Fear for our Sworn Protectors

Police Headline

When will the several unresolved homicides that have been attributed to gang warfare be resolved?


The following is from my book Foolish Virgins: “In Grenada, Maurice Bishop’s executioners are on trial for mass murder. One of his killers has been giving evidence for the prosecution. Meanwhile, Saint Lucians are preparing for general elections. The PLP is in tatters. By all accounts, George Odlum and his brother Jon are all that’s left of the party. Mikey Pilgrim seems no longer interested in elective politics; he has metamorphosed into a businessman—but there is persistent talk of a possible comeback, perhaps as an independent. Frances Michel is by different accounts cooling her boots in Cuba, Nicaragua or Libya.

“As for the government, it is embroiled in yet another dispute with the Chamber of Commerce, this time over work permits. Public confidence in the police is at an all-time low, thanks in great part to Commissioner Cuthbert Phillips’ handling of a murder investigation: while in custody, the main suspect, a motor mechanic widely known as Yamaha, had reportedly volunteered in the early hours of the morning he was scheduled to appear in court to take three detectives to where he had stashed away the money for which he had allegedly murdered a fellow service-station employee. The detectives later claimed Yamaha had instead led them to a secluded area not far from Vigie Airport, and then jumped them. The murder suspect had finally sought to escape custody by diving off a cliff into the sea.

“Commissioner Phillips has vehemently defended his detectives against all suggestions that in their vain attempt to force a confession out of Yamaha they had inflicted on him such damage that they didn’t dare let him keep his court appointment. It soon became clear, however, that Phillips’ detectives had left important details out of their report. For example: when their prisoner took his high dive into the sea his wrists were still in handcuffs. Also undisclosed was that the detectives had shot him nine times. Such telling details would surface only after Yamaha’s corpse had been fished out of the sea.

“The then prime minister later informed parliament that while some citizens were demanding justice for Yamaha, the real victim was the man he had murdered for money. All of that when Yamaha had never been charged with a crime, let alone been declared guilty of murder. The three officers who had taken him on his last visit to the seaside were suspended pending the result of an inquest that predictably returned a ‘death by misadventure’ verdict. Commissioner Phillips was finally fired following an ordered long vacation—with the prime minister informing the nation that there were on the force certain personnel who ‘hide their criminality under their uniforms!’ ’’

All of the above had occurred in 1986-87, further proof that the more things change the more they remain the same—especially on this Rock of Sages. For certain, extra-judicial executions and subsequent cover-ups are nothing new. Neither have they occurred only in relative backwaters such as Saint Lucia.

In 1997, New York police arrested a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima following a fight in a nightclub. At the police station the officers sodomized their prisoner with the handle of a toilet plunger, almost killing him. Then there was the earlier matter in Los Angeles of Rodney King, who is almost as well known as his iconic civil rights namesake. What is especially significant is that the U.S. authorities more often than not make a point of investigating suspicious police behavior.

In Saint Lucia, however, it seems every effort is made to justify, if not totally conceal, police brutality. Despite several questionable police shootings, few if any members of the force have been required to answer to a magistrate or a judge. Result? Close to zero confidence in law enforcement.

Last week I wrote for this newspaper a story about the current situation between the U.S. authorities and our ostensible protectors of life and property. I promise you, dear reader, it was thoroughly researched—and written with special care and particular purpose.

Knowing what I know about the current watchdogs of our society, by which I refer to our press-release disseminators, I was not surprised by the lack of media interest in what is in effect a matter of life and death that could impact the very survival of our nation. Oh, but I fully expected at least a clarifying declaration from the government; from the prime minister himself, or the justice minister Philip LaCorbiniere or the police commissioner. Alas, so far, nada!

Evidently the government has decided to leave it to me, for whatever reasons, to update Saint Lucians on the security of the environment we all share. I am well aware that the government is in possession of shocking information related to my earlier story, so why no action? Why the continuing silence?

But let us for a moment forget our government. Let us instead familiarize ourselves with the Leahy Law, named for Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

The Leahy Law first appeared in the fiscal year of 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. Since it is impossible to know in practice the names of the individuals who committed human rights violations, the U.S. government applies the law by examining the human rights history of a unit.

Each U.S. Embassy has established a “vetting procedure” to review the backgrounds of military units for which assistance has been proposed. The Foreign Operations Leahy Law covers weapons funding and training—from which the Regional Security Services, including Saint Lucia’s SSU, has for over fifteen years benefitted.

In my story published last week, I may have left the impression with some readers that the local police department is funded under the Leahy Law arrangements and that such funds had been discontinued. Permit me to be more specific. The Leahy Law funds particular foreign operations that could affect the security of the United States, drug trafficking and money laundering among them.

To quote a recent U.S. Foreign Policy statement: “Most Americans recognize that events outside our borders can have direct and dramatic consequences for our health and safety. Isolationism is not an option in a world in which a deadly infectious disease or a terrorist attack is only a plane trip away.”

