Anyone who followed the Judicial Enquiry into the death in detention of Kaya in 1999, or of Serge Victorine after the prison mutiny in 1979, or of witness Rajesh Ramlagun in 2006 or of Iqbal Toofany arrested on the basis of a possible minor offense in 2015, should follow the criminal case against Police Officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. All the witnesses I have watched on TV giving evidence have been riveting, if painful, to listen to, as the prosecution meticulously makes its case. Mauritian police officers should, in training, listen to and discuss Minnesota Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’ testimony, for a start.
But the 8 April 3-hour testimony of Dr. Martin Tobin, pulmonary clinician and also physiologist with specialization in lungs, is not to be missed by anyone. All lawyers and medical practitioners and scientists can get a lesson on how a professional stands up with a straight back to general bourgeois ideology. Dr. Tobin knows how people breathe. That is his double speciality – as scientist and as medical doctor. And he explained, through his domain of speciality, how the rising alarm of the bystanders, as Mr. Floyd was being killed, was justified. Employed by the State or not, if you sit on someone, tie his hands behind his back, force his head into the street, and then press on his neck and back to block air to his left, then his right lung, that person will not be able to breathe, will not get oxygen, and his brain will die and his heart will stop beating, which is what happened.
Dr. Tobin showed the same kind of scientific mind and spirit that made Dr. Ram Seegobin’s analysis of the death of Kaya published in Le Mauricien, so important during the judicial enquiry. We do not know how the jury in Minneapolis will decide. But, in Mauritius, when Ram Seegobin’s article came out, it earned both him and the Le Mauricien editor Gilbert Ahnee a “Contempt of Court” warning in open Court from the Magistrate. (You can read the article on Lalit’s site www.lalitmauritius.org by simply typing “evidence in the death of Kaya” in the search engine on the site.)
What is important in these two doctors’ analyses is this. It exposes how officers of the State treat people in their custody. And then, when this is made public, how do people with some power react? Do they, try to cover the violence up again? The answer is, until now, generally, yes – in both the USA and Mauritius. By any means – pre-existing conditions, false allegations, changing the subject, you name it. And this constant cover-up of the officers’ violence, in turn, exposes the violence upon which the whole of the capitalist system relies. People who should know better literally let the police get away with murder.
I have never clearly understood why people in the professional classes do this. They so often collude with, mask, even hide, and clearly are scared even to mention, police violence. Almost all the professionals I heard testifying in cases like those into the deaths of Messrs. Victorine, Kaya and Ramlagun colluded with the police authorities, to different degrees. They did so, as if it was normal. It must be said that it was the lasting effect of “Justice: Association Against Violence by Officers of the State”, set up after Kaya’s death, that some journalists and editors began to break ranks with other professionals, and, like a tiny handful of criminal lawyers, take a stand against violence by police and by prison guards.
But, the masking, in general, continues. Remember when a whole team of academics launched a book on Kaya last year to mark his, had he lived, 60th birthday? They managed to write and publish a whole book under the auspices of the State-fundedCreole Speaking union – a book hundreds of pages long – in which they avoided mentioning how or even where Kaya met his death. The team held a two-hour book launch, too, without a mention of his death in detention. If Kaya’s widow, Veronique Topize, had not, in her speech, made reference to the fact that in the very place the launch was being held, there had been a huge gathering after a candle-light ceremony to call for the truth in the death of Kaya, there would have been no mention at all. How can professionals want to ignore what is public knowledge? How obsequious can you get? It was confirmed in Court that Kaya was without any injury when the police took him away from his home in Beau Songes, and again confirmed by those who took custody at Alcatraz. When he died a few days later, there were 33 injuries on his body. This is fact. His feet had been jammed under the metal cell door, leaving pressure marks on the soles of his feet. The study Dr. Graham did on Kaya’s preserved brain demolished the thesis that Kaya died of either drugs or alcohol, just as Dr. Martin Tobin has demolished the thesis that George Floyd died from drugs or a heart condition.
But, how, by what social mechanism, can academics in 2020 be silenced this way on Kaya’s death in detention? It is a class phenomenon beyond my understanding.
Three of us wrote an article entitled “A Book Launch Choked by Silence”. It was the very least we could do. We did not know, because we had not yet read it, that the book, too, would remain silent on how and where Kaya met his death. In our article we offered publicly to meet with the academics who wrote the book to help them understand that you just cannot do this to history. There was no response. I take this opportunity to re-iterate this offer of a meeting – with any one of those involved in the book project. The role of academics is to seek the truth. Then they can speak the truth to power. Not hide it.