It will probably come as good news to the present and previous administrations that the nation’s only protectors of life and property have been rendered so distrusting of their uniformed brethren as to be reluctant even to breathe in one another’s presence.
Their fear has as much to do with their own vulnerabilities as with the actions of deluded politicians plagued by the inevitable consequences of long-term small-fish life in large ponds—among them a numbing of what small sense of right and wrong they may once have possessed.
Which is not to say there had ever been a time when our police force was not afflicted with paroxysms of paranoia. It’s the price paid by victims of the Machiavellian divide and rule tactic ruthlessly practiced by notoriously talentless and selfish politicians determined to keep the people’s sole protectors slightly off balance.
During a televised address on the evening of Sunday 8 March 2015, this is what the prime minister told the nation: “Between 2010 and 2011 twelve persons met their deaths following encounters with officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force . . .”
Did the prime minister mean to say that following their encounters with the police the “twelve persons” had headed home to their comfortable beds to die natural deaths? Were they struck en route by lightning? Or were the cited twelve unfortunate casualties of encounters of a third deadly kind?
In all events the prime minister kept to himself the US State Department’s uncharacteristic interest in the deceased dozen. After all, before their sudden demises other citizens had suffered fatal encounters with local law enforcement without raising hackles at home, let alone attracting the “attention of the United States of America.” The names of several victims come to mind: Yamaha, 18-year-old Terry James; Charles Corbeau, Charlie Boo, Charles Cochon, Michael “Gaboo” Alexander, Nevian Hippolyte, Bonnie . . . the list is long.
The largest number of civilian casualties had occurred in the Castries Basin, the prime minister recalled during his 2015 speech, allegedly during the execution of duly authorized search warrants. “These deaths attracted the attention of the United States of America, among others.”
He said the US State Department had published in its Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011 that “the most serious human rights problems included reports of unlawful police killings . . . twelve potentially unlawful.”
While referencing the provisions of the Leahy Law the prime minister said: “No assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the secretary of state has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
Moreover: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the secretary of defense has received credible information from the Department of State that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights—unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken.”
Conceivably because such “necessary corrective steps” had not yet been taken three years following the alleged “gross violation of human rights,” the US government—by the prime minister’s doubtless accurate account—had “ceased all financial and technical assistance to our coast guard.” Saint Lucia was now “solely responsible for the maintenance of its coast guard fleet,” no longer able to “purchase ammunition from the US for its American-made weapons.”
Additionally: members of the RSLPF were barred from participating “in any training program sponsored or financed by the United States.” Local police officers were persona non grata even at “training activities of the Regional Security System,” said the prime minister, “our own regional organization, once sponsored or financed by the United States.”
While confirming the withdrawal of a US visa granted a “former deputy police commissioner” he claimed had been “in charge of operations when the alleged extra-judicial killings took place,” the prime minister revealed police commissioner Vernon Francois also had been “denied entry to the United States, even to attend security meetings with officials of the United States.”
The prime minister predicted more fall-outs.
A small digression: US Senator Patrick Leahy first introduced the Leahy law in 1997 as an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. Before 1997 the primary legislation constraining aid to countries with poor human rights records was Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibited security to “any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Presumably to underscore his government’s rock-and-a-harder-place position, the prime minister repeated himself: “The stark reality we confront is that the United States will only lift those sanctions if in their judgment all necessary corrective steps have been taken. The fact remains that for a tainted unit or member of such a unit to become eligible for training again, the secretary of state must determine and report to the United States Congress that the government of Saint Lucia is taking effective steps to bring responsible members of the security forces unit to justice. If the sanctions are to be removed, we must show proof we are taking corrective steps to deal with the situation.”
And what was the situation to be dealt with? The prime minister offered a hint at the start of his national address delivered on 20 August 2013: “A few days ago I promised that I would issue a statement to address issues of concern and in particular the reasons for the actions of the United States to disallow the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force from participating in training programs arranged or financed by the United States. Tonight I address you in fulfillment of that promise.” He cited rumors of a “hit list of targeted persons deemed to be criminals” and recalled that while his party was in opposition he had “seen such a list.”
He offered no indications on the evenings of 20 August 2013 and 8 March 2015, that the Police Complaints Department was ever in receipt of information remotely suggestive of illegality in the matter of the twelve not so dearly departed.
Nevertheless on the recalled Sunday evening in March this year, his forefinger aimed accusingly, the prime minister said, for the second time in two years: “Some twelve persons met their deaths” in the aftermath of the launching by Prime Minister Stephenson King of “what became known as Operation Restore Confidence.”
“When the killings occurred,” he went on, as if addressing newly arrived visitors from Mars, “a few in our midst protested; some on the other hand applauded and welcomed the seeming reduction in homicides; others remained largely silent.”
