It sounds strange when young men in the prime of their lives reportedly jump off cliffs or hang themselves with jeans, all because they happen to be in the same vicinity as Barbadian police.
I saw an interview with Angela Best, mother of Corey Best, the young man who allegedly committed suicide while he was in custody at the Oistins police station last week.
Angela seems not to be convinced that her son was suicidal and, in a call for justice for her son, she asked members of other families affected by police violence to come forward, unite and bring an end to this scourge.
I reflected on Angela’s call and I have to admit to agreeing with her that more needs to be done to make it seem as if the officers of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) are held accountable.
As with many other nine day wonder issues, we have previously had this discussion about the Police Force and how complaints against officers are dealt with. We discussed whether it was just enough to have the Police alone investigate claims of impropriety by the Force or if we needed to create a more robust mechanism.
If changes to the system of complaint have been made to strengthen it, I do not think these were made very public. While there will be discussion about the need for privacy around matters to do with the RBPF, there are also issues of trust and transparency with the public for the Force to manage.
I do not know if there are collated statistics about how many crimes in Barbados are solved because of the public willingness to offer information to the Police. However, the fact that most major crimes are followed by an invitation for the public to assist the police, means citizen involvement seems to be a critical strategy for the RBPF.
Therefore, the Force must be concerned about how it is viewed by its public.It feels as if collectively there are too many questionable instances involving police and not enough effort by the Force and the Government to exhibit a willingness to strengthen the checks and balances within the Force.
Recall the case of I’Akobi Maloney and his death on Land’s End which is forever etched in the minds and hearts of the Rastafarian community in Barbados. Recall the death of Selwyn ‘Blues Knight’ and the police officer currently charged with his murder.
Recall the pictures of a bloodied man in a holding cell that emerged and the subsequent fight by his mother for justice in which she prevailed. Recall the case of Romario Lashley, the suspect shot by Police in an operation in Christ Church. Recall the cries of Helen Nujuk, a British tourist who survived an attempted rape and lamented the treatment meted out to her by the Force. Recall the recent article about possible millions of drug money which are currently missing from a section of the Force.
These are the more publicized cases and the one which jump easily to mind but there have also been other cases of similar types of matters appearing in the local press or on social media from time to time – police charged in drug related activities, domestic violence cases and cases of rape. Do these instances not paint some type of picture? Do you think there are at least a few more instances which have not come to public attention?
I don’t think all of this leaves us with the image of the Police Force that we want. I await the autopsy report in the death of Best. I however suggest that his family should try to find an international linkage to groups which have emerged across Diaspora communities in America and England to bring light to the issue of police brutality.
They should also try to have an independent autopsy done of their loved one if they have the means to do this. A part of managing a functioning political system is to arrest negative trends in the system when they arise. The Royal Barbados Police Force needs stronger checks and balances as they seek to serve and protect.
We have spoken about cameras at Customs points across the country. I think cameras in Police cars, body cameras on officers and in areas where suspects are interviewed and held should be matters for national discourse. I also think that the usefulness of having a Police Force as opposed to a police service has been spent.
These are not issues which we need to find tabula rasa solutions for. Just below us, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has completed a rework of their police service. It was done to enhance the image and accountability of officers in the twin island republic. The move also encouraged the focus of crime fighting in the country to include more intelligence-based policing.
There have been gains in the functioning of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service although there remain some public concerns. Further afield, there are other instances of leaders ensuring that their systems of governance maintain enough integrity to be taken seriously enough to govern, even if the cases were not directly related to the issues of policing.
Theresa May, Prime Minister in Britain, has decided to go back to the polls in a snap election to ensure that she has a proper mandate to deal with Brexit. In other words, May is ensuring the stability of the political leadership of England in order to be able to deal with the administrative issues of the country.
We have the opposite in Barbados. Our Government has declined making the political decisions necessary to stabilize Barbados and we are now watching the degradation of various administrative systems in the country. When the political system and its administrative arms disintegrate to a point of nonfunctioning, this is essentially termed a failed state.
Sometimes I think we feel that such terms are ones that will only ever apply to every other country except ours. That is very far from reality.
(Marsha Hinds Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)