Monday, January 22, 2018

Condemn all unlawful police killings

It is with more than mere passing interest that I read the articles in the Sunday Express of July 6. The statements address the contentious issue of police killings, of which there have been 30 so far for this year. In the story headlined “Autopsies contradict police evidence”, some very interesting issues were raised. In relation to a police killing, a former official of the Forensic Science Centre is quoted as having said, and I quote “I will never forget that. The wounds were consistent as though he held up his arms in surrender”. In other instances doubts were raised about the proximity of police officers to their victims when shootings occurred. If statements in that article are factual, it begs the question, why are there no consequences for what the article suggests were questionable if not unlawful killings?

In the article alluded to the above, a response was allegedly elicited from a senior officer in relation to the killings, his response was, again I quote “It is only when persons confront the police, they invite their own deaths and that’s the only time they have been shot”.

That statement suggests that every individual who had the misfortune to lose his/her life at the hands of the police was a criminal. It is not just patently unfair to tar everyone with the same brush, it is also self-serving. Prior to January 23, 2009, whenever the news featured incidents of people being shot by the police resulting in their loved ones claiming how virtuous the deceased individuals were, it fuelled great scepticism on my part.

This resulted from the fact that as a child I was taught to have respect for our institutions, inclusive of the Police Service. January 23, 2009 forced me to rethink my views, on that fateful day George “Ozzie” Ashby was killed by policemen as he made his way home from work. He was, to all those who knew him, a decent law abiding man. While some may say this was a solitary instance, any unlawful killing by the police must be vehemently condemned, in addition to justice being served.

On the said page on which the article referred to above appears, in a column headlined “Top cop speaks”, the acting Commissioner of Police is quoted as having said inter alia that, “within three months, an investigation is completed and the only thing is forensics which takes some time”.

It has been in excess of five years since Mr Ashby was killed, are we to assume that forensics is still holding up the completion of the investigation into his death? Page seven of the newspaper makes very interesting reading indeed. One of the most salient comments on that page is one attributed to the director of the Police Complaints Authority, (PCA) an authority which incidentally has not been equipped with the wherewithal to deal effectively with infractions by police officers. The director is quoted as having said that “the present system whereby the police handle such investigations continues to be unsatisfactory and unacceptable”. The existing arrangement, intentionally or otherwise, has the effect of providing a loophole for errant officers.

The powers that be need to act with alacrity to equip the PCA with the legal authority to go after officers who may be guilty of infractions. When there are no consequences for unlawful action, whether by policemen or ordinary citizens, tacit approval is given for wrongdoing. Additionally, if the PCA is to achieve its objective of “enhancing the image of the Police Service and increase public confidence in its members”, it must be imbued with the power to bring the full weight of the law to bear on those who choose to conveniently forget their oath of office which is, “to protect and serve with pride”.

Elias Lewis