Young men will continue to die on Cayman’s streets unless the community ends the culture of silence that is preventing police from bringing killers to justice, Police Commissioner David Baines has warned.
Mr. Baines said Cayman’s “no snitching” culture is the most entrenched he has ever seen, and acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges facing police is convincing witnesses to testify.
He commended Oliver Yates, the father of a 22-year-old man shot dead outside a West Bay restaurant, for his plea in the Cayman Compass this week for witnesses to speak up about the murder. Mr. Yates told the Compass he knows who killed his son and urged the people who saw the shooting to assist police.
Commissioner Baines acknowledged that police are also aware of the likely identity of the person who shot and killed Victor Yates on Jan. 3.
But he said knowing the story and proving it are two different things.
“I fully understand Oliver Yates’s angst and frustration because everybody knows who is responsible for that shooting.
“As he put it quite eloquently, there is no point in us just having the story, we have to prove every element of it in court.”
He said investigators need witness testimony to convict killers and insisted that police have shown they have the capability to keep people safe when they are courageous enough to come forward and give evidence. The recent murder convictions of Chad Anglin, Raziel Jeffers, Leonard Ebanks and Brian Borden all relied on evidence from protected witnesses.
Mr. Baines said there is an additional layer of protection that, in certain circumstances, allows witnesses to testify anonymously.
“We are able to ensure their safety when they take the courageous step of speaking out,” Mr. Baines said.
Despite these protections, a culture of silence pervades.
“In my experience, it is a more evident phenomenon in the Cayman Islands than anywhere else, including inner city areas in the U.K. It is linked to family ties and geography. It is a small island; everybody knows one another.
“It is not necessarily the people you help put away that you are worried about, you are worried about their family and their friends, the people you see on the road or down at the supermarket.”
He said he understands why people are reluctant to talk, but insisted that unless people speak up, killers will continue to get away with murder.
“Collectively, the people of the Cayman Islands have to decide what they want,” the commissioner said. “The police alone can’t solve these crimes. We need witnesses.
“Unless we, as a community, stand up collectively and recognize what is wrong and give up these young men, this is an issue that will continue to arise. Young men will continue to die.”
He said one of his abiding memories of his time in Cayman would be the waste of young men’s lives over seemingly trivial disputes.
“Mr. Yates mentioned a dispute over a boat engine – is that worth somebody’s life? The pettiness of what someone is willing to take a life over, many will find hard to imagine.”
He acknowledged that those believed to be responsible for the Yates killing had been linked to other crimes and would likely be involved in violent crimes in the future unless something is done.
“It is incumbent on all of us not to walk away. It still shocks me that when a young person has had their life snatched away, that people who clearly witnessed it – people who cared about that young man were there – that they can just accept it as the way it is.
“If we accept that, life gets very cheap.”