Still by the prime minister’s account: “Officials of the United States say they have taken action against police officers” by denying them training opportunities, by withdrawing their US visas, by denying the force financial assistance for its coastguard fleet. The greater truth would’ve been to acknowledge the State Department had taken action against a government that by US measure “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Oh, but it would not have served simply to report that for reasons well known and earlier publicized by this newspaper, the State Department had carried out its threat after years of inactivity by the government of Saint Lucia on the matter of the suspect deaths. The police were never the State Department’s reason for the State Department’s punishing actions.
Nevertheless, three years or so after the then House opposition leader (now our nation’s prime minister) set eyes on a particular death list; three years after the police activities that reportedly had resulted in what the prime minister now describes as “alleged extra-judicial killings,” he effectively announced on TV that American dollars were at the root of his decision finally to bow to United States demands.
“The fact remains,” he repeated, “for a tainted unit or member of such unit to become eligible again . . . if the sanctions are to be removed, we must show proof that we are taking corrective steps to deal with the situation.” It remained unclear whether “the situation” referred to the State Department’s no-more-money ultimatum or to the prime minister’s own conviction that the police were guilty as charged by the Americans.
His first “corrective step” was to make appropriate adjustments to the Police Complaints Act that would conceivably accommodate the prime minister’s recruitment in 2014 of a team of eight Jamaicans to investigate Royal Saint Lucia Police Force participants in 2010’s Operation Restore Confidence. (I will leave it to our more notorious legal killibwis to pronounce on the constitutionality of this apparent convenience.)
Suffice it to say that the prime minister admitted publicly on 20 August 2013 that “the conduct of this exercise . . . has pitted officer against officer, led to finger-pointing, accusations and counter accusations.” Additionally, it also had “undoubtedly undermined the morale of the police force.”
My own relentless special interest in this matter centers on why the government chose to have local officers investigated by foreign personnel on the basis of complaints never made to the local police against the local police. Consider the following by our prime minister on the evening of 13 August 2013:
“The United States believes it has credible evidence that the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights. The question which should be asked is whether the government of Saint Lucia has taken or is taking measures to bring responsible members of the police force to justice. Of course, those so-called responsible members would first have to be identified. More pointedly, what do our laws say when unexplained deaths occur?”
Those responsible? Responsible for what? When Saint Lucians have complaints against our police, we are legally permitted two options: complain to the Police Complaints Unit headed by the police commissioner or take the matter to court. At no time before has a government of Saint Lucia, pressured by a foreign government, undertaken an investigation of the police for alleged infractions never reported by an aggrieved citizen, resident or visitor.
It does not require genius genes to discern that the complaints of “gross violations” were against the government, whether headed by Stephenson King or Kenny Anthony. In any case, the US State Department demands were leveled at the current government’s stubborn refusal to act on US allegations against the police. In this case, the police are no more than the government’s nuts, to be squeezed by the US until the Kenny Anthony government hollered Uncle Sam. Remember, the Leahy law and the Foreign Assistance Act were both designed as tools for keeping in line “governments that engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Referencing the much-cited twelve suspect deaths, the prime minister said there had been six related inquests that had returned verdicts of death by lawful act. (Actually seven of the eight inquests have concluded the police acted lawfully!)
With a face absolutely devoid of embarrassment, the prime minister concluded: “Since the United States has decided to impose sanctions on members of the RSLPF, then it is reasonably clear that it does not have confidence in the outcome of the inquests to bring those responsible for the killings to justice, if there is a basis to do so. The presumption seems to be that the killings were unlawful.” To which, the reader might ask: “Since when it’s the role of a foreign country to determine local inquests are not to be trusted?” Then again, many here have said similarly without attracting the attention of a Saint Lucian prime minister!
By all the prime minister’s own words quoted in the preceding paragraph, he had under major duress recruited a team of Jamaican investigators to look into allegations by the US State Department. Did this mean the investigators were handed evidence against local cops? If so, by whom?
Was the prime minister interviewed about the death list he claimed to have seen with his own eyes? Were the investigators fully informed of all that was at stake if they did not deliver what the State Department expected?
A final (for now) question: Who decided the only fatal police shootings worthy of investigation had occurred between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2011? Why were the fatal shootings of Elishious Louis and Dennis Dalton Greene not worthy of the investigators’ time?
The unfortunate duo were shot dead, allegedly by police, on 10 January 2012 and 31 July the same year. Could their exclusion from the IMPACS list have something to do with what party was in office at the time of their deaths?
Oh, but that would tend to paint the whole IMPACS affair in political colors, and that would be farfetched. Wouldn’t it?