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Over the past three weeks, I cannot help but compare the tragic police shooting of 17-year-old Arnold Joseph to that of Botham Jean.
Arnold was the Entrepot Secondary School student who was shot and killed by police on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, while 26-year-old Botham was killed by a police officer on September 6, 2018. Both shootings took place sometime after 10 p.m.
Botham being a decade older at the time of his passing was a graduate of Harding University, had been involved in charitable missions and was employed as an accountant. Arnold was in the process of writing his Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams. Both young men have been described by persons who knew them as friendly, happy and had a passion for music. Jean served as a worship leader at his church. Arnold, commonly known to his friends as Selector Jay, was a budding DJ.
The Arnold incident
The setting of Arnold’s fatal police encounter was a white Mitsubishi Lancer in the area of Chaussee Road and La Pansee junction in Castries, St. Lucia. The youngster was riding in a car accompanied by his teacher and driven by the teacher’s brother. The unwillingness of eyewitnesses and individuals who knew Arnold to speak up has led to a lot of misinformation in the media. Reports that the student lived with his teacher, although widely reported, has been proven false.
The information I have gathered (unconfirmed) revealed that on the last day of his life, Arnold spent the day at his school working on some last-minute exam preparations as he had an exam the following day. He then went off to work on the evening as he had a previously scheduled DJ gig. The teacher at the centre of the incident showed up at the event. Since they both lived in the same community of Babouneau, Arnold requested a ride home.
Sometime after 10 p.m. on that fateful evening, the teacher and Arnold got into the car with the brother of the teacher behind the wheel. The car drove through the city centre. The driver and passengers heard the police sirens but did not realize that they were the ones being chased by the police. They simply assumed that there was probably a shooting or crime in the vicinity and that they should get out of the area. The car was then shot at by the police, killing Arnold and injuring the driver in the process, and forcing the car to stop.
The Botham incident
Botham was at his apartment in Dallas, Texas (U.S.A) viewing television when he was fatally shot by off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger who indicated that she had assumed that this was her apartment, the door was ajar and that she thought that there was an intruder in her apartment. In Arnold’s case, the initial police reports stated that they had received reports of a botched robbery in the city centre, that police were in pursuit of a fleeing white Toyota Lancer and that a gun was recovered from the scene. However, no gun charges have been filed in this incident and none of the business places in the city have publicly reported an attempted robbery from the night of the incident. The police have since then been unwilling to provide any further information on this matter.
Reaction to the incidents
In Botham’s case, his family, church, neighbours, people who did not know him and were unable to pronounce his name, quickly stood up and demanded justice. His family hired an attorney, held press conferences, were willing to discuss their son, demanded the firing of the police officer, and sued the city for civil rights violations. People were marching in the streets and disturbing town hall meetings, shouting “no justice, no peace”. The prime minister of St. Lucia, Allen Chastanet, travelled to Texas to stand with Botham’s family. Candlelight vigils were held in the U.S. and St. Lucia, and two funeral services were conducted. The Dallas Police Department was forced to react, fired the police officer and she has since been charged with murder.
Sadly, the reaction to Arnold’s death could not be more different. Three weeks later it’s like this never happened. The family has not made a public statement demanding justice for their son. The school refuses to discuss Arnold’s life as a student. The witnesses are not speaking up. Youth leaders have been advised not to discuss this issue and delete any comments on this issue on social media. The Ministry of Education and the police are also mute. Three weeks later, there has been no candlelight vigils, no autopsy reports and no public death announcement or funeral arrangements.
Even worst, many on social media have attacked the character of the dead. I have seen social media comments which stated that because he was a student, he should not have been out playing music or should not have been out at 10 p.m. Does this justify his execution by the police?
The calls for an independent investigation into the death of Arnold Joseph has been largely ignored. My question is why is there a code of silence surrounding the death of Arnold Joseph? Who is behind the code of silence? Who has the authority to keep the school and minister of education silent three weeks after the death of a student? Was the family of the deceased student offered a bribe for their silence and cooperation? With an election looming, is this an attempt at showing support for the police in exchange for future support from the police? I may be wrong but this smells like coverup from the highest level.
The silence is deafening. In the meantime, there is a class of students who are in disbelief. How are they supposed to know that all life matters? How will they find closure?
The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of the management and staff of St. Lucia News Online and its parent company, Andrews Media Services Corporation.