Editorial: Where do we draw the line?

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It was bound to happen – a debate on whether excessive force was used in the extra-judicial killing of the two alleged suspects in Lightfoot East in the early hours of this past Thursday morning. The suspects allegedly were acting suspiciously in that neighbourhood, and the Rapid Response Unit of the Royal Antigua & Barbuda Police Force, allegedly sprung into action after receiving a tip of their furtive movements. According to the police, the suspects were wearing camouflage fatigues (outlawed in Antigua and the region) and armed with two semi-automatic rifles. The authorities have also divulged that the police opened fire on the suspects after at least one shot was discharged at the law enforcement officers. The police responded with a fusillade that resulted in the deaths of the suspects.
Of course, it was not long before questions began to arise: Who or what were the suspects really after? Why were these suspects still freely roaming the streets of Antigua, when they were already allegedly a clear and present threat to the law-abiding community? Will there be a serious investigation into the actions of the police? And where do we draw the line?
All of this is not to suggest that we here at OBSERVER media are in any way suggesting that a line was crossed or that we are questioning the veracity of the police version of events. This is also not an attempt to throw cold water on the palpable sense of relief that is being felt in some circles at the demise of these two alleged bad actors. After all, we share the concern of our fellow Antiguans and Barbudans at the upward spiral in crime and violence in our fair land. Clearly, when there were four killings in 10 days, as the headlines blared, it was more than enough to give every law-abiding Antiguan and Barbudan agita. Not to mention the law enforcement authorities who were coming under increasing pressure from the citizenry to do something about the disconcerting down-turn in our sense of peace and safety.
Did the police use excessive deadly force? Apparently not. According to reports, the suspects shot at the police.  Of course, police have the right to respond with deadly force if they reasonably believe that their lives are in danger. This Lightfoot East incident certainly appears to fit the parameters laid out for the employment of deadly force. And of course, there are many among us who are openly saying that these suspects, allegedly hardly choir boys, got their just desserts. While that may be so, we certainly do not want to cross the very fine line between a responsible, restrained and professional police force, and a ‘law-unto-itself’ police state where “the end justifies the means,” or where, in desperation to get a handle on the crime situation, the thinking becomes “Sometimes bad things need to be done in order to keep worse things from happening.” This was the mantra of the infamous and notorious death squads in places like Argentina and Peru, and the rationale offered up by law enforcement for their extra-judicial killings of drug suspects in Thailand and the Philippines in their so-called “War on Drugs”. It was this type of thinking that also led to the summary killings of criminal gang suspects in the ghettoes of Brazil.
Naturally, these extra-legal, or extra-judicial killings (“a killing of a person by a governmental authority without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process”) have been denounced by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Their argument, of course, is that law enforcement cannot be a law unto itself and act as judge, jury and executioner. Everyone is entitled to “due process” and is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. All well and good! By the same token, when bad actors are taken out because they had the audacity to allegedly open fire on the police, and when the police seem to have responded with exceptional bravery, putting their lives on the line to protect the decent citizens of this fair land, they ought to be applauded. Theirs is a thankless task; a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” undertaking. Often, a pat on the back is in order. Remember, the headlines this past Friday morning could very well have been that more innocent civilians had fallen victim to crime and violence!

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