The police high command has blasted a suggestion that lawmen favoured whites and Indians and that cops were viewed as a threat to some communities.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Erwin Boyce rejected out of hand the argument put forward by youth activist Lumumba Batson that Barbados’ police force was biased in its treatment of black people.
Speaking at the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit’s first in a series of town hall discussions on Reducing Crime and Violence in Our Communities, Batson, said many young people believed there was a racial imbalance in the treatment they receive from police and some had little faith in lawmen.
“You ask why the youth may act a certain way against the police. They see the police as what [police call themselves] as a ‘force’, a force coming for them,” he said Wednesday at the Princess Margaret Secondary School in St Philip.
Batson, who lived for some time in the United States where he was incarcerated for 15 years, told the gathering: “When the police act out as if it is only us black people that are being killed, brutalised . . . something has to be wrong.
“Have you known the police to shoot an Indian or white person, even by accident? But this goes on in our communities.”
But Assistant Commissioner Boyce warned: “Some people in society perhaps need to be more focused on making a society of good people rather than to tell young [people] the Force is a threat . . . . You should be telling these youngsters there is a right way. Do the right thing as distinct from creating that anti-establishment mindset.”
In his presentation, the Barbados Youth Action Programme president charged: “The police in certain communities in Barbados are looked upon as being a threat.”
Batson said for there to be serious crime solving, “you have to go to these communities . . . and not just [conduct] surface investigations . . . ask these youths why you feel this way towards the police.
“The things that you may hear you may not like but it is the reality that exists in certain communities in Barbados.”
The activist charged: “You have things that go on within the Police Force that other police cannot speak on. They cannot say. There is a code of silence.
“If there is a code of silence that exists among your organization why are you coming to the public and saying we need information when you are not having information disseminated even among yourselves?”
Batson’s criticism of local law enforcement, however, triggered strong responses Boyce, and Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite who were also on the panel.
“I understand where you are coming from”, Boyce said, but branded the activist’s comments “misleading”.
According to the senior cop: “[Batson] mentioned something about the code of silence and within the context of the police organization . . . . I’m proud to be a police officer because we are an organization that purges [itself] of any wrong-doing. We put people before the court who are police officers.”
The senior police officer responsible for the force’s administration said he was uncertain which communities saw his colleagues as a threat.
He made it clear, “We should never be seen as a threat. [Is it] a threat to insist on law and order?”
The senior cop went even further: “I think [Batson] needs to share some information with me so that we can get together and create a response that would reduce the level of uncertainty and threat that he has spoken to.”
Brathwaite agreed with Boyce on the need for residents to share with police their knowledge of suspicious activities.
“If you have information, please share it,” he urged.
Dismissing the argument that some people get special treatment because of their race, the Attorney General said, “the police only goes where the evidence and information lead them, and this section of our population who believes that there are whites and Indians who are protected, if they have the info give us the information”.
Brathwaite insisted police officers were not above the law and some have faced criminal prosecution.
“Don’t mind who you are, how senior you are in the Royal Barbados Police Force and you break the law they’re brought before the courts.”
Despite the senior cop and Minister’s appeals for information on which they could act, a member of the audience, David Elcock, offered examples of what he saw as police’s failure to act on information given by the public.
The contributor spoke of witnessing a passenger in a vehicle shoot into a bus but when he called and reported it to police, “I was surprised that the lady at the other end of the line didn’t ask me my name. She didn’t ask for the licence plates.”
Elcock said that on another occasion he reported to police a hazard of bright lights on mini-buses plying the West Coast, only to be told he should write letters to the mini-bus association and the Ministry of Transport and Works.
“I don’t think you handle information as well as you should,” he said.
“The way how you deal with the public and the way how you deal with info is key,” he added.