EDITORIAL: Human rights report highlights familiar failing

THE prolonged failure to carry out inquests into police-involved shootings has been an issue that The Tribune has long spotlighted – and now it is garnering international attention.

The latest report by the US on human rights issues in The Bahamas notes that an astonishing 74 cases of police-involved shooting deaths still await their turn at the Coroner’s Court.

That is an absolute failure of justice – and we say that both in regard to the families wanting answers for what happened that led to officers opening fire and killing someone, and for the officers themselves.

Without knowing the circumstances of the cases – because they have not yet been examined in a legal process – some of those incidents will have likely been justified shootings. How many, we cannot say for sure, of course, but for officers who were doing their jobs properly, that cloud hangs over them too.

It even begs the question of whether there is any particular officer involved in multiple shooting incidents that remain unresolved.

Back in 2017, when The Tribune reported on the long backlog over police-involved killings, former Attorney General Carl Bethel called the delays “unacceptable”. That was when there were about 28 outstanding such cases.

And yet here we are, years later, with the delays seemingly not only accepted but added to even more.

As with many things, the COVID pandemic has affected the situation – but it is not solely responsible. A significant delay was caused by the failure to appoint a lawyer to marshal the cases.

Things do seem to be starting to move again at last – but the backlog will take some considerable effort to clear. Some cases might never be adequately resolved. With the passage of time, some witnesses may no longer be available, for example. A verdict may be reached, but will it be the verdict that might have been recorded closer to the time of the shooting?

The absence of a lawyer to marshal the cases also indicates the level of priority such incidents are being given. You will note it is one lawyer, not two, three, or more. That total of 74 will take a lot of work for one person to work through.

And all of that comes without adding any new cases that occur.

Our nation has a higher rate of police-involved shootings than elsewhere, when looked at with regard to the number of cases compared to the population level.

Will every one of those outstanding cases prove to be justified shootings, and our increased incidence of fatal shootings is appropriate? We see cases of inappropriate police behaviour in other nations, we should not be so naïve to think there are no such cases here.

But we haven’t even had the opportunity to weigh up whether these are fair shootings or not – the case hasn’t even reached the coroner’s court to start with.

The old saying says that justice delayed is justice denied – what is it when there seems no hope at all of justice being reached?

For the sake of families, we ought to devote the resources needed to find the answers. For the sake of officers carrying out their duties appropriately, we ought to ensure their names are clear. And for the officers who have acted inappropriately, we ought to ensure they are not back on the streets if they have taken an action that needlessly cost a life.

For all of those reasons, the coroner’s court needs to be fully functional, and finding the answers to every single one of those 74 deaths.


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