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JEFF BROOMES: Where do law and civil rights part ways?


JEFF BROOMES: Where do law and civil rights part ways?

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THERE ARE FEW PEOPLE that I like, respect and support more than our Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith. 

We have had a long-standing friendship that began in our school days and has survived for 50 years. We share a lot and agree on most things. 

But, as we all know, even among the closest of friends and even family, there are differences in views. 

This seems to be the situation between my buddy and me on one specific issue that has generated much discussion in the public domain. Although the responses may be difficult to arrive at, the question is simple, “Should police officers be allowed to wear locks?”

I begin by saying that this question brings three decision-making structures into focus. Are regulations important? How should regulations correlate with the established law? Finally, where should the law and civil rights part company? All three of these factors are important, but none can stand exclusively without interlocking with the others.

As the leader of any organisation, it is one’s duty to uphold its tenets, its image and its reputation. In each case, such protection may have an impact on effectiveness.

In any law enforcement agency, effective execution of assigned duty is absolutely important. My question is, does the wearing of locks as a hairstyle negatively inform any of these? That is where the debate begins.

We must be very careful that as we set rules and regulations to support our work that we are not unintentionally profiling, which I believe is illegal. Yes, Rastas wear locks, so what? Yes, some criminals wear locks, but so do some good law abiding citizens as well. Are we suggesting a link when we seek to restrict persons from their personal hairstyles? I sincerely hope not. 

I remind my friend here that the police do not make the law; they enforce the laws that have been made by our Parliament. Regulations, though important and necessary, can never supersede the law nor civil rights.

The focus of law enforcement here should be on cleanliness and neatness of appearance. My advice to those affected is to avoid insubordination and appeal to the law courts for an interpretation. That is how civil society operates.

The locks issue, jam busting, marijuana smoking and same-sex relationships are issues that have caused much public discourse. In each case, the different societal leaders have weighed in. I have never jam-busted, but it is the established law of our land and must be respected as such.

Although I wish they could do more, the most that the police should do is to promote safety and respect for other road limitations such as speed and lane change notifications. 

I lived all of my late teenage life in the United States of America and had many friends who were regular marijuana users. I have observed the liberalising of the laws in that country to permit use for medical and other reasons. I have heard many of my friends use that example to promote its use here in Barbados. To the members of the police force, I say, regardless of your personal views, our laws say no, so no it must be!

The idea of same-sex relationships has also provoked much discussion, but why? Is it our claim that persons do not have a right to choose their intimate partner? As expected, it is rejected by the religious community.

There are, however, persons who do not share the views of the church. Should they be denied their legal right to express and manifest their views? I don’t think so! 

As in all areas of progressive life, there may be a case for activism for change as was shown by Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. This is our contemporary Barbados that is driven by respect, decency and a plurality of views, all to be exercised in moderation. To this end, our regulations, the law and civil rights must be in congruence.

I know that our legal officers will only do what the law allows, even as they project for the Barbados of tomorrow.

Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser who also served as vice-president of the BCA and director of the WICB. Email [email protected]

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