Martin Daly____Use

Martin Daly

Daunte (pronounced Dante) Wright, aged 20, is the latest black man to be killed by a white police officer in the United States. The matter that first drew the attention of the police to him was minor.

A questionable explanation has been given for the shooting of Daunte. The police officer announced an intention to tase Daunte, but “accidentally” drew her gun instead of her Taser and fired one shot from the gun. Experts are pondering how such an “accident” occurred when the gun is holstered on the side of the dominant hand of the officer and the Taser on the other. Moreover how do you mistake a Taser for a gun, given the reported significant differences in weight, feel and colour between a Taser and a gun?

Days before Daunte’s killing, a black army lieutenant, Caron Nazario, also came to the attention of the police over the display of a rear vehicle licence plate. Fortunately, that confrontation was not fatal. The victim was pepper-sprayed, thrown onto the ground and handcuffed, but the now-dismissed police officer did not kneel on his neck or shoot him.

In the case of Daunte, his vehicle licence plate was also an issue. His “tabs”—that is, the tags added to the licence plate showing the month and year of the expiration of the licence—were expired. After Daunte was already stopped, it was then discovered that Daunte had an outstanding warrant.

As is apparent from both these confrontations, US police “don’t make joke” when it comes to traffic stops. Their guns are drawn at the outset, or within seconds, if they perceive resistance or discover some other problem. If the person engaging their attention is black, a roughing-up, at least, is almost inevitable. In some States activists say that in addition to the offence of DUI (driving under the influence), there is the unofficial offence of DWB—driving while black.

These cases are immediately and widely reported because of the cumulative effect of a string of incidents culminating in worldwide protests over the killing of George Floyd. The trial of Floyd’s police assailant is currently in progress before a worldwide television audience. Daunte’s killing took place a mere ten miles away from the location of George Floyd’s killing.

Police-involved killings are currently a high-profile topic here in Trinidad and Tobago. Those killings also raise serious issues of discriminatory profiling but there are few police body cameras (body cams) to expose the truth of the incidents. However, unlike in the US, it is not a topic that is stimulating any significant pressure for reform of police procedure. Protests in respect of the deaths are only very narrowly based.

The reasons for the lack of greater public interest in proper investigations into these killings are complex. The public mood is bloodthirsty, but it would be disingenuous to dispute that lack of concern about police-involved killings is attributable in part to indifference, and sometimes scorn, towards the socio-economic class in which many victims are rooted. Within that class Peter pays for Paul when seeking employment and sometimes falls into a Daunte’s inferno of bullets or blows.

Despite our living in relative peace for now, pockets of shade and class preference are rampant in our island nation. Many, enjoying the preference of not being perceived as “those people”, hug the status quo for every dollar it puts in their pocket and for every perceived upscale or glossy location they can get into. Those suffering from “positionitis” will neither rock the boat nor mourn for any mother reputedly of a different class.

But police body cams are beginning to make an appearance. It is for the routine use of such equipment that so-called civil society must clamour. That matters more than some recent legislation, which may soon attract the label NOMRES—no measurable results.

Meanwhile, we are back in partial lockdown. The spike in Covid infections was plain before Easter. In my view the mantra “follow the science” was deliberately cast aside. Consequently, it likely ran its merry but macabre course through the Easter weekend, undeterred by the boastful and unrealistic attitudes displayed at official media conferences.

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