Be careful what we pray for?

For several years now, the last two or three in particular, Saint Lucians have in various ways vigorously expressed the national dissatisfaction with our police department’s performance record. With firearm fatalities being reported at the rate of three a week, the venomous voices of frustration could be heard daily dismissing the police, as if indeed they were themselves directly responsible for the shocking murder rate, the unresolved rapes and other crimes of violence. If the benefit of the doubt was to be given, count on it, it was usually not the police that received it!
Fear seemed to be driving the citizenry, many of whom were apparently convinced the cops were working in tandem with the nation’s worst criminals. It was hardly uncommon to hear irate callers taking on Newsspin’s accommodating host Timothy Poleon, simply because he was unwilling to buy into the notion that the police knew the perpetrators but chose to do nothing about the gang-related deadly shootings, at least two of which had taken the lives of children not yet teenagers. Pointless reminding the local Johnnie Cochrans that without credible informants to supply evidence supportive of their suspicions, the police had no other choice but to release suspects after 72 hours—at any rate, no other choice that was in harmony with the Constitution of Saint Lucia.
It got to the point where a particular famous commentator on all things took to the airwaves to warn presumed less intellectually endowed citizens to keep to themselves whatever they knew about crime, on the basis that it would be suicidal to pass on such information to individuals who might well be criminals in police uniform. Needless to say, he offered no evidence in support of his absolutely outrageous allegation. Other callers of the same cloth demanded that suspects be quickly and quietly disposed of in vats of acid, thereby sparing already abused taxpayers the cost of lengthy trials and food bills. Some suggested the only way to stop crime in our time was via the hangman’s rope and public lashings in Derek Walcott Square.
Then there were those—shameless exploiters of fear—for whom crime represented the surest way to victory at election time: The higher the murder rate, the happier was their sound over the airwaves. When a young woman claimed four police officers had raped her—or facilitated the alleged abuse by others unidentified—there was hardly a public word about due process. Despite a gross lack of evidence, resignations were demanded and the newly installed acting commissioner blamed for the slow pace of justice in the particular matter.
Oh, but now we’re singing a different tune. Today it is a suspected police conspiracy to wipe out certain citizens that seems to occupy popular attention. The same police force that until two weeks ago was widely excoriated, without reliable evidence, for cooperating with the nation’s worst criminals is now being accused of exterminating them—again, so far at any rate, with no evidence. Which is not to say the police are infallible. Regular right-thinking citizens may even be inclined to believe public pressures on our admittedly handicapped cops may have led them to take the law in their own hands. However, before we take things too far and find ourselves inadvertently spitting at the sky, let us remember the police too are supposed to be accountable. Our laws demand they justify their use of force. But then we have never shown any special interest in that particular requirement. Indeed, it seemed not to bother us that most inquests in Saint Lucia (a rarity these days, by the way) were predictably ended with death by misadventure verdicts. Or the police would say “we thought our lives were in danger so we opened fire . . .”—even when the dead man was unarmed.
How many readers remember the names Terry James or Yamaha? Both were summarily dispatched by local Dirty Harrys who successfully pleaded “self defense,” even though the first mentioned was unarmed when he was cut in half by a police shotgun, and the other in handcuffs?
Indeed, few will remember the last time an inquest was held in Saint Lucia. Fewer still would know who is responsible for inquests. And still fewer would care. Sadly, to one extent or another, we are victims of our own device. A sorry situation, I dare to say, that will only grow worse—thanks to our convenient distaste for inconvenient truth!

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