Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Selwyn Knight and Bridgetown Magistrate Graveney Bannister have very little in common. Indeed, other than their pigmentation, there is nothing much that unites them. Additionally, while Mr Bannister is very much alive, the others mentioned are very much dead. And, it is the circumstances of their death that should interest us all.
From the outset, it must be established that we believe in the rule of law and order at all times. The Royal Barbados Police Force has generally been credited as one of the best in the region. It is an institution that has carried out its mandate over the years with dedication and purpose. But, as in all spheres of endeavour, there will be those who do not live up to the professional standards of their calling. There are good teachers and there are awful teachers, there are good plumbers and there are terrible plumbers, there are terrific lawyers and there are unscrupulous lawyers, there are great cops and there are horrible cops, there are honest journalists and there are compromised journalists. There are also excellent magistrates and there are misguided magistrates.
Recently, Mr Bannister, in response to a videotaped incident involving civilians and a police officer at the Nursery Drive Terminal, somewhat curiously suggested that persons be prosecuted for taping policemen. He suggested, quite correctly, that often the recordings did not capture all of an incident. He went on to speak about selective taping, deleted taping and the like. These were all valid observations. The most important point he made was that persons should go willingly “when an officer is trying to arrest you”. Mr Bannister was completely on point in this regard and we agree totally with him.
But, unfortunately, he descended into the realms of inanity with his suggestion that persons be prosecuted for videotaping police officers. Perhaps, he should have gone further and indicated under what draconian law he proposed that to be done. We do not live in a police state and to the best of our knowledge videotaping or taking pictures of a police officer in a public place is not a criminal offence. Of course, the constabulary can always retreat into the “obstruction of an officer carrying out his lawful duty” safe haven. But it would take some very artful, perhaps Merlin-like wizardry, to demonstrate how anyone taping a police officer from a respectful distance is “obstructing” him or her. The long and short of it is that Mr Bannister’s suggestion is ludicrous.
Under any circumstance, it is better to have a recording to dissect, critique, assist with an investigation, come to an opinion, corroborate or destroy a theory, than not to have any recording at all. Under any circumstance, it is better to have a recording to complement any oral reporting of an incident than not to have one at all. Most importantly, to whom much power is given, a very high standard of accountability is expected. And police officers are not above the law. Thus, the suggestion that people be prosecuted for taping police officers in public places is utterly absurd.
We live in a technological age where video cameras are very much part of daily routine usage. Mr Bannister might not be aware of this, but in some jurisdictions police officers actually have cameras attached to their persons and their vehicles and in many instances, they are mandated to record their interactions with members of the public. Yes, the police are required to tape themselves. Mr Bannister has failed to appreciate that in circumstances where video tapings expose the actions of overzealous police officers, similar recordings can also serve to exonerate them from unfounded accusations.
Our police officers have the right to defend themselves and to use the requisite force in carrying out their duties. They do not have to fear being videotaped in the public domain if any force used – lethal or otherwise – is a response to a clear and present danger and in the lawful execution of their duty. Mr Bannister’s suggestion could be interpreted by some that police officers have something to hide when they take to public places to do their jobs. Mr Bannister – police officers have nothing to hide when carrying out their lawful duties lawfully.
There have been several instances of police killings in the United States where the victims have been black and the police officers were white. It has been shown that several of these were race related. Video recordings have played a part in exposing the circumstances of the death of persons such as Messrs Garner and Scott. Those same recordings assisted in the criminal court’s determination that white police officer Michael Slager had shot Scott in the back and then concocted a story to justify the killing. He is now serving 20 years in prison.
We do not have race-related shootings in Barbados. But from time to time we have incidents that surface where both police officers and civilians are the injured parties. Any means of arriving at truths should be embraced not rejected. About 6:50 a.m. on March 15, 2015, Selwyn Blues Knight was killed by a policeman at Dash Gap, Bank Hall, while chasing a man who had broken into his home. What would many Barbadians give – including his family – to have one video recording to explain his tragic demise?