Julius and Randy: Has his­tory laid blame on wrong shoul­ders?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

The date, 7 Oc­to­ber 1993. For most Saint Lu­cians, older ba­nana pro­duc­ers in par­tic­u­lar, an un­for­get­table Thurs­day. Around three in the af­ter­noon, with protest­ing ba­nana-farmhands and cu­ri­ous on­look­ers, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, fill­ing the road near Morne Panache, the hated Spe­cial Ser­vices Unit of the Royal St. Lu­cia Po­lice Force slowly ap­proached the scene, some aboard their truck, oth­ers walk­ing along­side. At first sight of the armed, no­to­ri­ously trig­ger-happy con­tin­gent, all at­tired like US Army sol­diers on the bat­tle­field, the crowd quickly dis­persed, then re­grouped sev­eral hun­dred yards from the main road. Some threw stones at the SSU ve­hi­cle. Sud­denly, the rat-tat­tat of au­to­matic gun­fire mixed with the des­per­ate screams of the pan­icked crowd. Some sixty peo­ple took bul­lets in their thighs, their but­tocks, and their arms.

Julius was shot in the neck, Randy in the back. Both died where they fell. Pa­trons at a nearby mini-mart were also hit. The build­ing’s con­crete front walls were rid­dled with bul­lets, three or four inches deep. An in­ner wall pro­vided fur­ther ev­i­dence of the SSU’s in­dis­crim­i­nate shoot­ing. Shat­tered glass and mer­chan­dise lit­tered the floor. The pro­pri­etor later tes­ti­fied un­der oath that she and her three young chil­dren barely es­caped get­ting killed and only be­cause they had re­treated to an up­stairs floor and taken refuge un­der a large bed. There were many sim­i­lar sto­ries from the woman’s neigh­bors and pa­trons. Less than three hours after the shoot­ing, and with­out a re­li­able ac­count of what had tran­spired, the na­tion’s prime min­is­ter ad­dressed the cit­i­zenry via ra­dio and TV.

Re­fer­ring to the de­ceased farm work­ers, he said: “The hooli­gans got what they de­served.” He de­clared the SSU “to­tally jus­ti­fied in de­fend­ing them­selves.” He also re­minded his au­di­ence that just two days ear­lier sup­port­ers of the Ba­nana Sal­va­tion Com­mit­tee had at­tacked him with sticks and stones as he drove from his Ma­haut home on his way to work in Cas­tries.

His am­bush­ers had once re­ferred to him as “Daddy Comp­ton,” he said, and with good rea­son. He had done much to im­prove their ex­is­tence. “Now say I’m a mur­derer and a thief.” Knee-jerk de­fend­ers of the SSU, like the writ­ers of a re­cent Labour Party press re­lease, claim the po­lice acted on or­ders from the prime min­is­ter, re­layed to them via the Min­is­ter for Sports. One de­fender of the Labour faith said he had in­side in­for­ma­tion that the of­fi­cial, on the or­ders of the PM, had directed the po­lice com­mis­sioner to “clear the road by any means nec­es­sary.”

An of­fi­cial in­quiry into the Grand Riviere in­ci­dent sev­eral months later un­cov­ered a some­what dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cer in charge of the SSU con­tin­gent that blew away the young farmhands, one of his men suf­fered a hit to the head with a rock be­fore they opened fire on the road­side demon­stra­tors— and only after per­mis­sion had been sought from and granted via walkie-talkie by a su­pe­rior of­fi­cer in Cas­tries.

The ev­i­dence given un­der oath by the SSU leader hinted at the unit’s hap­haz­ard modus operandi, if not its mur­der­ous dis­re­gard for hu­man life. In­stead of open­ing fire on a large crowd com­pris­ing in­no­cent chil­dren and other harm­less on­look­ers, the SSU might have re­treated to the safety of a nearby po­lice sta­tion and called for back-up. They might have used tear­gas to dis­perse the noisy crowd. Apart from the road­block that had brought traf­fic to a stand­still, the BSC­sup­port­ing demon­stra­tors had be­haved within the law. There had been no as­saults save that claimed by the po­lice. No threat to prop­erty. The pres­ence of the no­to­ri­ous SSU had trig­gered the com­mo­tion that turned deadly. At the in­quiry wit­ness after wit­ness tes­ti­fied to that ef­fect. It also emerged that there had been no or­ders from the prime min­is­ter with re­gard to po­lice ac­tiv­ity on the re­called Thurs­day.

As with most lo­cal in­quiries into fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings, the Julius and Randy inquest con­cluded that no one was blame­wor­thy. The of­fi­cial ver­dict was hardly un­ex­pected: “Death by mis­ad­ven­ture.”

The fu­neral ser­vices for Julius and Randy Joseph drew weep­ing hun­dreds from all over the is­land. Also in con­spic­u­ous at­ten­dance were the suit­ably grief-stricken lead­ers of the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party, by now closely linked with the Ba­nana Sal­va­tion Com­mit­tee, and not only from the gov­ern­ment’s per­spec­tive. Shortly after the burial ser­vices, for which the SLP leader Ju­lian Hunte re­port­edly paid, the BSC erected a mar­ble mon­u­ment to the me­mory of the dead and wounded at Grand Riviere, also fi­nanced by the Labour Party. En­graved on the front is a mes­sage that blamed the death of Julius and Randy Joseph (un­re­lated) on Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton!

Ed­i­tor’s Note: The pre­ced­ing is from Lapses & In­fe­lic­i­ties by Rick Wayne.

An of­fi­cial in­quiry into the Grand Riviere in­ci­dent sev­eral months later un­cov­ered a some­what dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cer in charge of the SSU con­tin­gent that blew away the young farmhands, one of his men suf­fered a hit to the head with a rock be­fore they opened fire on the road­side demon­stra­tors—and only after per­mis­sion had been sought from and granted via walkie-talkie by a su­pe­rior of­fi­cer in Cas­tries.

De­ceased Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton: How long be­fore his­tory ab­solves him?

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