The normally much admired police commissioner Vernon Francois hasn’t been doing too well lately when it comes to his public pronouncements. His widely disseminated dismissal of “the Mary Francises of the world,” for instance, was not only in dubious taste but its design was hardly likely to win the police new friends or influence the decent folk. After all, thousands of right-thinking citizens, like the lawyer Mary Francis, would like pay anything to see our police department always accountable. I can’t see much there not to be thankful for!
If only inadvertently, the commissioner may have left the impression he wasn’t supportive of Ms Francis’ efforts at getting to the bottom of that still unresolved awful incident that last year left five men fatally shot, allegedly after they opened fire on police who had interrupted a burglary in progress! That the police should always be given the benefit of the doubt is obviously a preposterous proposition, given that dead men tell no tales. Doubtless it was with this irreducible fact in mind that our earliest protectors enacted laws and put in place procedures to guide the police in the performance of their duty, including giving them the right to take deadly defensive action in certain prescribed circumstances.
The public is entitled, as soon as possible, to some idea of why police see it necessary to kill citizens, the likely date of an autopsy and so on. These are not matters to be left solely to the discretion of the police and their press-relations officers. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied. Besides, tardiness in such matters tends to encourage counterproductive speculation.
It makes no difference that the victim of a police homicide may have a string of convictions to his name. He remains a citizen with constitutional rights, among them that he is not to be executed except by order of a high court. Extra-judicial police activity, whether or not violent, is quite obviously contrary to law. Citizens of this country deserve a lot better.
On the other hand, this week I was in total agreement with the commissioner when, with reference to the latest homicide, he described the behavior of the so-called “social media” as less than responsible. The truth is that long before Saint Lucians discovered cell phones and digital cameras, the more morbid among us had been making it difficult for the police to do their work, whether at natural disasters, traffic accidents and otherwise. Pity it had never occurred to the police to take into their custody such individuals, with or without press passes, whenever they took it into their unthinking heads to ignore police orders.
In free countries such as ours the press is constitutionally afforded certain privileges. But the work of reporters is no more important than that of officers investigating a possible murder or other serious crime.
The now commonplace photographing of policemen at crime scenes and the use of the resulting photographs must be carefully monitored, in the best interests of justice.
As for what passes here for social media, their motivation has nearly always been ghoulish. Today, however, with their miraculous Instagrams and other hi-tech digital paraphernalia, they have become as kids with a particular penchant for 5-alarm fires. Downright lethal!