The chilling images of the three Morvant residents with their hands up before being cut down by police bullets demand an urgent response that recognises the critical importance of public trust in the process of law, order and justice.
We are therefore heartened by the prompt decision of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to launch an investigation into Saturday’s police killings and by the assurance of Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to support the PCA with whatever is needed for its probe. This is good but it is far from enough.
By now, all the officers involved in Saturday’s incident should have been suspended pending the outcome of an independent coroner’s inquest as well as the PCA probe. We have noted Commissioner Griffith’s statement that the Police Service will investigate the shootings but we are firmly of the view that the killings captured on video warrant an independent inquest at arm’s length from the TTPS. We therefore urge the Judicial and Legal Service Commission to use its authority under the Coroner’s Act to appoint a coroner of demonstrated calibre and independence to conduct an inquest. One would assume that if the inquest finds a case to be answered by any or all of the officers involved Commissioner Griffith would then have the right to consider the legal option of dismissal “in the public interest”.
Further, while the PCA has been commendably prompt in announcing its investigation, we are aware of its many resource challenges and the limitations on the scope of its authority. The PCA is already creaking under the burden of having to investigate a growing number of police killings, now standing at 33 for this year alone. We therefore urge the authorities to step up its support for the PCA with the urgent provision of much-needed resources. In addition to all the other problems affecting the delivery of justice, Trinidad and Tobago cannot afford the problems of a PCA further crippled by a lack of resources.
We are relieved that Commissioner Griffith did not resort to his usual knee-jerk defence of police officers involved in killings. The change of tone and attitude may well be due to the fact that the killings were captured on video. Whatever the reason, his public commitment to support the PCA’s probe was the responsible thing to do.
The video of the killings now in wide circulation would have come as a shock to the many citizens who have been vocal in their support of the police in eradicating suspected gangsters, infamously described by Commissioner Griffith as “cockroaches”. Advocates for due process, which include this newspaper, have largely been on the wrong side of a substantial segment of the public who have been so panicked by rising crime that they have been pushed to the point of trading the constitutional right to due process for personal safety. In several cases, officers involved in killings have been given the benefit of the doubt by a public anxious to support the police in rolling back the tide of crime. For many, this is the natural human response to fear. However, we must not allow fear to make us give up on justice.