UPDATED: July 7, 2011
It has been well over a year since Johan Bjerkhamn accidentally shot his 11 year old son to death. That the shooting was accidental is an assumption on our part based on some newspaper accounts at the time and the fact that the fatal bullet passed through the father’s hand before killing Luke Bjerkhamn. I don’t think anyone on the island really believes that this was anything but another gun cleaning accident.
But what everyone believes on the basis of newspaper stories counts for nothing without a proper public process – conducted within a reasonable time.
We all feel terrible for Mr. Bjerkhamn – but that has nothing to do with things either.
Folks said this would be allowed to fade into oblivion and that is exactly what is happening. Mr. Bjerkhamn should probably be banned for life from owning weapons, but other than that we can’t see anything to be done. No penalty can be worse than the burden he already carries.
It was a tragedy, but the second tragedy is that by refusing to handle the matter in a proper and efficient manner, our so-called leaders have once again proven that there is one law for the rich, and one law for the rest of us.
Original Story first published April 20, 2010…
Johan Bjerkhamn shoots his son dead, refuses to talk with police and then escapes in a private jet!
Photo credit: Nation News – Johan Bjerkhamn (hand bandaged) at son’s funeral.
Throughout our history the Royal Barbados Police Force has shown again and again that the organization enforces the laws differently according to a person’s race, class, wealth, or political affiliations.
There have been many high-profile situations that have come to public attention, and any Bajan past the age of ten years old can recount tales of privileges or concessions granted to the elites or perceived elites on this island by our police. This behaviour pre-dates our independence and thrives on the reality that the “rule of law” in Barbados is pretty much what those in power determine it is at the time.
Consequently, even if our police officers can get their own heads around the concept of “one law for all, enforced without favour or malice”, they are never sure if the police bosses and their political masters (yes, I said “political masters”) will back them if they arrest one of the elites. So the police officers tread ever so gently and scrape and bow around the important people even when they are suspects in serious crimes.
This results in absurdities like a woman calling the police saying that she is being beaten in a domestic violence situation – and our police did not answer the call for FOUR DAYS because the victim was calling from a gated community and the security guard wouldn’t let the police enter!
Think about the reasons why our police are afraid to assist a victim of domestic violence in a gated community.
A victim of domestic abuse called screaming for help and the police would not enter “private property” because the victim lived in a rich gated community where the law doesn’t apply. Even after the senior officers arrived, the police still didn’t enter the gated community and she kept calling for help for four days! It took four days for somebody on the police force to come to the realisation that perhaps, this one time only, the police might want to enforce the law before somebody got murdered.
“Upper Crust” isn’t all white anymore
Years ago the Royal Barbados Police Force allowed a serial murderer to get away – and many believe it was because he was “upper crust”. (See BFP’s Barbados Police Did Not Arrest Canefield Serial Killer “Because He Had A Child With Him” … Or Was It Something Else?)
In case you are unaware, “upper crust” in Barbados is a euphemism for “white with lots of money and connections” – although the usage is changing as time rolls on. In the last 40 years (and especially in the 14 years of BLP government!) many Barbados blacks have achieved wealth, power, international status and “upper crust” titles. Indeed, it can fairly be said that races other than blacks are mostly excluded from public politics in modern Barbados.
But old societal attitudes and standards die hard and even if the new “upper crust” used to be ordinary people like us until they got elected or otherwise became one of the elites – they are still treated very gently by the police. Of course, when they can get away with it the police look after their own too! (See BFP’s Secret Withdrawal Of Bribery Charges Against Barbados Cop Stinks Of Corruption At The Highest Levels)
Payoffs let rich and/or connected criminals walk free when you or I would go to jail
And then we have the other reality on this rock: the elites are allowed to buy their way out of criminal convictions with money or in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” deal. Consider journalist Roy Morris of The Nation who was arrested by a very reluctant police force for the rape of a junior employee. Sure enough, (and just as we predicted at the time) he was allowed to pay off the victim with money. Coincidentally after that all the fuss about the police illegally arresting and assaulting Barbados journalists at the QEH went by the wayside never to be heard of again. (See BFP’s Barbados Government In Damage Control Mode Over Police Roughing Up Journalists At Hospital and Barbados Journalists Were Roughed Up OUTSIDE The Hospital!)
There were two victims in the Roy Morris rape case: the first was the rape victim pressured to take money. The second victim was the public’s respect for the entire justice system and the law. (See BFP’s Source: Rape-Accused Roy Morris Bought Off Girl’s Family)
Was the Bjerkhamn decision to post no guard based upon race, class, connections?
Now we come to the current situation where a rich white elite shot his 11 year old son to death, by the look of everything almost certainly in a tragic accident. We are sorry for the family, and sorry for young Luke who by all accounts was of good character, full of potential and well liked by all.
Most of all, we feel sorry for the father, Johan Bjerkhamn, who’s heart must be broken. He will carry a terrible burden for the rest of his life.
… when Johan Bjerkhamn refused to talk to the police about what happened, even though he was well enough to attend his son’s funeral, that was a warning flag that should have been seen. And indeed it was seen by the police because there was a heavy police presence at the funeral and the police escorted Johan Bjerkhamn from the hospital and back again. (Bjerkhamn apparently shot his hand and the bullet continued on to hit his son in the chest.)
Although the police made a show of “escorting” Bjerkhamn to his son’s funeral – they apparently did not post a guard at the hospital, or charge him with some preliminary offense and have him released on bail after surrendering his passports. They could have done that at his hospital bedside and retained some kind of hold and control on the man.
Nope, instead the police granted Mr. Bjerkhamn the kind of consideration that is reserved for the elites and he has now fled the country. His family says he is going abroad for surgery to his hand and that might be true – but it doesn’t change a thing. He might return at his convenience, or he might not.
Firearms Dealer Licenses: A perk for the elites?
We also mention that there is a huge question about why the police issued a “firearms dealer” license to Bjerkhamn in the first place. There is talk that so many elites (some say “white elites”) are allowed dealer licenses when they are not really dealers, have no firearms dealer experience or formal training. They are given the dealer license by the police so they can freely possess many firearms as opposed to non-elites who are put through the hoops to be allowed to possess a single firearm.
The firearms dealer license issue aside, in failing to act properly to prevent Bjerkhamn from leaving the island once again the Royal Barbados Police Force has treated one of the elites with subservient deference and a double standard.
Until each one of us no longer tolerates this culture of subservience to the elites there will be no assurance of justice for ordinary folks, and no true rule of law in Barbados.
The Nation: Bjerkhamn is gone