55 gunned down by the law in 2020

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FILE PHOTO: Police subdue a protester during unrest in East Port of Spain on June 30 over the police-involved killings of three men in Morvant three days earlier. – Jeff Mayers

The 74-year-old mother of Noel Diamond who did not wish to named, spent most of last week crying for her dead 46-year-old son.

She told Newsday they lived together, and he would do everything for her especially during Christmas time. But last week she had to clean her empty house on her own with no one to keep her company, save for a picture on a table in her house.

“I feel lonely. Whole week I am crying. While I did my housework, tears were running down my eyes.

“I would take my picture of him and kiss it. Then I would say to myself I know he wouldn’t want me to cry, so I would wipe my tears, wash my face and continue working.”

Diamond was shot dead by police along with 43-year-old Joel Jacobs and 27-year-old Israel Clinton on June 27. The trio were among 55 people who were killed by police for the year.

Diamond’s mother was not the only person that expressed their longing for their dead child to Newsday. The mother of Ornella Greaves, Annette, whose daughter was shot dead by a stray bullet during protests following the trio’s death also told reporters about the pain she felt losing her daughter.

“If they only know what they were doing to people,” Greaves lamented, “Would they like someone to do the same to their family? I have faith in God. I know that God can do what mankind cannot. Even if I don’t get justice soon, I know I would get justice one day.”

In the case of Diamond, Clinton and Jacobs, police claim they stopped their vehicle on Juman Drive, Morvant, and one of the occupants drew a firearm, prompting them to shoot and kill all three. However CCTV camera footage depicts the three men stopping their vehicle and putting their hands out of the vehicle before police opened fire. One of the men also exited the vehicle and put his hands in the air.

With the death of George Floyd in the United States at the hands of a police officer in May, the trio’s death and the subsequent release of video footage of the incident, sparked protests in the nation’s capital. But, unlike the protests for many other police-involved killings, this one was more intense. Angry East Port of Spain residents burned debris, blocking several roads and marched the streets with their hands in the air, screaming “don’t shoot.”

Police came out in force, doing everything in their power to quell the protest, including attempting to disperse the crowds by firing gunshots into the air or using tear gas.

Greaves was recording footage of a protest along the Beetham Highway when she was hit by a stray bullet in the waist. She died at hospital shortly after. She was four months pregnant.

Police killings are higher this year than it has been in the past five years, according to the Police Complaints Authority. The death toll outpaced last year’s figure of 32. As a matter of fact, in the past five years save for this year’s number, the highest recorded number of police killings is in 2018, when police killed 37 people.

‘PCA investigates every incident’

PCA head David West told Newsday that each police killing was investigated. He said cases were thoroughly and independently investigated by his organisation, and advice was then given to the Director of Public Prosecutions who would further advise whether or not charges should be laid.

One example of the PCA in action would be its involvement in the arrests and charging of six officers for the murders of Abigail Johnson, Alana Duncan and Kerron “Fingers” Eccles who were all killed in 2011 in an encounter with police.

Their independent investigations also sometimes gather evidence that police may miss. In 2019, West revealed in a Newsday report that after the death of 14-year-old Naomi Nelson, who was killed by a stray bullet during a shoot-out with gang members in Big Yard Carenage, that PCA investigators found spent shells at the scene which Crime Scene Investigators left behind. He called for PCA investigators to be present at developing crime scenes where police are involved.

But West was not able tell Newsday the reason for the rise in police-involved killings this year.

DCP Macdonald Jacob told Newsday the matter was simple – more people were killed by police, because more people got involved in shootouts with police officers.

Jacob said with the number of high-powered rifles increasing, criminals were becoming more brazen and more inclined to face off with police officers.

In a police press briefing held in August, Jacobs said police had recovered twice the amount of high-powered weapons than they did for the same period in 2019. At the time, of the 511 firearms they seized, 42 were high-powered weapons. The year before, police found 21 high-powered rifles.

In fact, up to Sunday, police reported the discovery of over 2,000 rounds of high-calibre ammunition, along with barrel cartridges to enhance the rate of fire for high-powered weapons.

In August Jacob also pointed out that the weapons were not only being used on police but, through recovery of high-calibre shells while processing scenes, police had determined that criminals also used them in drive-by shootings.

Even Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, in a police press briefing held earlier this year, said police officers were being engaged by gang members carrying high-powered weapons on a weekly basis.

Griffith said if there was an increase in the number of people who shoot at police, there would be an obvious increase in the number of police who shoot back.

“Prior to my tour, there was a situation in Chaguaramas and, for five hours, shots were firing and officers did not want to go in because, I don’t know whether it was leadership or they somehow feel they would not be protected by their leader. That is not happening on my watch.

“Any time anyone feels that they could control a block, alley, or feel they could fire upon police, we will deal with any criminal. You shoot at any police officer anywhere in the world and they will retaliate and they will make sure that the threat is neutralised.”

‘Police will outgun you’

But bravery does not win a gunfight, training does; and Jacobs told Newsday the gap between police officers and gang members in that regard is vast.

“The police are trained and they will outgun you. We are also doing constant training so we will be even more effective.”

However, in an effort to modernise the police, administration has revamped its use-of-force policy to include the use of non-lethal weapons, including pepper spray and tasers, as well as body cameras. This, the police hopes, will reduce fatalities during altercations between police and citizens who may end up in confrontation with law enforcement.

When facing with a person in a confrontation with police, officers are now instructed to first use verbal warnings, then ultimatums, then physical restraint, then the use of non-lethal devices before they can pull a gun.

Jacobs said while this strategy may reduce the number of police-involved killings the reduction may not be by much, as in some cases police officers are entering going to high-risk areas where criminal elements will open fire on them.

In situations like that, Griffith said in an earlier press briefing, police have a fraction of a second to react. This is why the commissioner said he will maintain his position on police officers’ attitude when engaging criminals, regardless of the number of claims that suspects were not armed.

“If there are one, two, three, five situations (where people claim suspects were not armed) it is not going to make me tell officers do not fire at people to defend yourself or others.

“And those situations are not even before the courts, they have not been thoroughly investigated to verify if police officers abused their authority or not. It must not in any way deter a police officer to have him second guess the time that he may be able to draw his firearm.

“If you are a police officer and a man is coming up to you and he is drawing his firearm and he is aiming at you. Think of how you would react? Too late, you’re dead.”

RISE IN POLICE KILLINGS

2020 55

2019 32

2018 37

2017 36

2016 28

2015 17

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