Today’s Editorial in the Barbados Advocate makes for interesting reading. How the Barbados Police Force is reported to have reacted to a social media threat of violence on Foreday Morning Jam makes for interesting discussion and should by now have provoked all sensible Barbadians to reflect on the state of our society that precipitated such action by the Police Force – Barbados Underground
It is at least doubtful whether there will be much disquiet publicly expressed even if the story reported on the front page of another section of the local print press should turn out to be factual. It was to the effect that last week the police had arrested, detained in custody and subsequently released without criminal charge a number of people described as “high-profile person of interest”. “After all”, we can hear the reasoning, “at least they would not have been around to cause any trouble in the weekend before Kadooment street parade and it may be as a result of this measure of that the chronicle of the bloodbath foretold on social media did not occur”.
Very few will protest what is a clear abuse of authority and, strictly speaking legally, there is very little to rely on to do so. The police may by law arrest on a reasonable suspicion that an individual is about to or has committed a criminal offence and thereafter proceed to conduct investigations to determine the probable guilt of the accused, This “fig-leaf” of justification gas already been suggested by Assistant Commissioner of Police with responsibility for Crime. Erwin Boyce who told the press “Any person who is brought into custody is done so for investigative purposes…I don’t know of any other reason why they should be brought in”.
While it is true that the Constitution guarantees a right to personal liberty in section 13, this is expressly made subject to a deprivation “upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed, or being about to commit, a criminal offence under the law of Barbados”.
And although the requirement to establish the reasonableness of a suspicion is placed squarely on the authorities, this is not an especially onerous requirement. Further, although it should never be a relevant consideration, the place of origin of some of the detained persons -Spooner’s Hill, Deacons and Pinelands- will immediately raise a presumption of criminality in the minds of many Barbadians.
Despite the law being ostensibly against them in this matter, some of the detainees have nevertheless retained counsel -to institute actions for false imprisonment, we would suppose.
For all its presumed effectiveness in keeping the celebrations relatively safe, we should wish, without intruding on the exclusive jurisdiction of the police to determine policing strategy to suggest a limited use of this undoubted police power. We have observed with some degree of consternation the recent excesses of the police in the US, although that may be, admittedly, a world removed from our situation Scenarios may be imagined nonetheless where it might be abused locally under other guises and also against individuals who might be of a less immediately suspicious nature.
In other words, while we accept that sometimes the ends may justify the means used to arrive there, we fear the technical abuse by those in authority the letter of the law to infringe a fundamental right even more. It is tantamount to steeping on a slippery slope that bodes danger for the faithful observance of some of the other constitutional rights and ultimately, a police state.
As for the general public disinterest in the matter, we are not surprised. But it may be appropriate here to remember the oft-cited text of Pastor Martin Niemhöller and ask the question, “Who then will be left to speak for us after all the categories into which we do not fit, such as place of residence, hairstyle, criminal record have been excluded?