Raising the alarm on abuse of authority

The global community responded in horror and anger to the unlawful killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis policeman some three weeks ago.

Demonstrations continue even now. Many protests, which originally centered rightly so on Floyds’ unlawful killing, have gradually become indictments against the militarization of police forces around the world.

Protestors point to the too often resort to deadly force by the police and the failure of authorities to hold the police accountable for misuse and abuse of their authority in the conduct of their responsibilities.

Many Bahamians expressed their support for the demonstrators on various social media platforms.

We have been less mindful and less angered by the use of excessive force by Bahamian police officers and other uniformed officers including immigration and defense force here at home.

We also appear less concerned with the seeming disinterest and neglect by the senior command of our uniformed branches and/or by their civilian bosses in causing allegations of abuse and misuse of authority to be investigated, and where appropriate, offenders dismissed from the service and/or prosecuted in a timely fashion.

The police preface reports on shooting fatalities attesting that officers “in fear for their lives” fired upon the individuals.

Following such shootings, the force command and civilian oversight often comment in support of police action even before incident reports have been received or reviewed.

We have, for nearly four decades now, moved down a slippery slope of increased violence in our country.

Nowadays, the number of police involved shootings resulting in fatalities is alarming.

In 2018, there were 11 killings resulting from police shootings.

By midyear 2019, fatalities resulting from police shootings stood at eight.

So far, at mid-year 2020, there have been at least eight fatalities from police shootings this year.

Just this past weekend three young men met their death in a police shooting.

On Thursday, we reported on a caution issued to the police by a Supreme Court judge in her ruling on an unwarranted police shooting dating back to 2007, a matter which is only now being adjudicated this year.

More than a year ago, the minister responsible, Marvin Dames, indicated that the government might look into establishing an independent body to investigate incidents of police-involved killings.

In March this year, he acknowledged that though mandatory in law, vetting police internal investigations had not commenced as the civilian Police Complaints Inspectorate has not been appointed. The police continue as their own judge and jury.

Commenting following this weekend’s police-involved fatalities, Police Commissioner Paul Rolle warned: “We don’t train with rubber bullets…if persons want to engage the members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, they need to be prepared to meet their maker.”

This is not acceptable nor is it right.

Early this month the commissioner advised that long-promised body cameras had been received but that their introduction awaited the completion of the new crime center.

It is time for the body camera. And, it is past time for the independent investigation of police killings.

Police officers and other uniformed authorities must respect individual human rights and when they do not, they must be held accountable.

Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court determined that a Jamaican national, Matthew Sewell, had been unlawfully detained in The Bahamas for nine years.

Last year, Nigerian national Douglas Ngumi sued the government for his alleged unlawful detention for almost seven years.

In 2013, Cuban detainees who alleged that they were beaten while detained at the immigration detention center were deported to Cuba before they could provide evidence in an investigation of the matter.

In 2009, the Privy Council determined that Japanese national Atain Takitota had been detained unlawfully in The Bahamas for some eight years in a case dating to 1992.

There have been many allegations, over multiple years, of the mistreatment of undocumented Haitian nationals during their arrest and detention ahead of repatriation.

It should not be that we are offended when undocumented black and brown immigrants are detained – sometimes unlawfully, under harsh conditions including separation of family members – in majority white, foreign countries; but we are not offended when black, brown or white undocumented migrants are detained under similar conditions in The Bahamas.


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