We need equal justice
Dear BT reader,
Martin Luther King once said, “With justice, there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”
Louis Farrakhan also said, “There really can be no peace without justice. There can be no justice without truth. And there can be no truth, unless someone rises up to tell you the truth.”
In the same vein, Benjamin Ferencz said, “There can be no peace without justice, no justice without law and no meaningful law without a court to decide what is just and lawful under any given circumstance.”
All three of these gentlemen are singing from the same proverbial hymn sheet, even though each may be focused on different verses within the same hymn.
As recent events in the US take shape, I told my wife the other day, the fact that in 2016 there exists a movement called Black Lives Matter (BLM) in itself speaks to the lack of racial progress in that country. Scenes from their protests of police shootings, killings and indeed murders of black men, whether said black men were innocent or guilty of any offence, are eerily reminiscent of the civil rights marches that took place predominantly in southern states. This time, the police actions during some of the protests are not limited by geography as they perhaps were in the 60s.
Activists within BLM simply want justice to be served and until then there will be no peace. Plain, simple and quite effective.
The definition of an extrajudicial killing is the killing by government authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. The ethics here are quite disturbing in my view but this exists as a policy of the United States and other countries around the world. To my knowledge, not many police officers IF indicted, have been convicted for any of these murders. So I ask myself, if the judicial system works to prevent officers from being indicted whether that is tacit government approval of the killing of African-American males.
Now let me pivot and bring this issue right home to Barbados. The demographics are starkly different but there are some elements that are eerily similar. Whilst there isn’t the mass shootings of black males by police in Barbados, the treatment of young black males or any group that might be considered vulnerable is somewhat similar to that in the USA.
Policing in Bank Hall, Gall Hill and other communities is generally very different to policing in Bulkeley and Rowans. Many of us are well aware of the manner in which search warrants may be executed in these neighbourhoods. However, the people that live in Bank Hall or Gall Hill have worked just as hard as those living in Bulkeley or Rowans to acquire their properties, pay several taxes and ought to be treated in the same manner when interacting with law enforcement or any other agency of Government. However, we all know this not to be true as there continues to be a disparity in the policing experience across different communities in this country.
Of course, I am not at all versed in matters of the law but I am sure there exists someone out there who could make the legal case by identifying some obscure statute or regulation that allows the police to damage property in the pursuit of their duties.
Don’t get me wrong, I can imagine circumstances where property could be damaged whilst police are executing their duties. However there are a significant number of times when their actions can be called into question. Complainants are often advised to seek redress through the Office of Professional Responsibility or the Police Complaints Authority. This is where things perhaps get interesting because to my knowledge, these bodies general tend not to function. At least in the USA, there appears to be some response from the system though one might consider it perverse. In Barbados, no such courtesy appears exists and it’s just wrong.
Our society has been socialized to comply and then complain, which in many instances proves to be a waste of time because there is a severe lack of accountability. This lack of accountability negatively impacts the long term effect of the economics of law enforcement. There is a direct link between the economic and social welfare in a society and cost of the provision of law enforcement which relies heavily on accountability. The cooperation and participation of private citizens are critical components of law enforcement. The mistreatment of citizens, particularly in vulnerable communities, with no redress, erodes confidence in law enforcement. This in turn gradually increases the social cost as citizens withdraw their cooperation. As a result, the overall social and economic welfare diminishes for all.
There is always the temptation to speak of reform of the judicial system, law enforcement, ten-point plans and the like. All that means very little if the ordinary police officer operating in law enforcement perceives himself to be beyond reproach and act on those impulses. It is a cultural phenomenon that has its root in colonial Barbados, and even though we’re celebrating 50 years of Independence after spending billions in education over that time, our psyche has not evolved or matured to reflect the reality of the 21st century.
Law and order is a critical component to a well ordered society. All citizens desire it and are prepared to support every effort to assist law enforcement where possible. Citizens do so with the expectation that accountability will be upheld and enforced by those entrusted with law enforcement duties. In the 21st century technology will expose the actions of those involved in law enforcement. It truly is up to those involved to determine whether it will cast light into shadowy areas or radiate as a beacon of hope.
Ryan Straughn is an UWI Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados trained economist and shall remain so for as long as possible.