. They started arguing. The woman’s son (Fairweather) then got involved and also started arguing with the traffic officer. He started to push the traffic officer around and assaulted him. He smashed the traffic officer’s head into the parked vehicle. The traffic officer warned him to stop. In between the fighting (Fairweather) was shot at several times.

We don’t know whether the traffic officer was black, and we don’t know how many beers Fairweather may have had that day. But we do know that neither of those factors influence, in any way, the fact that it is illegal to park in a disabled bay, as Fairweather’s mother allegedly did. The officer was entirely within his rights to ask her to move, and to issue a ticket when she refused. She was committing an illegal act, as was Fairweather in assaulting the officer. And if Fairweather was warned to desist, and refused, then we can understand – if not necessarily condone – the officer’s impulse to use his weapon. Of course, he perhaps had the option (or obligation) of firing a warning shot, but we weren’t there, and have no idea of how much threat the officer perceived himself to be under.

All we have are a few clues, which come from Fairweather’s Facebook profile, and which have subsequently been deleted. “Ultra Rightwing Conservative” was his stated political view. And his biography included this:

Politically, offensively conservative and care more for animals than I do for the self-inflicted suffering of the indiscriminately fornicating black masses. I believe in the death penalty and a birth control pill that lasts for 10 years.

If the officer was black, it appears to be at least possible, if not probable, that Fairweather would have been more aggressive towards the officer than many of us might have been. Perhaps even to the extent that the officer did feel threatened, and thought he had little option but to fire a shot. We simply don’t know. But what we do know is that – if anyone tries to turn this story into one about irresponsible cowboy-cops – then that would be somewhat simplistic. And amidst the justified sadness felt by some at the death of a friend/family member, it’s also worth asking whether the tributes by CricketSA should have been somewhat tempered by Fairweather’s apparent lack of commitment to racial equality in South Africa.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.