EDITORIAL: Discretion is the better part of power

Our very good friend, the Mighty Scorpion, once sang a calypso called, SOMEBODY JOKING, and we believe that that title and refrain are appropriate for the humiliating farce that ensued at the All Saints Secondary School last week Thursday. With one big exception, of course: Antiguans and Barbudans are not amused, and very few people are laughing at a most disgraceful case of police abuse of power. Here’s a brief recap of what happened in All Saints. Apparently, a female teacher at the All Saints Secondary School called the police to report that over $4,500 that she’d left in her bag in the staff room was missing. The authorities arrived at around 1:30 p.m. and proceeded to strip-search the 14 teachers who were still on the premises. According to one teacher, “Man and woman had to remove every piece of clothing – panty and bra, and we were made to squat and cough in front of strangers. It was humiliating, and we feel like our civil decency was violated by the police and the woman who orchestrated this chain of events.” To say that we are shaking our heads, is putting it mildly. We are outraged! And we can feel the pain of those 14 teachers and share their sense of having being seriously violated by those sworn to protect them.

On any level, this was beyond the pale. It was a most degrading and over-the-top response to an alleged incident that may or may not have happened in the staff room. After all, it has been reported that the complainant went to her home to see if perchance, she’d left the money there. It is also not beyond the realm of possibility to presume that she checked her car as well. Furthermore, while the 14 teachers who remained after school were searched, in a most embarrassing and exceedingly invasive manner, (without a warrant, mind you) it remains unclear whether the police dispatched officers to search the cars, homes and body cavities of the other staff members who were at work that day.

We will not pretend to be schooled in the minutiae of the law as it pertains to police searches of one’s person, neither will we claim knowledge of the policies and procedures of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda in that regard. What we do know is that there are laws against “unlawful searches.” There are also laws that speak to law enforcement exercising its authority judiciously and on the strength of “probable cause.” To whom much power is given, it is expected that such an one, or such a body, will exercise much restraint and discretion in the use of that power in the discharge of his or her duties. The bard, Sir William Shakespeare, said it best in his much-revered THE QUALITY OF MERCY speech delivered by Portia in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. We submit for your consideration a paraphrased version of that speech. “ . . . His sceptre (firearm and badge) shows the force of temporal power, the attribute to awe and majesty, wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings (and police officers). But the (restrained and common-sense wielding of power) is above this sceptered (gun and badge) sway. It is enthroned in the hearts of kings (and police officers) It is an attribute to God himself. And earthly power doth then show likest God’s when the courteous, professional and respectful exercise of that power seasons the carrying out of one’s obligations.”

We here at Observer media have a great deal of respect for our men and women in uniform. For the most part, they do a good job in keeping us safe and upholding law and order. And yes, they put their lives on the line in that pursuit. We say, “Thanks!” Nonetheless, we are disturbed at what appears to be a nuclear response to an alleged theft. Those 14 teachers were not only stripped of their clothing, but of their self-respect and dignity. It was a violation of international norms and human rights and best police practices, and we certainly condemn it. We can only begin to imagine (not a pleasant thought) the horror and humiliation that those teachers experienced, and it is not difficult to suggest that they will never forget this traumatic and shameful treatment. They have our sympathies.

In the meantime, we sigh as we follow this story, especially since it brings to mind a sad line from King Short Shirt’s POWER AND AUTHORITY: “When they have power and authority, they don’t give a damn about you and me . . .”

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