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South African leader calls for calm after teen’s death

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appealed for calm on Friday after protests broke out in a Johannesburg suburb over the death of a disabled teenager allegedly killed by police.

Nathaniel Julius, 16, was shot dead on Wednesday night in Eldorado Park, a township ravaged by drugs and crime.

Family members say Julius, who had Down’s Syndrome, was out to buy biscuits from a shop when he was shot by police on patrol.

Violent protests flared in Eldorado Park on Thursday as hundreds of residents took to the street denouncing the death.

Police fired teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the protesters, who threw rocks and damaged a local police station.

Ramaphosa called on the community not to let their anger “spill over into action that could worsen the trauma”.

“Justice can only prevail if community workers work with our criminal justice system to address alleged injustice,” the president said in a statement.

Ramaphosa offered his condolences to the Julius family, saying the “community that deserves better”.

South Africa’s police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is investigating the killing.

Tension remained high in Eldorado Park on Friday.

An angry crowd gathered when Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the mourning family, jeering and chanting “We want justice”.

“A young innocent soul has been killed,” Cele told residents and reporters after paying his tributes.

“The allegations are that members of South African police are involved in the killing,” he said, promising that those found guilty would face justice.

– Recurrent brutality –

Police brutality has been stoked by confinement measures rolled out in March to limit the spread of coronavirus.

At least ten people have died at the hands of security forces, including soldiers enforcing lockdown rules, according to the IPID, which has also received more than 370 complaints linked to Covid-19 operations.

Most of that police violence was directed towards non-white citizens — a recurring pattern in a country still starkly divided along racial lines.

But this year, global outrage against racially motivated violence in the United States has shone light onto South Africa’s own police brutality.

“There is no evidence of any provocation and it’s difficult to understand why live ammunition could be used in a community such as this,” Archbishop Malusi Mpumlwana, head of the South African Council of Churches, told local media outside the Julius household.

“We can’t say Black Lives Matter in the United States if we don’t say it in South Africa.”

While the circumstances of Julius’ death remain unclear, the family alleged police opened fire on the teenager after he failed to respond to questions due to his disability.

“The cops called him over, he went over and they just shot him,” Julius’ uncle Cyril Brown told AFP.

He claimed the officers then drove him to hospital and told doctors he had been caught in a cross-fire between criminal gangs.

The teenager’s death has sparked outrage on social media, with the hashtag #JusticeforNathanielJulius trending on Twitter.

More than 84,000 people have signed an online petition calling for those responsible to be prosecuted.

“Police brutality is not just an American problem,” tweeted South African social activist Luke Waltham. “It’s a problem in our country too.”