The policy statement goes on: “Senator Leahy believes that as the wealthiest, most powerful nation in history, the U.S. has wide-ranging interests and responsibilities around the globe, from promoting trade and investment to combating terrorism, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, supporting human rights, and broadening understanding between Americans and people of different cultures, religions, races and ethnicities.”

Of particular relevance to the Saint Lucia situation is the following: “The Leahy Law forbids U.S. aid to foreign military and police forces that violate human rights.” [My italics]

As stated in my earlier article on the subject, published last Wednesday, the U.S. authorities have for several years been disturbed by the number of unresolved local homicides. To be fair, so have our politicians. But it would appear their main preoccupation is with blaming one another, both sides seeking to score points by declaring their respective opposites in the House “soft on crime,” not with confronting the deadly issue together.

Then there is the pace at which the wheels of local justice grind: so slow as to appear stuck in the mud of incompetence and complacency. Indeed, there is the widespread suspicion that not even the courts of justice are free of retarding corruption!

Consider this most recent statement from the governor general’s throne speech: “The principal function of the state will forever be the maintenance of law and
order. We take this to mean justice and equity should prevail in our land and
that the state should enable this. Yet again we are left to continue our lamentations about crime and violence. Yet again my government is saddened that we must be preoccupied with such malice and mayhem. In fact, the actions of some can be seen as attempts at economic suicide, particularly when they threaten our national livelihoods.”

Over the past ten years, said the governor general, “we have had to suffer nearly 400 persons to homicide.” She acknowledged “a country of 175,000 should not have to consider that it has a higher gross number of homicides than Norway, a country of five million.”

Her government’s solution? “Let us turn a new page, not with more police officers, but with a respect for life, a respect for each other, a respect for human dignity.”

To think successive governments had frittered away countless millions of scarce dollars on such operations as Restore Peace and Restore Confidence when all they needed was recording of Aretha Franklin’s Respect blasting from loudspeakers strategically placed throughout our more
notorious crime zones. (What you want/Baby, I got it/What you need . . .)

But what if, as the U.S. authorities evidently believe—and as the government when it was in opposition seemed also to believe—the police had themselves been responsible for at least some of those 400 homicides? I take it for granted our particularly erudite governor general chose deliberately to refer to the killings as “homicides” only because those responsible have never been arrested.

Still that was not enough reason for the government to resist dishing out the usual kudos to the police at Budget time. Regardless of the level of crime in the country, government after government has predictably commended “the efforts” of the police. In the most recent instance, immediately after regretting our higher-than- Norway murder rate, the governor general had congratulated the police commissioner and his force “in their crime management efforts”—like the true politician that had scripted her throne speech.

The throne speech contained not a single word of admonishment for the possible incompetence, neglect or complicity that may have resulted in the several unsolved and apparently forgotten homicides over the years, nearly all of them attributed without evidence to “gang warfare”—as if gang violence were not in itself illegal.

In any event it does not automatically follow when one gang member shoots a member of another gang in the head that a gang war is on. It is quite possible that the shooter had acted on orders issued by people successfully passing themselves off as respectable citizens. Hit men may or may not be gang members. They need have no special reason to blow away a member of a rival gang, or a former friend no longer considered reliable, or an uncooperative businessman, an uncooperative customs official, or a particularly garrulous talk-radio host—other than the money paid him for his deadly services.

During the 2011 election campaign Newsspin’s Timothy Poleon had taken several calls from individuals who, as it turned out, predicted correctly that sooner or later the U.S. Embassy would revoke the visas of unidentified individuals in and outside
the police force. Some connected the embassy decision with several ostensible gang-war fatalities dating back years—and with the fatal shooting of four or five citizens in Vieux Fort by the police during what they described as an aborted burglary.

Other Newsspin callers sought to connect the incidents with at least one government minister. We need say no more about what happened shortly before the 2011 general elections—and not long after the current government took office. I had written at the time about the U.S. Embassy’s expressed concern for suspected human rights violations in Saint Lucia. The unresolved writing off of a notorious character at Marchand and of Arthur Clarke added fuel to the flames of American concern.

But while there has been no official reaction to my story published last week, some predictable defenders of the evidently inactive government are quietly suggesting what I wrote was only partly true. They say the U.S. funding of SSU operations continues uninterrupted, never mind my well-placed concerned sources that have reassured me their information was nothing but the truth.

Even as I write, the nation’s prime minister is in a quandary what to do with recently received information relating to extra-judicial executions in Saint Lucia over the years and their connection with drug trafficking and money laundering. The clear suggestion is that the police force has been so compromised that it has become a danger to itself. Operations have at the last minute been called off, or have failed simply because the targets had been tipped off.

The latest word is that over the weekend the police made their biggest cocaine bust ever—aided by a U.S. Drone. Does that prove something? Only the authorities know for sure. In any event, so I have been reliably informed, several of the traffickers managed to escape arrest. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Will the government, with its acknowledged
needs of “a vision, a  plan, a strategy” discover the courage to do what must be done in the country’s best interests? Or are we about to sample life as too many in Mexico have come to know it?

People, you’ve been warned!

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