Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Transparency needed in all police killings

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Mark Fraser

Between 2005 and 2008, when the murder rate hit record highs in Trinidad and Tobago, police killings of civilians never crossed an average of two per month. Even that was unacceptably high but now, in 2014 when the acting Police Commissioner continually asserts that all crimes except murder have dropped, officers are now killing an average of four people per month.

On Monday, officers from the Inter-Agency Task Force responded to a report about gunfire occurring in Morvant, and shot two boys dead—cousins 16-year-old Hakeem Alexander and 15-year-old Tevin Alexander. Tevin’s mother, Lisa De Leon-Alexander, said the boys were running away from a gunman, stopped when they saw the police, and were still shot. But Inspector Roger Alexander, speaking in an interview with I95.5 FM yesterday, said Ms De Leon-Alexander is lying and that “the two men” were armed and shooting at the officers.

And all through his interview yesterday, Inspector Alexander referred to the boys as “men”, no doubt understanding that using the more accurate term would undermine his belligerent defence of police killings. He also took the media to task for not presenting what he described as both sides of the story, even though the Express fully reported the police account proffered by Inspector Wayne Mystar.

Inspector Alexander’s position seems to be that whatever the police say must be “the facts”, as though officers are not highly motivated to lie in circumstances where they may have overstepped their bounds. In similar fashion, National Security Minister Gary Griffith also spoke about police officers needing to use force to defend themselves “and innocent citizens”.

Now it may or may not be that all these killings are justified, but such incidents are certainly undermining trust in the Police Service in the very communities where such trust is most needed. If the police were telling the truth each time they kill someone, that means that every month the people in those communities are making up flagrant lies about how the police operate. Moreover, given the danger posed by these criminals who, as Minister Griffith pointed out early in his appointment, are killing off one another quite efficiently, it is astonishing that more police officers aren’t wounded or killed in these shoot-outs. Indeed, on Monday one officer was wounded in the thigh in an incident in Petit Valley but, in this case, no criminals were shot or even caught.

Ag Commissioner Stephen Williams has promised the installation of cameras to be mounted on police vehicles and officers in order to record these kinds of incidents. The National Security Ministry should make this purchase a matter of urgency, so that transparency will either prove the police actions justified or eliminate these State-sanctioned homicides.

And while we await this critical purchase to ensure transparency, we call on the police to provide evidence that the boys were armed and were shooting at the police. Where are the guns now? Inspector Alexander must say. The Police Complaints Authority should also launch an immediate probe into the killings so the facts are known as soon as possible.