PARLIAMENT has a duty to address the problem of police killings.
It should do so in the first instance by convening an emergency sitting to ventilate the issues surrounding last Saturday’s events.
For such action to be meaningful, MPs need to rise above the fray. They must put aside partisan bickering and be permitted also to put aside the need to toe the party line. Such a debate cannot and need not fall along party lines, given the apolitical role of the police.
MPs must act decisively to protect both police officers and civilians. If it means calling out MPs during the recess, so be it.
The need for Parliament to act arises not only because of questions emanating from last Saturday’s events but also because of the widespread perception that police killings keep happening without much progress being made in addressing them.
Body cameras, dashboard videos, CCTV, legal probes – it’s questionable if they have had a real impact. Some lawyers have flagged problems with the trial process in the rare instances when officers do face action.
This is worsened by the international context. The very notion of policing is under heated scrutiny. TT is very different from the US in terms of race dynamics and culture, but abuse of power is a tinderbox everywhere, as demonstrated by the protests that have taken place here since Saturday.
In addition to action on the part of the executive, legislators must act quickly to quell this. Given the way MPs have found time, even during the pandemic, to address an array of other matters, not to take action now risks the appearance of abdication of duty.
The Parliament’s emergency debate will turn a spotlight on communities often affected by these incidents and their after-effects and allow MPs to voice concerns about those communities. It will allow legislators to consider whether the Police Complaints Authority needs to be given prosecutorial powers.
But the Parliament’s role need not be limited to a debate. It can also resolve to lift the current suspension of committee meetings, owing to covid19, to allow for a special sitting of the Committee on National Security. Such a forum would allow officials to ask key questions.
It could also allow Commissioner of Police (CoP) Gary Griffith a chance to have his say in an official, authoritative setting.
Perhaps such proceedings might convince Mr Griffith that his role is not limited to merely declaring that his officers are under attack, but allow him to listen to suggested strategies for dealing with this dire situation.
Such attacks are reprehensible and need to be prosecuted.
But if the CoP is serious in his desire to see greater support and co-operation with his officers, he needs to account more effectively for their actions.
Parliament could be one avenue for him to do this.