I talked to some contacts in the OECS over the last week to better understand the seeming aversion to the Caribbean Court of Justice. This was the obvious follow up activity to understand the outcome of the referenda in Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada.
Although St Vincent did not have a referendum, there was some particularly vehement anti-CCJ rhetoric emanating from that island. When I got to the bottom of the rhetoric, the reason was because the current head of the CCJ is Vincentian and Vincentians, apparently, were not comfortable that impartiality was a guarantee.
Let me first completely refute the notion that because we know each other due to the small size of our island homes that familiarity can be used as some kind of a priori factor in a person’s integrity being flawed. The worst serial killers in the world have mothers, siblings and neighbours. Sometimes these people are just as unaware of the dark sides of their relatives until something catastrophic happens.
Sometimes relatives do know or have an idea about their kinsfolk’s doings but either live in fear or complete inability to make them do different. Unless a person knows of a particular occurrence and has the direct responsibility to report the instance and fails, knowing a problematic person by itself is not a smirch upon another’s integrity.
This leads me to question how we must then establish a culture that creates a clear circumstance where we can make definitive statements about a person’s integrity. We as a Caribbean society cannot continue to sit back and be frustrated by concealed thoughts about our leaders’ integrity. It is also unfair for us to stop trusting our institutions based only on an assumption and not reality.
Having said all above, I also recognize some of the behaviours of our office holders can create a situation of mistrust in the general Caribbean population. We cannot pretend that these behaviours cannot taint reality and are unhealthy for the fostering of trust and respect between institutions, office holders and the public.
Many of these behaviours, whether we recognize it or not, are in defence of the maintenance of old boys’ clubs. Put another way, the upholding of the patriarchal structure of Caribbean institutions is now causing the undermining of the same institutions due to the lack of faith and belief by the masses. Let me illustrate the point using the police forces across the Caribbean and the issue of intimate partner violence.
There seems to be an unusually high instance of intimate partner violence and other types of violence against women across the region’s police forces. Here in Barbados we remember at least the last three high profile incidences with police officers. At least one officer was arrested for accosting a female patron at a calypso show in our festival just ended. We have had no public conclusion to that officer’s behaviour.
During the same Crop Over celebrations, another officer was said to accost his female acquaintance and was taken away by peers. Again, the public knows nothing of the outcome. We remember the images of a badly beaten and battered woman appearing in the local media – the third instance involving a Barbadian police officer and a female. As in the other cases, there is no known public outcome.
In St Lucia on October 29, 2018, a young female accountant at the Ministry of Education in that country was shot and killed in her home. Kimberly Williams was the estranged wife of a police officer and there was an active custody battle in respect of the couple’s two young children (four and eight). There were also reports of domestic disputes made to the police by Kimberly.
As we say in these islands, little seemed to be done with respect to the matter. We would go as far as to say that it appears nothing was done because the person of interest in the case was a police officer. It feels like we have become accustomed to police officers being sheltered with respect to intimate partner violence and other infractions against women.
Just over the last weekend a police officer in Trinidad and Tobago shot to death his estranged female partner before he turned the gun on himself. Michael Youksee ended Rackel Kipps’ life and left her two-year-old daughter without a mother. There has been at least one report made to the police by Kipps for Youksee.
When instances like these happen across the Caribbean, the men and women at the helm of our agencies must put forward their positions so that we can get a sense whether they see any challenges with the trends. As I said last week, I recognize why comments cannot be made about specific cases but trends can be discussed. The commissioners of police across the region have a responsibility to address this trend. The prime ministers of the countries involved must speak. In the absence of voices we end up with growing mistrust of ourselves and our institutions. We end up with a society that questions the integrity of people in high office and the institutions they lead.
I hope that the advocates for women’s rights across the Caribbean join together to demand justice for Kimberly Williams. One way to question integrity is to question it. While I am not for blindly assuming that people in high office are bereft of integrity because we all live in a small space, I am all for forming conclusions about people’s integrity based on the questions I call them out on and the answers they provide. Mr commissioners, why are there seemingly such high instances of violence against women across your police forces? And why do these matters seem to lack speedy and commensurate public outcomes?
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)