One of the island’s leading criminal attorneys does not believe yesterday’s murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will have a major impact on law enforcement practices here.
Queen’s Counsel, Andrew Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY it was unlikely there would be a shift in police behaviour in Barbados simply because of a guilty verdict miles away in the United States.
The 45-year-old Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May, 2020, death of George Floyd.
Floyd’s death sparked a worldwide movement calling for police reform and racial justice and ignited the Black Lives Matter movement.
The verdict was welcomed by millions, including US President Joe Biden and Vice-president Kamala Harris.
However, Pilgrim said police officers in Barbados remained untouchable to this very day.
“There are many professions in Barbados that have remained quite untouchable over the years; lawyers, doctors, police are the three that rush to mind. But in the context of Barbados, the police have always felt that they have had the right to do whatever they please with ordinary citizens.
“This has been displayed in the forms of police breaking into people’s homes with or without warrants, ill-treating people and not giving them their due and cases like the Shaquon Cave incident very recently. I’m not saying that wrong was done in that case, but the fact that it takes so long for a mother to get information on the status of her child and how her child met his death suggests to me that we are not yet ready to deal with these things in the right way and that the police feel they can do anything and get away with it,” Pilgrim said.
“I don’t think that we are really impacted in a real way by things like this happening as far away as the United States.”
The outspoken attorney said the 2017 Pirate’s Cove incident in which a police officer was recorded kicking a man several times while he laid on the ground, was a reminder of that.
He said despite the recording being widely circulated, no action had been taken against any officer to date.
“The case that to me is the hobbyhorse of all of this is the Pirate Cove’s cases and I still maintain that the Commissioner of Police or someone should have had to resign over that. To this date, that case remains uninvestigated by the police. When police can be seen on video kicking people around and dragging them by their dreadlocks and nothing happens in this country, it will tell me that the case of Chauvin really means nothing to Barbadian authorities because we still feel that police should be able to do things and get away from it,” Pilgrim said.
“While I think that things are changing and I notice that the laws are moving in the right direction in terms of protecting people whilst in custody, a week seldom passes in this country that people do not complain to me about being abused either in their homes or on the streets by members of the Royal Barbados Police Force.”
He called for the establishment of an authority that was powerful and capable of investigating the police, lawyers and doctors.
Adding its voice, the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) said while police killings were rare in Barbados there have long been allegations of police using excessive and unlawful force against persons.
President of the BBA, Rosalind Smith-Millar said the introduction of a requirement that confessions be videotaped would go a long way and called for the use of body cameras on police officers on duty.
She said the Police Complaints Authority also had to be seen by the public as “accessible, independent, accountable, transparent, fearless, thorough and efficient in dealing with complaints.”
Smith-Millar said more than anything else, a stronger relationship had to be forged between police and the public.
“More than rules and regulations, however, a cultural shift is required to ameliorate the relationship between the police and the public, to create the trust that will get results without abuse of the system. There must be a top-down understanding and facilitation of the value of ‘doing the right thing in the right way’” Smith-Millar said.