By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
February 23, 2021
An autopsy showed the horrendous manner in which Andrea was killed. Rich and poor, Africans and Indians, urban and rural folks, were all repulsed by the barbarity of her killers.
These were private citizens. All they possess was the power of their moral and spiritual outrage at the affront to their humanity. It was as if to say: “We are fed up with this bestial behaviour. Let us affirm that there are still human beings in this place who value life and the well-being of our fellow citizens.”
Even as we mourned our loss, the police were abusing their authority in a sadistic manner. The Express reported that Andrew Morris “was beaten to a pulp by police while he was being interrogated” about Andrea’s killing.
“Arriving at Morris’ home in a convoy of black and white heavily tinted SUVs, SORT officers proceeded to mercilessly beat an unarmed Morris in front of his yard while interrogating him on the whereabouts of Bharatt….The beating lasted over 45 minutes, during which Morris at times curled himself into a foetal position with both hands covering the back of his head.”
On Morris’ death, Gary Griffith, the Commissioner of Police (CoP), claimed he “fell from a chair…during his attempt to resist arrest, Morris reportedly fell to the ground and in so doing also caused an officer to fall. Morris continued to struggle with the officers and resisted efforts to subdue him.”
Question: What was so different about the barbarity that Andrea suffered at the hands of her killers from the savagery Morris suffered at the hands of the police?
Rather than try to get to the bottom of this extra judicial killing of Morris, Griffith chastises Senator David Nakhid for querying Morris’ death:
“Senator Nakhid has already adjudicated this issue and found persons guilty. The Commissioner is unaware of which investigative body Senator Nakhid is a member of, since this matter is being investigated by both the TTPS Professional Standard Bureau (PSB) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and Senator Nakhid is not party to either.”
In other words, Senator Nakhid and other citizens are not supposed to say a word about these matters until the official bodies announce their findings. Nor, for that matter, is the commissioner required to be respectful of the views of ordinary citizens or members of the legislative branch of government. Just as the CoP was defending the actions of his officers, Bronx district attorney Darcel Clarke was ordering her office’s Conviction Integrity Unit “to review dozens of other homicide investigations handled by detectives” in her office” (The New York Times, February 15).
One black man, Huwe Burton, spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Now, 20 years later, the Bronx district attorney is leading a wide-ranging enquiry into whether the tactics that the detectives used in Burton’s case and in the cases of 31 others were justified.
It is true that these cases took place in “an era when violent crime in New York was at record highs. The police were under significant pressure to make arrests, especially in high-profile cases, and prosecutors faced similar demands to win cases they brought to trial”. (The New York Times.)
Yet, the question remains: Were the police justified in using these high-handed tactics?
There can be no doubt that the anxiety and fear around Andrea’s killing brought much pressure upon the police to find the murderers. However, were the police tactics, even their descending to the use of murder, justified in their desire to find a suspect? Was it necessary to beat men to a pulp to get a confession out of them?
Agencies such as TTPS, PSB, and PCA have an obligation to investigate the accusation that Morris and Joel Balcon were killed by the police. Commissioner Griffith has a duty to respect the opinions of the public which he serves. But if Andrea’s murderers and the police see no need to abide by the rule of law, then who will prevent us from descending into that indeterminable space where lawlessness becomes the order of the day? And just as important, how do we guard against the brutish state that Arthur N R Robinson warned us about.
In 1989, Robinson tabled a motion at the UN General Assembly to establish the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prosecute people for crimes against humanity. The court, established in 1989, issued its first verdict in 2012 against Thomas Lubanga, a militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was responsible for war crimes (London Guardian, April 13, 2014).
Nestor Dinno-Alloy, the attorney for the Morris family, reminded us that T&T “is not a Gestapo state”, but one which needs to abide by the rule of law. The actions of SORT officers clearly show they are above the law. The CoP gives the impression that he sees nothing wrong with the actions of his officers nor do the investigative bodies treat these complaints with the urgency they require.
How tragic if the country that offered the initial impetus for the creation of an international tribunal to prosecute people who commit crimes against humanity fails to prosecute those who commit crimes against their fellow citizens, be they private citizens or police officers?