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Why the silence, commissioner?

Dear Editor, 

Local activists, women’s rights groups and even the Jamaican Ministry of Foreign Affairs have asked for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of 11 Jamaican women in early December, specifically allegations that they were forced to urinate on a cell floor and sleep on cardboard boxes.

The local groups said they believe the women were victims of misconduct by officers who allegedly discriminated against them based on their nationality, failed to allow them to make phone calls and threatened them while holding them for 36 hours, only to release them without charge. They called for the commissioner of police to initiate a probe.

Well, three weeks later, what is the status of that probe?

Bahamas Women’s Watch and the Bahamas Crisis Centre also called on the Royal Bahamas Police Force and all government agencies, including the Department of Immigration, to cease and desist from the reckless and unconstitutional practice of discriminating against Jamaicans, and more broadly, immigrant women who suffer the indignity of systemic discrimination because of their nationality.

Again, has there been any movement in this direction since that call was made? The answer is a resounding ‘No’.

Actually, there was a swiftly concluded investigation into the incident by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Just two days after the women’s detention came to light through a series of shocking pictures of cell conditions, Minister Fred Mitchell said he had already “got all the facts” from the police force.

I suppose we are meant to take the minister’s word on this, because the results of this investigation never saw the light of day.

Then of course, there is the question of how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could be qualified to conduct a probe into claims of negligence and perhaps even criminal behavior on the part of police officers.

It is understandable that in his role as the country’s chief diplomat, Mitchell would seek to smooth things over with the Jamaican government as soon as possible. However, his international public relations exercise is no substitute for a full and proper probe of this incident and the circumstances that led to it.

That is a job for Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade and his complaints and disciplinary unit. They are the only ones with the authority to fully investigate and mete out punishment if punishment is due.

So, Commissioner Greenslade, why the silence? Particularly in the face of some rather confusing comments by one of your senior officers.

On December 14, Chief Superintendent Paul Rolle said as far as he knows, no complaint was ever filed in connection with the police’s behavior during the women’s detention. He went on to say that even though the women were released, they can still be charged at some point in the future.

Astonishingly, it seems that instead of investigating the claims against its own officers, the force is continuing to target these women. At the same time, Rolle revealed some shocking truths about the conditions of detention in The Bahamas.

“I read the complaint in the press and I understand they were housed in a cell. That is the way all persons are kept when they are brought in the station, whether you are man or woman, Bahamian or not,” he said.

“You have a choice when you are arrested – you sleep on the bench or you sleep on the floor, that is how it has always been done. Maybe Jamaica has better housing conditions and beds in their holding cells, but we don’t.”

Most shocking of all, Rolle went on to say that the women were released rather than kept in custody as “a favor”. Perhaps he has not read the Constitution of The Bahamas or the Penal Code. Maybe he just missed the part about due process and the prohibition against holding people indefinitely without charge.

Three weeks have passed since this incident and so far, our country has come off looking like a society that abuses immigrant women, believes it is normal to have inhumane and degrading detention facilities, believes the right to liberty is “a favor”, conducts superficial investigations just in an effort to save face, and has a police force more interested in protecting its own than ensuring justice is served.

Please commissioner, break your silence on this issue before The Bahamas suffers further embarrassment on the international scene.

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