There are many lessons to be learnt by Barbadians from the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and the conviction of his killer cop Derek Chauvin in the United States of America on April 20, 2021.
Much has been said about systemic racism and unequal justice in America. The successful prosecution of Chauvin, though it could prove a watershed moment in that country, will not stop the dubious killings of minority blacks in America by law enforcement officials. But America is still to be congratulated for the alacrity with which this incendiary case that reached global headlines has been adjudicated.
It is a lesson for Barbados’ judicial system which in many cases could be accused of treating its citizens with a level of disdain, that though not situated in racism, borders on systemic indifference. Many in Barbados have publicly condemned Chauvin for his murderous act. Volumes of criticisms have been written and uttered via traditional local media and on social media about the systems in the United States that seem to treat minorities as second-class citizens – especially those not fortunate enough to be black, millionaire sports stars or entertainers.
But almost on the anniversary of Chauvin’s cruel actions, right here in Barbados those charged with the protection of civil society, upholding the rule of law and dispensing justice should be bowing their heads in abject shame. The wife, son, relatives, friends, and those with a modicum of conscience who knew Selwyn Blues Knight cannot but help to see the irony when they juxtapose the outcome of George Floyd’s demise and the swiftness of the justice served, with the disturbing and vexatious lack of judicial development in the death of Knight allegedly by a policeman’s bullet.
Knight was shot to death, his son was also shot, on March 15, 2015, and more than six years later, the matter has not been heard and completed in the Magistrate’s Court. In like manner that Barbadians have shown their disgust at what occurred last year with George Floyd, our newspapers, call-in programmes, talk-shows, church sermons, activists’ rallies, labour union conventions, advocates, societies, youth groups – wherever Barbadians can be found with active conscience – their voices should be unremitting in their calls for justice for the family of Mr Knight.
Have we become so numb to the madness and mayhem in Barbados, that these occurrences do not trouble us? Must our own phones ring to reveal that a family member is a victim, to rouse us from our apathy? We understand that the now ailing widow of Selwyn Knight, Marleen Knight, has been visiting the Magistrate Court repeatedly for justice to be done only to be faced with adjournment after adjournment after adjournment. Added to this frustration, we are told, the magistrate before whom the matter was initially brought has been transferred to another court. We ponder how this will affect the progress of the case going forward.
Almost on cue, we are told, the file dealing with the charge brought against the alleged perpetrator Everton Gittens, took a monumentally long time to be produced.
Indeed, we can only hope that six years after that tragedy the file has indeed been lodged in the safe care of the Magistrate’s Court. But as of today, irrespective of who is at fault for this institutional sloth, there has been six years of adjournments.
SIX YEARS OF ADJOURNMENTS! This is a national disgrace. And lest we forget, neither Selwyn Knight, his widow nor his injured son are minorities in Barbados. Though some might argue, had they been, this matter might have long been concluded. The tenet that justice delayed is justice denied has seemingly degenerated into a line that perhaps comedians should quip to elicit laughter from their audiences.
We understand that the widow of Selwyn Knight is no longer capable of working. Her son still carries the bullet in his body to remind him of the day he lost his father. In the six years that have elapsed life has reportedly been particularly difficult for this family.
Have succeeding Governments sought them out? Has the hierarchy of the Royal Barbados Police Force reached out to them? Has any social agency sought to aid this family in any way or those that have, contemplate on whether or not they have been providing a mere pittance? Has the collective church sought to minister in spirit and in kind to the Knights? Has anyone sought to assist with their ongoing medical bills? Plato once said that justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.
Our judicial system is a reflection of us the citizens.
The failure of police officers to produce case files over extended years is a reflection of us the citizens. The protracted delays endemic in our court system are mirrored in the behaviour of us the citizens. That these occurrences are repeated with impunity is our sin. We are only moved from slumber when the death is ours.
We understand the cheers that reverberated on the streets and in homes across the United States of America on Tuesday. But after six bitter years, Marleen Knight and her family deserve closure – one way or the other – following the death of our George Floyd.