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‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’

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The murder of Lorna Small has sent shock waves around the country and has made us aware that the surge of violence that is overtaking or has overtaken this country is never far away from any of us. People throughout the country are truly deeply concerned since it is coming nearer and nearer home. As if that was not enough, there is another development that has crept into the life of our country that we need to speak about and stamp out before it gets beyond our control.{{more}} I looked at the weekend papers and noted that the News covered it in its editorial of May 2, under the caption ‘Overkill’. Patrick Ferrari focused on it in his column of May 2 under ‘Military Presence based on Police Intelligence or Politics’? Then Ken Dyer in the Vincentian of May 2 used the medium of cartoons to put it clearly before us. Dyer sketched three cartoon characters representing the FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit), the Black Squad and the SSU with a caption that read “Coming to Ah Business Near You’.

You would no doubt recognise that I am referring to recent developments that saw the presence of armed lawmen at two business places in Kingstown. The News of April 25 reported as follows; “Business activities at two locations in capital Kingstown were interrupted for most of the day Wednesday as heavily-armed officers from the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), the Special Services Unit (SSU), along with plain clothes law enforcement officers from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) stormed two business houses and secured the perimeters.” A News photographer captured it beautifully in a photograph that was not only funny but alarming. It was of an armed policeman standing partly hidden in the trees on Bay Street and two passers-by whom the News imagined to be saying “Ah Wonder if he think he in the jungle”. Really, if it was not so serious it would be comedy at its best. I passed along Bay Street that day and saw scores of persons standing there in utter amazement, many amused, some puzzled by the heavy display of arms. We might very well have been in Beirut or Iraq for all I know.

This is St.Vincent, and maybe a few years ago one might have said that these people had been watching too many movies. But this is 2008 and a lot has changed. But when we thought this massive display of police force was over we heard some days later about the presence of 18 police officers in the wee hours of the morning carrying out searches at Nice Radio. What was this all about? The Police have the right to carry out investigations into any activity of a criminal nature. No one would deny this but why this massive show of force? The police officers sent to Nice Radio were apparently unarmed, but why the arms at the two business places in Kingstown? One would have thought that there were armed criminals, even terrorists in the buildings. To make it more funny and mysterious, I was told that the officers who went into the building to do the investigation were unarmed.

The raid on Nice Radio is an interesting one. It followed news that appeared in the weekend papers of May 2 that the Commissioner of Police had taken issue with a statement made by Douglas DeFreitas in his “In Gear” morning programme. It appeared that the Commissioner was suggesting that DeFreitas totally mixed up two unrelated incidents when he claimed that the Chairman of the Police Welfare Association was ‘bashed’ by the Commissioner and threatened with legal action for supporting the policewoman who made certain allegations about the Prime Minister. The Vincentian newspaper reporting on the issue stated that an investigation was to follow to determine if a member of the Police Force had provided information to the proprietor of the radio station.

One assumed, therefore, that the presence of eighteen policemen at Nice Radio was part of that investigation. Did DeFreitas commit a crime? Why was it necessary to have eighteen policemen in the first place? It is easy to dismiss this and make light of it but this appears to be part of a growing trend. Why guns at the business places! Why was it found necessary to have so many lawmen as part of this investigation? Is there more in the mortar besides the pestle? Was all of this meant to drive fear into the minds of the public? We could all arrive at different conclusions in attempting to analyse what was behind all of this, but we have to be careful and to wonder how far this would go and who will be next. Are we beginning to see the emergence of a Police State?

Patrick Ferrari, in commenting on the show of force around the business places in Kingstown, had the following to say: “The guns and army fatigues was a show; they were on the outside; they were for us; for you and me and the few tourists to see. The whole thing was poorly thought out and far too heavy handed… A few plain clothes police officers and one or two from the Financial Intelligence Unit would have done what they set out to do.” I agree with Patrick. We talk now but it probably will continue until the sight of armed lawmen in army fatigues around town becomes part of the landscape and is accepted. Let me hasten to reiterate that the police must be allowed to carry out their investigations but there must not be as the News would say, an ‘Overkill’ and they must not be allowed to go overboard with this kind of thing. We have to speak out against it

Something else caught my attention last week. The Searchlight reported that our Police Commissioner had demanded apologies from the Bahamian and Grenadian police for having sent letters to the Police Welfare Association of St.Vincent and the Grenadines expressing solidarity with the policewoman who made allegations against our Prime Minister. In his view the letters showed disrespect for the justice system and assumed the guilt of the Prime Minister. Failing to get those apologies the Commissioner apparently indicated that he would then consult the Attorney General about his legal options.

I find this again very amusing. We have Welfare Associations lending support to a member of one of their fellow Welfare Associations in the region. It is like a union expressing solidarity with another union and indeed I imagine that the Police Welfare Association is in some way a quasi-union. To express solidarity is not to suggest that the other party is guilty. It might indeed be a way of asking that the member be given a chance to have her say. It would be interesting to hear what these legal options are. We have a country to build. The police are here to protect us but they must earn our confidence; our trust. Come on, are we going berserk in this country? Is something really rotten in the State of …?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a historian and social commentator.

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