EDITOR, The Tribune
Please allow me to make a comment on a matter that has both puzzled and vexed me considerably for a number of years. I would like to explore the criminalisation of our young (more often black) men and women, who are ceremoniously paraded from outside of the Nassau Street police station or from the holding cells (located on the ground floor) of the Magistrate’s Court building, up the staircase, cumbersomely waddling like newborn penguins into the court house.
My current frustration was sparked by a recent video circulated on social media of a shackled young lady being marched from the Nassau Street station to the Magistrate’s Court and pleading with the escorting officer to be able to use the bathroom to relieve herself.
In the video, this young lady’s plea to use the bathroom, which is one of the most basic of human rights, appeared to annoy the officer and the matter then escalated to the point of shouting and some physicality. This video and many others published on local news highlights the demeaning nature of this policy and begs the question of why it is still being used.
Having been previously employed as a government employee, I spent most days in or around the Magistrates court complex, I know first hand that the court house was built with holding cells (no less than 5 if recollection serves me right ) on the ground floor and that there is access from the holding cells to most if not all of the court rooms via a number of stairway systems. The marching of accused from holding cells or prison buses (hope they aren’t still using those circuses on wheels) to Court is commonly referred to as the bank lane shuffle. The term most likely adopted as prisoners, whose hands and legs were usually bound, would waddle uncomfortably like uncoordinated penguins from the prison bus to the courts. The use of the term Bank Lane shuffle is commonplace, however, what is often overlooked or ignored is the similarities with the shuffle and the march of shackled slaves to the slave houses.
The parade of young innocent (until proven guilty) persons appears to be done all for show on the orders of either police or politicians who wish to demonstrate to the media that they are doing their job, however in times like these the old saying that actions speak louder than words appears to be quite fitting. This long standing practice has been in the playbook of successive governments and despite the obvious degradation faced by those made to do the bank lane shuffle, governments appear intent on maintaining the illusion that by having 12 Police officers walk a shackled human being (officers who could be doing other work) up a flight of stairs, that people somehow believe that they are winning the never ending fight against criminality. To see a human being handcuffed and shackled instantly brings two questions to mind, is this person really innocent if politicians, sorry I meant police officers, felt the need to shackle both their feet and hands and secondly, I wonder if this is how our ancestors were shackled and bound before shipment?
A review of two recent stories provides two interesting examples of how this policy is used. A defendant charged with a non-violent offence involving corruption, was shackled like a wild animal to face charges. The then defendant, at the time appeared to be ailing and was aided by some of the Officers as he painstakingly hobbled up the staircase, could not be said to have posed any risk of running away. In contrast, fast forward a few months and the then accuser in the case mentioned above, was himself a defendant, was able to leisurely stroll to court using the same route that his former accused had to waddle down. The nature of the offence the defendant was charged with was most serious as they involved breaking safety rules and protocols enacted to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Interestingly enough, the former star witness himself appeared to be a young and fit person, quite capable of eluding officers in a foot chase. Was the fact that he was a star witness in a clearly political case where a former official was tried before the court meant that he qualified for special treatment or is there something else that necessitated him being treated more favourably than others? This commentary is not aimed at defending the alleged actions of any person or persons but rather to question why we sometimes decide to chain up persons like dogs and walk them in front of a public and media circus and then sometimes we don’t. Justice should be applied equally to all persons, and the fact that we have allowed politics to infest the way in which the police force transfers accused bring into question the independence of their operations. It seems like successive governments have been using the court, an institution that should be independent in all aspects of its functions, as a platform to exact political revenge, to embarrass their opponents and reward their friends.
We have a system in place designed to allow accused persons to safely move from holding cells to the various courts yet I do not understand why we continue taking the risk of shackling persons in the holding cells, walking them outside the building, around to the front and then back inside the building. It seems that if the building is used the way it was designed it would be a much more efficient way for getting persons to court than getting a number of police officers to walk them out through the public.
The policy itself is outdated and in most jurisdictions persons are not shackled as it creates the appearance of guilt before trial, most courts in this country remove the shackles when the person is before the Judge. If there is a safer, easier, more efficient manner of getting this done why are we still allowing our young accused persons to be criminalised before the public before being afforded the opportunity to have a fair trial. Our citizens have already been marginalised by other facets of society, please stop allowing the judicial system to be used as a tool to continue to kneel on their throats.
July 15, 2020.