Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stella Says…Even killers and drug dealers should get a fair trial

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 31 October 2006)

There has recently been an increase of criminal deaths at the time of apprehension by law enforcement forces. Kirby Anthony Heywood, called John Kirby, was killed during apprehension after the police say he shot upon them, although bystanders had another story.

In another incident last week, James Bennett was also shot and killed during apprehension when the police say one policeman fell and his “rounds” went off. Again, bystanders had a different story to tell.

Anyone who knows anything about guns whatsoever knows that a gun may go off once during a fall, but not several times. How many times was Bennett “accidentally shot”? Several other suspects have been apprehended under questionable circumstances lately as well. There seems to be a pattern developing that chills me to the bone.

I despise killers, rapists, thieves and drug dealers. I do not wish to have these criminals walking the streets anymore than the next person. However, I also believe every single criminal should have his or her day in court. This is their Constitutional right and it is a necessary aspect of a democratic state.

Vigilante justice and premature justice by law enforcement officials threaten the very foundation of democracy. Although I am sure there are some who are glad to see these criminals out of the way before they are afforded a fair trial, as is evident from some letters to the Editor last week, this notion diminishes the justice system.

If such actions are allowed to continue without being checked, those same letter writers may one day find that they too may need justice and that justice may be nowhere to be found.

If a shooting occurs during the apprehension of a criminal under questionable circumstances, the law enforcement official who committed the act should be temporarily relieved of duty and a full investigation should be conducted, as is the process in most democratic countries.

After the investigation, if it is indeed found that the policeman or woman acted inappropriately, that person should be dismissed from the force immediately. These “accidental deaths” I have detailed are only two in a new trend that seems to be developing and every single one of these deaths should be fully investigated by an independent entity.

Where is that wonderful task force set up by the government to revamp the police force? I am not sure if the President has taken notice, but there are people dying at the hands of his law enforcement officials. Kerik is obviously doing a bang up job. Will this be allowed to continue?

I am sure the international community would love to see how many deaths have occurred of alleged criminals at the time of apprehension during the last three months. Although I am sure these numbers are nowhere to be found either.

It is all quite black and white, policemen and women are not supposed to kill people at all. There might be a rare instance when such a drastic measure may be warranted, but this should certainly not be the norm – as it has been lately.

Every citizen is entitled to a fair trial. I know the justice system is also lacking, including a person’s right to a speedy trial, and is a contributing factor in the denial of justice to those accused of crimes in Guyana. This frustrates the justice system and the population at large, who need to see justice prevail.

However, that topic is for another column and today I am only concerned with apprehending these alleged criminals alive and well so they can get a fair trial. These “accidental deaths” need to stop immediately and an investigation conducted on any that have occurred. This is fair and just.

The people need to know they can trust the police to protect them, but at this point there are many who believe the police are just as crooked as the criminals. Justice must prevail in Guyana – starting with the police force itself.

Email: StellaSays[at]gmail.com

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