COPS GUN DOWN SA GENTLE GIANT
‘He would not have been shot had he been white’
● A South African club rugby player, Lindani Myeni, 29, who was shot dead by police in Hawaii this week, “would not hurt a fly”, his friends and family said yesterday.
But camera footage released by the Honolulu police department on Friday showed Myeni attacking policemen. It showed an officer unsuccessfully attempting to subdue Myeni with a Taser before shots were fired.
The footage was taken on body cameras carried by two of the three officers who were called to a house in Honolulu after the report of a burglary on Wednesday night.
All three policemen were hurt in the confrontation, one of them hospitalised.
Myeni and his wife, Lindsay Myeni, a US citizen, had two children. The family live in Honolulu.
His wife told KITV in Honolulu that her husband was “gentle and loving and the best father and husband I could’ve asked for”.
“There’s no reason this should have happened. I’m white and I guarantee he would not have been shot had he been white.”
“Lindani is not ... violent,” said his stepfather, Charles Mchunu.
“He grew up in the Boy Scouts where he gained a lot of discipline and respect.”
Mchunu said the camera footage “doesn’t add up”. He said he did not want to speculate on whether race played a role in his stepson’s death.
“We await a proper investigation,” he said.
Recent police killings of black males, including a 13-year-old boy in Chicago last month, have sparked protests and controversy in the US, especially after the death of George Floyd last May.
Myeni was a rugby flank forward who played for Durban’s Jaguars, Empangeni Rhinos and teams in his home town of eSikhawini, near Richards Bay and Empangeni.
Junior Makhoba, a former rugby coach of Myeni, said they last spoke on Tuesday, a day before Myeni died.
Makhoba, who is the Zululand Rugby Sub-Union president, said Myeni was looking forward to returning to SA and had many dreams.
“We spoke about life in general and he told me about the things he would like to do when he comes back,” he said.
“Lindani was supposed to have returned last year but Covid-19 scuppered his plans. He couldn’t bring his whole family because of the travel restrictions.
“He was very disciplined and also an easy-going person. He made friends easily, he did not keep to himself. He never forgot where he came from. Whenever he was home, he played in the local team. He always availed himself.”
Makhoba disputed the Honolulu police version of Myeni’s death. “Lindani was a spiritual person,” he said.
“He was a church man and he did not confine himself to one church. He went to any church near him. If he went to the Eastern Cape, he attended whatever church that was available.
“He was not aggressive or violent. I watched the video that was released by police in [Hawaii]. I have known Lindani the whole of his life and it can’t be that after a year of moving over there he has become aggressive. It feels like they are not referring to the same Lindani I know.
“Most people he grew up with and fellow sportsmen can attest to this. But we were not there during the incident and we can only speculate about what transpired. But it’s unlike him and the behaviour that they are describing is contrary to what we know.”
News reports in Hawaii said police responded to a report of a burglary at a house in the Honolulu neighbourhood of Nuuanu on Wednesday evening. The reports said a person called 911 to report a man behaving strangely in a parked car.
The first officer who responded had his body camera switched off and it was only activated after the incident, police said. Bodycamera footage from a second officer on the scene shows Myeni walking in a driveway asking, “Where you at, where you at?”
A woman standing at the door of a house shouts: “That’s him, that’s him.” The officer, using a torch, is shown going towards the woman and drawing his weapon. As the officer approaches, Myeni can be seen next to another officer.
The second officer orders Myeni to “get on the ground”. Myeni can be seen approaching the officer with his fists clenched. Footage shows Myeni punching the second officer and asking: “Why?” A scuffle ensues.
One of the officers falls as he tries to subdue Myeni with a Taser. Myeni is then seen attacking another officer. When the officer on the ground stands up, Myeni attacks him, punching him.
A shot is fired, followed by three more. Honolulu police chief Susan Ballard said Myeni had entered a house in Nuuanu and spoken to the residents. He left soon after and “sat in his vehicle” before police arrived.