By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 11, 2023)
A video highlighting police brutality is making the rounds on social media. It clearly proves why the police force is so hopelessly alienated from the Vincentian population. It also shows that police high-handedness hinders crime-fighting and negatively impacts the peace and security of our nation.
The police officer in the circulating video makes a mockery of his pledge to protect and serve citizens. Station Sergeant Dwayne McKenzie is pictured manhandling 15-year-old Damali Phillips of Spring Village. The police high command claims to be investigating the assault. They have not contacted or apologised to Damali’s family. When the family tried to take their troubles to Commissioner Colin John, they were instructed to file their complaint with the police public relations and civilian complaint office.
The incident highlighted in the video occurred on July 31 in the sister isle of St. Lucia. Hundreds of young Vincentian young men who are organised into police youth clubs were on the final day of the trip, when the police beat down of the 15-year-old Spring Village youth occurred.
Boys will be boys. They play pranks on each other. One of the boys in the camp where young Damali Phillips was staying mischievously took his bottle of cream. He poured some of the cream onto the face of another boy. Evidently, the boy was not amused and complained to Station Sergeant Mc Kenzie, one of the coordinators of the youth camp. The bottle of cream was left next to the boy, who was smeared with the cream. It was quickly identified as belonging to Damili Phillips.
Station Sargeant Mc Kenzie confronted Damili Phillips, who denied pouring the cream on the other boy. Mc Kenzie pressed his charges, and Phillips maintained his denial. The police officer, disgusted by Damili’s denial, fired a tube of toothpaste at the boy who had walked away from him. McKenzie pursued the young man and proceeded to pour cream on him. The boy resisted. The station sergeant slapped the 15-year-old boy, who attempted to scuffle the police officer. The officer manhandled the boy, punched him in the head and then pelted him with the bottle of cream, hitting him in the head. Mc Kenzie’s assault on the boy left him with a bruised and swollen face.
Any serious and responsible police organisation would immediately try to pacify the family with an apology. Not Colin John and the band of ruffians whom the national security minister described as “angels”. Rather than suspend McKenzie pending the conclusion of the investigation, the officer, business as usual, goes to work every day. He proudly wears his uniform and is still connected to and works as a coordinator of the police youth clubs.
The pattern is clear. Rogue cops are welcomed and encouraged. The convicted officers who beat Jemark Jackson into a coma remain on the force; Officer Lavia, who shot Okeno Fergus in his leg and told him “tek that in yo stupid MC” is an elite officer in the rapid response unit. It matters not that a civil court judge ruled that officers like him do not deserve to be in the ranks of those committed to protect and serve.
When this level of abuse of civilians becomes an everyday occurrence, it’s unsurprising that police officers are feared rather than respected, despised rather than seen as partners in the fight against crime.
On the strength of the video, Station Sergeant Mc Kenzie should be suspended from the force and charged with assault, grievous bodily harm and wounding. An example ought to be made of him and others like him. Then and only then will the police gain some respect, which will help them instil confidence and build collaboration with citizens.
Jamaican criminologist has warning for SVG
Jamaican criminologist Dr. Anthony Harriott told a Voices radio audience Monday night that after studying the crime situations in South Africa, Colombia and Jamaica, he is concerned that our homeland’s crime problem is heading into a new orbit. He said we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We must draw on the lessons of other countries that have travelled a similar path to chronic violence and homicide.
Harriott said there is a level of extraordinariness about violence and hopes that our chronic violence and homicides don’t get there. He said social exclusion and inequality are key drivers of crime.
He noted that the misery index is not always a key indicator of violence because while relative deprivation could predict aggression and violence, one can be impoverished and not be mobilised or disgruntled. However, he said that escalation is a significant danger whenever groups or gangs become involved.
Harriott said that the shooting death of five persons on July 19 might be a dangerous turning point, a severe escalation, because the mass killing may trigger retaliatory killings. He said that while violence is elevated, it’s not yet chronic.
He urged the authorities to look for and study the proximate rather than the root causes of homicide and violence. He said this level of violence has to be nipped in the bud. Impunity cannot be allowed.
Harriott said that the authorities have to avoid the mistake of thinking that these are criminals killing criminals, so we need not bother. He said this societal attitude is dangerous because criminals may believe they can kill with impunity. In addition, he noted that all efforts must be made to detect, arrest and bring the criminal to justice. If this does not happen, criminals may become even more brazen and start shootings and killings during daylight hours.
The retired university professor said the authorities need to reorder the relationship between the police and society. There is a need for community policing and engagement.
Harriott also called on the government to inform its security policies with expert opinion, knowledge and experience. He cautioned that the authorities must be clear on what they want the experts to do. When the experts leave, he says there must be a knowledge transfer.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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