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Barbados: What happened to I'Akobi Tacuma Maloney?

Categories: Caribbean, Barbados, Ethnicity & Race, Human Rights, Law, Media & Journalism, Protest, Religion, Youth

I\'Akobi Tacuma Maloney I'Akobi Tacuma Maloney, by any standard, was a high achiever [1] . The 23-year-old, a devout Rastafari, was a recent graduate of the University of the West Indies, with a degree in engineering. Before that, he was valedictorian at his high school, where his classmates voted him "most likely to succeed." He won a scholarship from the Barbados government that paid for his university education, and he was chosen by the Barbados Ministry of Social Transformation as a youth delegate at the 5th Ministerial Meeting on Children and Social Policy in the Americas. He had a black belt in martial arts and was an accomplished public speaker. He had just joined the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers, and was a summer intern at a cement factory. He seemed to be on a clear path to success.

On 17 June, 2008, everything changed. In circumstances that have not yet been fully explained, Maloney died in an encounter with the Barbados police. According to a police statement [2] , at 5.30 that afternoon officers responded to a report of a "drug landing" at Cove Bay [3] , near the northern tip of the island of Barbados. There they saw Maloney wandering near the top of a steep cliff overlooking the sea. They approached and interviewed him.

"Initial investigations reveal that Maloney suddenly ran and jumped off a cliff, landing on a ledge below. Shortly after this he was washed off this ledge by the pounding waves, which took him out into the sea," public relations officer inspector Barry Hunte said.

Later, the assistant commissioner of police suggested [4] that Maloney was "depressed" at the time of the incident:

According to the crime chief, police also discovered a note entered in his personal diary which suggested he could have been contemplating suicide.

But Maloney's family was immediately suspicious of this version of events. His mother pointed out [5] that the police claimed Maloney landed face down on rocks at the foot of the cliff, yet there was a prominent wound at the back of his head. Further, Maloney was reported to have jumped with his haversack on his back, and his body was in the sea for eight hours before it was retrieved — yet when the haversack was returned to his mother, there was no sign of water damage [6] to its contents.

Within two days of the incident, the Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR) [7] , a Barbadian Rastafari advocacy group, had set up a blog, AfriKa CRY BLOOD [8] , to "promote, protect and defend the Ras Tacuma case." ICAR began collecting evidence of possible foul play, disputed police allegations [9] of Maloney's involvement in drug smuggling, and made an urgent call for a full investigation of his death. The blog documented a protest [10] held in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, as well as questions raised [11] by members of the Barbados parliament.

The police responded that an investigation was under way [12] , but some Barbados bloggers were unconvinced. "There will be no public inquest into his death," said Barbados Free Press [13] .

There will be no public process to examine the circumstances of how he died while “in the company of” Barbados police. Eventually, the local news media will quietly let the story fade into the past, and people will say “Well, there was some sort of inquiry and it showed…” BUT THAT WILL BE A LIE.

BFP went on to remind its readers of a previous case in which a young man mysteriously died after an encounter with police. Meanwhile, Barbados Underground posted the full text of a statement [14] by the People's Democratic Congress, a political party.

… we in PDC ask that NOT ONLY must there be a Coroner’s Inquest into the circumstances of this death as soon as possible , BUT that ALSO the Attorney General allow his department to carry out their own fair and impartial investigations into this grievous affair.

"This case frightens me," wrote Caribbean Lionesse [15] :

I'Akobi was just like me. Young, intellectual, UWI graduate, ambitious, good job and with locks. You want to think that our society has advanced to such a point that all your other accomplishments mean something….

She linked to a thread [16] at the Rastafari Speaks forum, in which Sis Ali suggested Maloney was the victim of police profiling: "someone saw Rasta up there and called the police."

With Maloney's family and the Barbadian Rastafari community still waiting for answers, ICAR has organised another protest march [17] on Friday 1 August — the day when the end of slavery is commemorated across the Anglophone Caribbean — and launched an online petition [18] calling for justice.