Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith is faced with the first major public crisis of his tenure since taking over the reins of leadership of the Royal Barbados Police Force. The eyes of Barbadian citizenry will be fixed on the unfolding events as they relate to the shooting death of Selwyn Knight and the wounding of Junior Knight of Queen Mary Road, Bank Hall, St Michael.
Initial reports appear to indicate that an unarmed Selwyn Knight lost his life under circumstances where he was not involved in criminal activity, nor perpetrating any act of violence towards any member of the Royal Barbados Police Force or against any other law-abiding citizen.
Mr Knight reportedly lost his life at the hands of a police constable while trying to retrieve property stolen from his home by a suspect now in custody. Of course, we expect a full enquiry to determine culpability; to ascertain if there is evidence of an extrajudicial killing; to discover whether recklessness and/or negligence was attached to the shooting; to decide whether the police constable involved is liable for an indictment of murder or manslaughter; or should
Whatever the findings of the police investigation, we expect that the constable alleged to be responsible for Knight’s death will be afforded due process and be viewed by the general public as innocent of any crime until so determined by a court of law.
The point being made, therefore, is that we do not subscribe to the Royal Barbados Police Force making any final internal determination of innocence or guilt, but that the necessary investigation be carried out and the Director of Public Prosecutions and/or a court of law bring this sad situation to some degree of closure in the interest of transparency and justice.
Barbadians are undoubtedly grateful that Junior Knight survived this ordeal to tell his tale. We will not speculate on what “facts” might have been attached to this incident had he suffered the same fate as his father. Reports that he has been allegedly approached to change his initial statement of the incident given to the police speaks volumes about the good fortune of his having lived to vent on Sunday’s tragedy.
There are a number of areas that will require clarification. We are aware that the Royal Barbados Police Force has a standing order that spells out in precise language the circumstances under which a firearm should be used, inclusive of the application of deadly force. That standing order speaks to the immediate threat to life and limb of an officer or member of the public. Thus, one would expect to have clarity as to what stage of the Knights’ attempt to apprehend a suspected felon in Dash Gap, Bank Hall, St Michael, was the life of the police officer involved placed in jeopardy in his home, or the life of any other citizen on the road compromised. We would also expect clarity to be brought to allegations that the shooting occurred at Dash Gap without anyone being identified as a police officer prior to the death of Mr Knight.
Though this is a highly emotional issue, it must be probed dispassionately and without the slightest suggestion of bias. It is within such circumstances that any member of the public who witnessed Sunday’s tragedy should see it as a civic responsibility to assist the Royal Barbados Police Force with their investigation.
There might be a need for the force’s hierarchy to re-emphasize and reinforce its standing order with respect to the usage of firearms. There is certainly a need for officers to be psychological vetted in terms of their judgement before being entrusted with firearms.
If there are previous cases where any officer has shown poor judgement in relation to other matters –– life threatening or otherwise –– considerable thought by the senior administration should be given before deploying or assigning that police officer to any task or posting where a service revolver is required.
The Royal Barbados Police Force has a proud record of service to the island, and we hope that sober thinking prevails among the populace with respect to Sunday’s events. This, we believe, was an exception and not the rule. There is neither documented nor undocumented evidence that innocent civilians are arbitrarily gunned down on Barbadian streets by our police officers.
However, if Mr Knight’s case is an exception, as we believe, then the manner in which Acting Commissioner Griffith deals with the tragedy, and the level of transparency and dissemination of information brought to bear on the probe will determine whether the public’s faith and trust in the police are maintained.
Our deepest condolences and prayers for healing are with the Knight family in this their bleakest hour.