Are we prejudging Oscar Pistorius?

The case of Oscar Pistorius, the sensational South African double amputee, widely referred to as “Bladerunner”, is a particularly difficult case for many South Africans to digest. Oscar was one of the most talked about athletes of the games, almost eclipsing the brilliance of Michael Phelps, the American swimming sensation.

Oscars’ story is something that South Africa needed, a softly spoken, self-effacing and apparently humble man, who has managed to overcome a disability that would have precluded most people from achieving sporting fame. For whites, who once dominated this country, his story is evidence that they, too, can still succeed despite the odds.

That is what shattered the silent dreams of many. Around the world, people held Oscar up as a hero, as a great white hope, as someone who kids wanted to emulate, that adults could brandish with pride as one of our own, that advertisers like Nike fought over. That has changed dramatically.

I was very quick to prejudge the case and assume Oscar’s guilt, and for very good reasons. Initial reports indicated that Reeva was shot with a handgun. They also indicated that Oscar possessed a handgun, a “machine gun”, although we are not certain of the details, a cricket bat and a baseball bat.

All these weapons were kept in the bedroom because Oscar was afraid of intruders, and, being an amputee was afraid that his mobility would affect his ability to respond to a threat. We know about these weapons from news reports, and from a personal interview with Oscar by an American sports journalist who had seen these weapons.

I am opposed to the possession of personal weapons of any sort. People claim that they are responsible gun owners, and that there are many responsible gun owners that they know. We have no way to verify that people are in fact responsible for their weapons.

Do they keep the gun and ammunition separate? Do they keep the weapons locked in a gun safe? If they do neither, they are not responsible gun owners. We know that guns in the home are at least nine times more likely to cause injury to people living in the house than are intruders. More people are killed by family members than by intruders.

Reports show that Oscar kept his “machine gun” propped up against the wall, not a responsible thing to do, his 9mm automatic pistol under his pillow, also not a responsible thing to do considering the accident that can happen at any time.

We also know that Pistorius applied for licenses to six more weapons including two revolvers, a rifle and three shotguns. There is no reason for any person to possess all these weapons. He most certainly could not use them all at the same time to defend himself. A single weapon is enough for that.

One reason that it is so irresponsible to keep weapons close at hand is that during an argument, it is far too easy to use those weapons, even unintentionally. People are not good at keeping their tempers in stressful situations.

We also know that Reeva visited Oscar regularly. If he were a responsible gun owner, he would have called out to her before shooting, which would have solved the situation quite easily. Subsequent reports show that she entered the community at six the previous evening, so Oscar knew that she was there, there is no excuse at all.

We now know that he shot her through the bathroom door. From this it is quite plain that his life was not in danger. You cannot claim that your life is in danger until you see whether an intruder is armed or not, even at night. There must be some indication that the intruder is in fact armed.

It would presumably have been quite simple for Oscar to call out that he was armed and would shoot unless the intruder came out quietly. One call would have been enough for Reeva to answer. How can he claim that this was a dangerous intruder without laying eyes on the intruder. It could well have been a harmless intruder that wanted only to take his possessions. If he did not see the alleged intruder, he cannot claim a clear and present danger.

As more reports have emerged, I believe that it is far more difficult for Oscar to claim innocence. He claims that he went out onto the balcony to get some air. When he returned he would have had to go passed the bed, in which Reeva probably should have been. Even at night, it is easy to see whether someone is in bed or not, the eyes adjust easily even in fairly dark places.

If she was spending the night, it would have been the most responsible thing to do to call out to see whether she was in the bathroom or not. I contend that only someone consumed by paranoia would rush into a room and start shooting, when he knew that there were other people in the house at the time.

No conscientious gun owner would start shooting without knowing what he was shooting at. If Oscar had lived entirely alone, the intruder story might make a credible defense, but since Reeva had arrived the night before, it has no credibility. We know that Reeva arrived the night before because there are video recordings of her arriving. That she was in the home, cannot be questioned.

Oscar also claimed that he was on his stumps and feeling vulnerable when he fired into the bathroom. However, reports indicate that the shots were fired from above, not below, so he was standing on his prostheses, not his stumps as he indicated.

Oscar also did not phone emergency services to assist Reeva, who, from some reports was still alive. Instead he phone his father, and friends. This is not the action of someone that wanted to save her life.

Reports have also emerged that needles and boxes of testosterone were found in the house. Testosterone is known to cause ‘roid rage, induced by an excessive use of steroidal supplements. This kind of rage can exacerbate a violent standoff.

It is true that South Africa is one of the most violent societies on Earth, and that people are justified in being cautious wherever they are. Armed robbery is common in South Africa, as is the rate of murder by firearm. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that possession of a personal firearm is going to make people any safer, and most figures show that it makes life far more dangerous.

Since the Firearm Control Act of 2000, which limited personal firearms in South Africa, murders by gun have dropped steadily, due to declining gun ownership. There are still too many guns in South Africa, estimates are over 4 million, and with many weapons remaining from the guerilla war with SWAPO and the ANC. The murder rate is still far too high, and the onlly answer to that is to reduce the level of gun ownership.

There is some evidence in Oscars case, that there was some level of domestic disturbance, and possibly domestic violence. On the night in question, it appears that there was an altercation at Oscars home. If this is the case, it makes Oscar’s position a lot more tenuous. Some reports indicate that the police had been called before to deal with domestic disturbances at the home.

What also strikes me is the unlikely scenario that has been painted by Pistorius. If an intruder was in the home, what on earth was he doing in the upstairs bathroom, and how did he get there? It is unlikely that an intruder would climb a wall to get into an upstairs room.

Why not just enter on the ground floor? If they entered on the ground floor, how did they get passed two sleeping people, and what were they doing in the bathroom? Stealing soap or bath tissue? This does not make any sense. If an intruder was in the home, they would probably want TV’s, sound system and the like. How would they get passed the guards at the gate?

There are other reasons to suspect that Pistorius is not entirely what he seems. We know that he is obsessed with crime and violence in South Africa, and paranoid about the relative dangers involved. New reports indicate that Oscar had a temper, and once fired a gun at a restaurant. We have to ask whether he was stable enough to own weapons at all.

Pistorius may still get off. There may be enough evidence to exonerate him, if he can find a plausible scenario. People, myself included, do prejudge without knowing all the facts. However, the facts, or reports that are coming out of this particular case make it very difficult to conjure a credible scenario that would explain Oscar’s actions.

There is another, more sinister side to this case. It appears that people are largely split along racial lines as to Oscars guilt or innocence. Most whites, it seems, think that Oscar probably did think that he shot an intruder, while most blacks think he killed her intentionally. For whites, there is an assumption that criminals are all black, that an intruder is likely to be black and have violent intentions. The murder rate in the country certainly seems to give credence to this perspective.

What this case shows, and I believe that time will prove me correct, is that murder and violence are not black crimes, they are equal opportunity crimes. Violence is as likely to be present in white as black communities. Domestic violence is an enormous problem in South Africa, with a woman being raped every four seconds.

I am convinced that the government needs to tackle this unparalleled record. But these crimes are not exclusive to the black population. Domestic violence is a problem across all barriers, whether it is rich and poor, black and white, male and female.

It may be that Oscar will not be found guilty, that he did believe that Reeva was an intruder. That does not change Oscar’s inherent paranoia and gun obsession, and that, ultimately is what led to Reeva’s death. For that, I do not believe that there is any forgiveness.

His actions, his delusions, his fear and his gun possession led to Reeva’s untimely death. For that alone, he should be punished. If he gets away, anyone can commit murder and claim that he believed his life was in danger, and that puts everyone’s life at risk.

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