How just is the justice system?
By Antoinette Connell | Tue, April 24, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Once I was tagged along with a senior reporter to a murder scene.
When we arrived, the police had already started to cordon of the area, so my colleague pointed out an officer and instructed me to get some information.
I approached – a bit timid since I was still a newbie – identified myself and asked if he could help me with some information – standard procedure.
What happened next is one of my most traumatic moments, and yet, treasured memories.
“Who’s you? I don’t know you!” the officer stated.
A bit stunned, because I knew I had given him my name, I started to repeat my name.
“I don’t know you!” he repeated.
Then that officer proceeded to, as we say, “pitch such a cussing” in me along with talk of arresting someone.
Caught off guard and intimidated by the inspector’s uniform, I just stood there frozen for what seemed an eternity before I muttered something that ended with “sir” and backed into the growing crowd in search of my colleague.
It was then I realized I had been set up. Call it a rite of passage, but at that time any reporter aspiring to the court/crime beat was at some point tossed, without a backup, into the lion’s den of difficult officers.
If you got past that without carrying a grudge or creating a lifelong enemy, you stood a good chance of surviving in the field.
I found my colleague having a good laugh at my expense. About 15 minutes later, while seeking information from other sources, I heard the officer asking for me. I thought: “Oh, no, not again.”
But, as if the incident hadn’t occurred, he provided me with the relevant information and insisted that I would get no more less I jeopardize the investigation. The other information would come once the police got their man.
From that day until today, we have maintained a good relationship; he understood the Press’ need for information in order to fulfill its role to keep the public informed. I, on the other hand, appreciated the police’s need to keep crucial info under wraps until the appointed time.
His approach was the same regardless of the class, colour or station in life of the suspect at the centre of the investigation.
But there are some who do not take this stance. Instead, they heavily sympathize with the better offs and behave as though only those from certain backgrounds should be subjected to public scrutiny.
Last week’s treatment of a prominent couple by allowing them to walk ahead of the cops and slipping them through the back of the court to avoid the Press smacks of preferential treatment. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. At times, it involved officers, lawyers and some court staff who would rather vilify the working journalists charged with no offence other than doing their job.
Such situations, as has happened in the past, have led the public to question whether the sympathetic approach does not stretch all the way up the entire justice system.
At the lower level, do we still carry the outdated belief that colour or background gives one an advantage, thus privileging one group of people over the others?
After such displays, is it possible that anyone can feel confident that at the end of it all they were treated fairly – regardless of the outcome?
Before their fall, Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford enjoyed a certain standing in life. That did not preclude them from having to face the same public scrutiny and procedure in the lead up to their trials.
It all comes down to a sense of fair play which everyone seeks and this certainly is expected when it comes to the justice system.
The way justice is meted out is the measure of the stability of a country.
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