WHAT are the consequences of police using excessive force?
Too often, the answer is none at all. Across in the United States, it seems to have taken mass protests to push for justice for George Floyd, the man killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck until he stopped breathing. Significantly, a black CNN journalist covering the protests was arrested before the officer who killed Mr Floyd was arrested.
But what of locally? We can run through a list of cases where no action has been taken against officers for excessive force. Even in the case of the unlawful killing of Osworth Rolle more than three years ago, no prosecution has gone ahead.
So we welcome the comments of Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles who warned yesterday that police must only pull a trigger on an unarmed person as a last resort – and warned the police to guard itself against criticisms of excessive force.
The case that brought the comments was that of Jermaine Rahming, who was shot by a police officer in his buttocks 13 years ago.
Yes, you read that right, 13 years. That’s how long this case has taken to wind its slow way towards justice. That in itself is a travesty.
Mr Rahming was shot as he ran from a police station. He was not under arrest at the time. Nor had he been cautioned. In fact, he was never charged with the offences he was accused of, and charges of trying to escape were withdrawn.
Should he have run? No. Should he have been shot in the lower back and buttocks by a police officer? Did he present a threat significant enough to draw a pistol and open fire?
Justice Charles was unflinching in her criticism of the police officer, calling her evidence inconsistent and “incapable of belief”. She awarded damages to Mr Rahming.
Crucially, she pointed out that “a cardinal principle of our Constitution is that a man is presumed to be innocent until and unless a jury finds him otherwise”.
As we weigh the number of cases where we hear – or see video these days – of incidents of police brutality, that principle has to be borne in mind. These people who police are filmed beating at Junkanoo, or slapping on a beach, or who allegedly tortured people in Eleuthera or many more cases, must be presumed to be innocent. And if the police are treating innocent people that way – and the Eleuthera case is another where entirely different suspects were later arrested – then how are those police officers not actually committing crimes as bad as the ones they claim to be preventing?
A lot rests in the hands of Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle. He has made the right noises about tackling unfair treatment, saying “you’re gonna see some things” on the matter recently.
But noises only take us so far, and we look forward to seeing action. And we would urge police officers across the nation to consider carefully the words of Justice Charles. After all, justice should be a shared goal, and allowing brutality to continue will open the force to the same criticism that is bringing people out on the streets around the globe.
The value of the government’s word
Not worth the paper it’s written on.
That’s an unusual way for Attorney General Carl Bethel to describe a lease agreement, memorandum of understanding and investment authority approval offered by the Office of the Prime Minister.
Let’s be clear – that kind of paperwork is usually money in the bank for a project. Literally. With that kind of paperwork to show, projects can usually turn to investors with more confidence in the future of the project.
So to see Mr Bethel dismiss it so bluntly makes us wonder what investors will make of the government’s word for other projects.
The development in question is the Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club scheme from Toby Smith, who says he has been ignored by the Prime Minister over requests for a meeting to discuss the project.
The Attorney General’s stance will now be subject to legal challenge, with Wayne Munroe, QC, and his team announcing yesterday they are ready to take the government to court.
Is the government really honouring its end of the deal in these matters? Elsewhere, we’ve seen claims from former MP and Cabinet minister Pierre Dupuch that the Attorney General’s office is using the courts and arbitration system to drag out breach of contract claims in a bid to wear opponents down and force them to settle for cents on the dollar. Measure the depths of the pockets of a small business and government, and it’s not hard to see who can last the longest in a court battle.
Mr Dupuch said he had been told by three different people that the Attorney General told them he would squeeze them and force them to sue and then have the case stretched out for five years. He called for Mr Bethel to resign or be fired. Neither, of course, has happened.
But is this the manner we should be operating? Should government paperwork and commitments mean nothing? And if they mean nothing, won’t that swiftly destroy the prospects of investment at a time when we need it more than ever?
If a government won’t back up its commitments, then why should we believe its promises? With an election on the way, that’s a lesson this government needs to remember.