Within the last fortnight, the deadly weapons of privilege or perceptions of privilege in our socially fractured islands have again been assaulting us, albeit in very different contexts.
The High Court gave a judgement in which the State, not for the first time, was ordered to pay damages to two men for wrongful arrest.
The arrests had taken place around 2:30am. The two men were bodily dragged from premises in Moruga, handcuffed and placed in a police vehicle and taken to a police station. More than two years later, the Magistrate dismissed charges relating to alleged possession of a gun, ammunition and marijuana.
Ironically, this judgement is proximate to the shoot-out between two policemen in the Grand Bazaar shopping complex, the video of which went viral. It was reportedly caused by a horn involving a third police officer, a female, that is to say, the female officer had spurned the attacking policeman for the policeman who was attacked.
In this shoot-out case, neither assailant was arrested, handcuffed or dragged anywhere. Sadly, the policeman who was the alleged attacker died days later from his gunshot wounds. But immediately after the incident, there was the usual ole talk of “a probe”—no arrest or police guard at the hospital, as is the procedure for “ordinary,” unprivileged gunmen.
In the days following the incident, persons with a vested interest in protecting one of their own gained prominent attention in the media, outlining the supposedly sympathetic circumstances of the attacker’s breakdown over the horn.
When the law has obviously been broken, there is frequently this type of evasion of prompt arrest and adjudication by the Court. Instead, a public debate—in which sides are taken about the circumstances in which the apparent offence was committed—is cleverly stimulated.
An equally destructive feature of these subjective, conflict of interest-ridden tactics is the use of personal attacks as a distraction from the imperative to pursue accountability and to poison proper consideration of troubling issues.
This represents a blurring of the line between responsibility and mitigation concerning an event for which responsibility must first be attached by due process before any mitigating circumstances can be considered. In other words, there should be an affixing of responsibility first, mercy or forgiveness after that.
The contrast between the Moruga arrests and the lack of arrests in the Grand Bazaar shoot-out violates the fundamental tenet of objective justice that all offenders must face the same consequences subject to any acquittal or mercy that may be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.
The blurring of the normal sequence of justice is prevalent when the alleged offender is prominent, privileged or sufficiently connected to the persons whose job it is to pursue wrongdoing or accountability.
A society in which these lines are constantly blurred descends, as we have, into a vicious free-for-all, in which victims are left crying, without the redress of objective justice while alleged perpetrators with “contact” swagger about.
It must be emphasised that flawed thinking is not confined to the application of criminal justice. The alleged injustices arising from privilege and connections also reared their head outside of the application of criminal justice. I have in mind the controversy over race, class and privilege that devalued the recently concluded annual Bocas Lit Fest.
Mainstream media here largely ignored this controversy, but Judy Raymond made an instructive comment carried in the UK Guardian newspaper, which covered the outbreak of internecine warfare in our literary world.
Describing the aftermath of an essay that interrogated the presence of white women in the Caribbean literary world, Judy was quoted as follows:
“Almost everything that has happened since Kei’s essay has been based on emotion. It is clear that we need to have urgent conversations about race, racism, gender and privilege. Instead careers and friendships are being broken and those conversations are being replaced by the verbal equivalent of hurricanes.”
Many other events make it plain that blind partisanship based on emotion and the desire to protect status quo situations is a deadly weapon driving polarisation and assaulting objective justice in many spheres in this island place.