I am totally confused –– and alarmed –– as I greet you today. I am now convinced that my small island home is in a trance.
Not only are the vast majority of its inhabitants in a stupor, but also divorced from all the tenets of right and wrong. I am watching my island become a place where “letting the process work” is used as an expedient to perpetrate the most naked injustices against the people of this country.
The system must work in the CLICO debacle. The system must work in the case of the unfairly dismissed National Conservation Commission workers. And now that an innocent law-abiding citizen has been gunned down outside his home in cold blood, we must again wait on this elusive and seemingly convenient system to activate and deliver justice to the victim’s family. We are playing dangerous games with the stability of Barbados.
The economic soundness of the country has already been absent for at least the last two years, and we are now adding a layer of social volatility by stoking the fires of despondency and feelings of injustice among ordinary citizens. Coupled with our traditional, systemic issues of race, class and privilege, we are now stirring a highly explosive mixture with unemployment figures being elevated and schooling and other social opportunities becoming unavailable.
We have traditionally looked at societies like Jamaica, Guyana and Haiti and been comfortable to assert that Barbados was nothing like them and would never become anything like them. I have lived in Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Barbados. More and more I find myself asking the question what makes us so sure Barbados is so far removed from these societies.
And, even if it still is, how much longer can we continue as we are and not become just like them?
On Sunday, March 15, Selwyn Knight was shot and killed. The autopsy done on him shows that a single bullet entered his back and pierced his heart killing him instantly. Knight’s son, who was also in his company at the time of the incident, was shot in his back.
As the media reports painted the picture during the subsequent days, we learnt that Knight lost his life while trying to defend his property from a robber. The public relations officer of the Royal Barbados Police Force described the shooting as a “police-involved shooting”. The public of Barbados is still awaiting an outcome in the case.
Residents and other eyewitnesses, including the son of the deceased, seem to be suggesting that charges need to be laid in the matter. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in a media published interview, has indicated that he does not expect the file of the incident to reach his desk for another three months.
I was under the impression there were basic tenets that guided the justice system wherever it was established and that these were universal benchmarks of best practice. I thought that justice not only had to be done but also had to be seen to be done.
Barbadians have seen a swift remedy for the robber in this case, on the one hand, and then they were told they would have to wait three months for the rest of the investigation to be concluded. When a person is looking to see justice done this kind of blinder is offensive.
I was also under the impression that justice delayed was justice denied. Therefore for all the people awaiting justice in this country including the Knight family, to hear the Director of Public Prosecutions outline ‘the usual process’ which takes three month for a file to reach him and to not seem perturbed over it must be a resounding slap in the face. For years now I have feared the police in Barbados. I feel, in a real way, that Selwyn Knight’s fate could have been mine at points before, and still could be mine at points in the future, based on how policing in Barbados is done.
I fear the police, as a person living in a female body. I fear the police, as a member of the Rastafarian community. I fear the police, as an “ordinary” Barbadian who will not have access to privilege to get the type of service seemingly reserved for people with privilege.
This most recent incident reaffirms the fear I have of police . . . . I am not sure how we can be so comfortable in Barbados that this incident is not enjoying our collective attention. Sweeping away issues such as this one does not do any good for our society. As we continue to “let the system work” be used as an excuse for what several other people see as injustice, we are further creating an antisystemic philosophy in our citizenry. This takes us farther away from the solutions for fixing the system in my opinion.
If the Police Force and the organs of prosecution cannot provide a swift response in this circumstance, imagine how much more slower they would be dealing with the issues of intimate partner violence, where the effects may not be as clear to see as what happened in Knight’s case. If it takes three months to complete such an investigation, we can understand why it sometimes takes years for the police to organize restraining orders or other interventions on behalf of women who most times end up dead at the hands of their offending partners.
We can imagine how women are treated when they go to police stations to make complaints, if the wider public must suffer this kind of apathy.
Our primary health care in this country is broken. Our economy is badly off. Our women and girls are not as safe
as they should be in their homes, schools and at work. Our educational system is shot.
On top of all that, we now have an innocent man dead, his son injured and no indication of when justice will be dispensed. So my question this week is: exactly what is a failed state? And how far or close are we in Barbados?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: [email protected])