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Injustice incomplete

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cries of “injustice” have become so much the norm in this small place that they are clichéd. Thousands of scenes of the living folded over themselves in despair over the reality of lifeless bodies—fallen family and friends, children, pensioners, husbands and wives. And it seems there is no redress.


To digest it and keep moving normal normal, the society has crafted, for its own consumption, myths that it cuddles protectively: them women bawling over they criminal children; all of them does say he was a good boy; that was gang-related, pardner; them had to be involve in something underhand; is drugs; ent police say they know them? 


Sea Lots was among those places preceded by its stereotype as a hotbed of poverty, criminality, low education, poor parenting, promiscuity, unschooled bad boys, car thieves and diesel diverters. Until February 24. The small waterfront community suffered a Sunday-morning tragedy that was an autopsy on the country’s soul. While three were taken to hospital, a mother and her two daughters lay on the highway bloodied, lifeless after a routine morning activity—they were returning from the Central Market.


This case was easy: it’s high-profile, with the attention of the acting Commissioner of Police, assorted ministers, media and public; victims and perpetrator identifiable and available; a senior police officer—an acting superintendent, no less—appointed as lead investigator; eyewitnesses; CCTV cameras on the main artery into the capital city; breath analysis and toxicology technology.


The police, in other words, had no excuse to bungle the investigation or drag their feet. Yet to date 49 days have passed and no charges have been laid; the off-duty police officer responsible for the deaths and serious injuries is on paid suspension; the dead have been buried; two of the injured are still hospitalised, one in critical condition; the breath analysis administered almost six hours too late; and a spoilt blood sample that mysteriously disappeared after being drawn at 11.30 am on February 24 and re-appeared on March 22.


Two critical bits of scientific evidence are irretrievable, witness statements are incomplete, the police investigation incomplete, police file incomplete and, as it turns out, injustice incomplete. The people of Sea Lots were fired upon with rubber bullets in a sickening demonstration of police domination.



Now, in the face of all this, they have had to stomach a voluble, unrestrained and impenitent Minister of National Security—whose comment on February 24 was: “An accident is an accident”—saying Thursday, “The fact is everything must take its course, including that enquiry. And I am saying there are other enquiries that are equally important but have not yet been concluded so it’s not inconsistent therefore for this enquiry to take some time”—an unwitting litotes.


Up to the time of writing, no one in high office—not the investigating officer; not the acting CoP; not the ubiquitous Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson, who, according to newspaper reports over the past 49 days, has been making regular trips to Sea Lots; not the Minister of National Security; not the head of the National Security Council; no relevant office-holder has taken responsibility for the mockery that is unfolding.


Rather, most of those office-holders have adopted their usual defensive posture, rubbing sea salt into the national wound created by this matter. 



The one relevant office that has stood its ground—not without an impending avalanche of consequences—is the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). Without this independent, President-appointed authority, there would have been no confirmation of the gross incompetence with which this investigation—and I am sure others—was conducted, there would have been no portal into the abysmal performance of the police, there would have been no hope at all for Sea Lots.


If this case is salvaged and some charges laid, the PCA will have to be given the credit for its hard work, courage and perseverance amid a shower of pressure being rained upon it. That the PCA is independent of the Government seems to have missed Mr Warner, who has forgotten he is not lord and master of all he surveys. Why should the PCA have contacted him before holding its news conference on Thursday? He has no authority over the PCA; he has no jurisdiction. 


If Mr Warner wanted to know what was happening in the Sea Lots enquiry, he should have made a request of the CoP before now and intervened, as best as he could given the independence of the police service, to ensure the investigation was properly done. 


As it is, he essentially accused the PCA of lying: “National Security Minister Jack Warner yesterday said he will seek the facts from the police before he makes any judgment in the fatal Sea Lots accident… What I can do for you, however, is to check with the police authority and to ascertain the validity of the statement.” After the report from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), that statement is an immaculate irony.


A community that has been maligned and stereotyped in the worst ways has now exposed the insides of the beasts of incompetence, potential corruption and injustice. Everything I am hearing from relevant office-holders tells me that the injustice being force-fed to Sea Lots (and the country by extension) is as incomplete as the police investigation.


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