Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Friday, issued a “statement of solidarity” with the people of the United States, where there is ongoing protest over the death of a black man, under the knee of a white police officer.
“The government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines rejoice, in solidarity, with the people of the United States of America in their popular, broad-based and peaceful resistance currently underway in their defence and advancement of liberty and justice consequent upon the killing of an African-American, George Floyd, in Minnesota, at the hands, and knees, of the police,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the nation also joins with all right-thinking persons, the world over, in expressing sympathy and heart-felt condolences to the immediate family and friends of George Floyd at his sudden and unnatural death.
“We regret, too, the incidents of violence which have given rise to damage to property and injury to some during the upsurge of popular resistance. We call on all concerned to be peaceful and exercise sensible restraint so as to avoid ignoble pursuits,” Gonsalves said.
However, some observers have pointed out that the prime minister appeared quick to comment on police excesses in the United States while he remains largely silent about alleged police abuse in SVG.
Further, in some instances where persons have alleged police abuse, Gonsalves, who, as minister of National Security, has ministerial responsibilities for the police force, has been dismissive of these allegations.
In October 2018, Gonsalves told Parliament that there would be no investigation into a claim by a suspended police officer that the nation’s police chief and police officers beat him one month earlier, when he was taken into custody as part of an investigation.
Then-acting Commissioner of Police, Colin John, denied beating the suspended constable, Ettian Charles or seeing anyone else do so when Charles was arrested in September.
Charles and his co-accused had bloody eyes and puffy faces when they appeared in court on robbery and other charges.
Also in October 2018, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) suggested that some police officers were taking the law into their own hands in an attempt to solve crime in SVG.
The party also suggested that the errant police officers may have been spurred on to be abusive to suspects and accused persons because of Gonsalves’ statement that police officers are not obliged to recite the Beatitudes when they confront “hardened criminals”.
In October 2018, Gonsalves pledged his government’s support for police officers who use reasonable force when confronting gunmen in SVG.
The prime minister’s comments came amidst increasing calls by residents of SVG for authorities to do something about a number of shootings across the country.
The prime minister has restated his position from time to time.
However, in January 2019, three months after being criticised for saying that police officers don’t have to recite the beatitudes when confronting “hardened criminals”, Gonsalves was calling for a better relationship between the police and the nation’s youth.
“I want to commend the police on helping to make us safer. But I am concerned that some police officers who are confronting persons who are not hardened criminals — because persons who are hardened criminals, I’ve said before you’re not obliged to recite the beatitudes to them — but I want to make a plea for better relationship between the police and young men on the block for a greater understanding of each other,” Gonsalves said.
In his statement on Friday, the prime minister said that the frequency with which African-American males meet their deaths through police violence in the United States and “the veritable legal immunity accorded to the police in a disproportionally high number of cases, have combined to push this twin occurrence beyond the boundaries of a domestic or internal matter, onto the agenda of international human rights.
“Friends and allies of the USA across the globe have been urging the American authorities to address efficaciously this metaphoric cancer in their society and body politic,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves said it is hereby reaffirmed that “Black Lives Matter”.
“Without this mantra being a lived reality in contemporary America, the true greatness of that remarkable country and its people stands unrealised. As a friend of America, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with its particular history, is available to render assistance and advice to our American brothers and sisters in their attempts at resolving and healing this troubling area of their civilisation’s praxis.”
He further states that the government and people of SVG “know, for sure, that no bombs, guns, bullets, bullying, coercion, political manipulation or such levers of state power can resolve the challenges arising from racial injustice and inequality, nor can those instruments of state facilitate the achievement of long-lasting liberty, justice, peace, and social harmony. Another, better path is possible.
So, we urge at this time of monumental challenges in our hemisphere, and globally, that all our leaders, governmental and non-governmental, embrace both the apt question posed, and the clear answer given, by the Hebrew Prophet Micah: ‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’,” Gonsalves said.