We’ve been here before.
On today’s front page, we report that the police force is investigating a video circulating on social media showing officers clubbing civilians with nightsticks during Junkanoo.
In one video, several officers can be seen making several young men lean against a wall with their backs to them. One officer can be seen using two hands to strike one young man on his buttocks with full force. When the young man walks off, the officer strikes him from behind again. And again.
You can read more about it in our story on page one – but as we say at the top of this column, we have been here before.
Time and again, we see examples of apparent brutality – or accusations of such that come without video – only to see the police say oh yes, we’ll investigate and then little or nothing is heard again.
Let’s consider a few examples.
Only last month, another video circulated showing a teenager being slammed on the ground by a police officer at Kendal GL Isaacs Gymnasium. Commissioner Anthony Ferguson said: “I saw a video circulating, that video was referred to the Complaints and Corruptions Unit to conduct an investigation, that is still pending.”
In August, two young women said they were assaulted by police in Exuma, prompting a call for action from Rights Bahamas. In April, another video circulated showing an officer slapping a man on a beach. Again, in that instance, an investigation was promised.
Back in March last year, The Tribune published photographs showing a man being taken to an ambulance from the Central Detective Unit by his lawyer, amid claims he was shocked with a taser and beaten by seven officers while in custody. At the time, National Security Minister Marvin Dames told the lawyer, Christina Galanos, to make a complaint, but also said “let’s focus on the victims of crime, those individuals who are maimed and attacked. I don’t see many people standing up for them”. That incident came at a time when it was revealed that the Police Complaints Inspectorate, which oversees the Complaints and Corruption Branch, hadn’t met since September 2017.
And for those who did make a complaint - three people who said they were tortured by police in Eleuthera only to be released - they made formal complaints to the police only to hear nothing for a year. When the police belatedly called them to the police station, they were told that time had run out for their complaint to be dealt with - even though they had followed the process and it was the police who had dawdled.
Minister Dames says we should focus on the victims of crime - and we agree. Not least because those who are beaten by police are the victims of crime themselves.
Officers face a difficult time on the streets and need to be able to defend themselves when the need arises - of that there is no doubt. But there is a difference between using force when necessary and using force because you can get away with it - and in these stories of investigations being launched but little to be shown for them, there is little to discourage officers who might be inclined to overstep the mark.
So let’s have an accounting for those investigations. Let’s have, dare we say it, transparency. What is the status of open investigations? And what has been decided in those that have been closed?
The public deserves clarity from the police – and officers who might have been accused deserve to either have their name cleared, or the consequences of their actions to be known.
We don’t need to be brushed off with a promise of an investigation that we never hear the outcome from - and it’s about time the police force did better for the Bahamian people in that regard.
There should be no place for brutality - and we hope the police force’s leaders will do more than just kick the can down the road one more time.