The Killing of Ryan Clarke



“By the last elections a wave of crime and violence had overcome the country that threatened to embarrass the government just before the polls. The government hardened its position, and it argued that the society was not in crisis, and turned to the economy as proof. It was in this atmosphere that the police moved against the street gangs. The police ambushed and killed Ryan Clarke, the brother of Sylvan Clarke who was serving seven years in jail. They claimed he had been a wanted man, but neither his family nor the public had been notified. Shirley Clarke, his mother, claimed that he was murdered at his Bagatelle home as he alighted his motorbike in the yard. His girlfriend who was at home said that all Ryan had in his hand when police shot him down was a cell phone. The press, completely in tow by the administration, did not investigate, or even cover the full story, even though there were several inconsistencies in the police account. Originally it was announced on television that Ryan Clarke was killed while he was trying to break in a house, when the truth was he was going into his own home. The police claimed he pulled a gun, whereas his girlfriend said he raised his hands and shouted to the police, “I don’t have anything on me.” The police claimed they discovered a mask and a pair of gloves on him, over $3 000, and burnt cash bags in the area behind the house, from a supermarket robbery. Nowhere was the comment made that an attorney had claimed in the press that the police had trumped up and framed the then eighteen-year old with charges in order to find his brother.

His mother claimed when she saw the body at the morgue there were about fifty-six bullets in him. Clarke was not hiding behind any cover when he was shot, but out in the open. Fifty-six bullet wounds was consistent with an execution. The police claimed that he was accompanied by another armed gunman escaped, but his girlfriend claimed that Ryan was alone.

Shirley Clarke said, “My son was murdered. Ryan was eating and drinking at my house on Wednesday [the day before he was killed]. He was not a wanted man. How could he have been wanted when he was in hospital up to about three weeks ago? I wouldn’t mind if they hold him and take him in but they murdered my child. At 1:00 a.m. they came to my house and when I went to the door, the police ask me if Ryan Clarke was my son and told me he was in hospital. When I saw his body he was full, full of bullets…. I could not believe it - he was still bleeding. What happened Ryan’s girlfriend told me was extremely different.” She was very suspicious of a search warrant, which police carried out on her home in the morning in which they were looking for money, a mask and gun. ‘Why would they have to come searching here if they had already found those things at the scene?’


Interview with Shirley Clarke, the mother of Sylvan “Woggy” Clarke and the late Ryan Clarke.

ME: I want to capture your pain in writing. Will you allow me to do that?


ME: I want to ask the most painful question. May I?

SHIRLEY: Yes you can.

ME: How does it feel then and now to see the child you gave birth to, your flesh and the human being closest to you with fifty- six gunshots in his body and still bleeding?

SHIRLEY: I just saw him there, fell to the ground, the doctors picked-me up and when I catch myself I was in a room, nurses were with me. They took my pulse and talked to me in a kind way. They offered tranquillisers but I was already low and under medication during the time that Sylvan was on the run from the police. The next thing I knew I was on my way in a car and my other son brought me home.

[The undertaker worked to keep the body in one piece because of the number of wounds, some of which were unnecessary like the one inside his arm. The police took him from the spot where he was killed even though he was dead. As of yet there is no post-mortem report, and no inquest.]

ME: How do you go on?

SHIRLEY: There is nothing to me. I am going on by the grace of god.

ME: What is the grace of god. How does it feel?

SHIRLEY: This feeling of emptiness hits me straight in the stomach and when I cannot go on I take a tranquilliser or a sleeping pill. When Ryan and Sylvan were young I was mother and father for them. I sent them to church and to school the best way I could. I enjoyed seeing them grow up together. Then one day I took fourteen-year-old Sylvan to town and bought him a bicycle on hire purchase. He rode to a party, parked it, locked it and somebody chopped off the chain and stole the bike. He reported the theft to the police at Holetown and nothing came of the matter. The next incident was at Studio Ten or some discotheque like that. I feel that it was because of the bicycle. Sylvan said he walked down the steps of the nightclub and a fellow kick him down the steps and some more fellows chop him in both his shoulders with a machete. Sylvan was in hospital for one week. He said he did not know why the incident happened. The police came and Sylvan identified the men but again the police charged nobody.

Shirley left to go to work and, Sylvan’s girl friend telephoned to say that the police had picked up and held him on Saturday night and eight police with holstered guns brought him in handcuffs into his home at his uncle’s house and searched the house without showing a much asked for warrant. Sylvan’s lawyer arrived five minutes after their arrival and the police ignored his repeated request for a warrant.

Sylvan’s undle feels anger but he controls it because of his eighty-eight year old mother. He feels his nephew has had a hard break in life beginning with his fingers being blown off by a dynamite cap while still child and blames the police for doing nothing when people interfered with the boy. He believes that the problems started with the theft of his bicycle.

Ryan’s girlfriend wants to know how one man could get away and Ryan is so full of bullets? “They feel they right. They do not feel any guilt from doing that.” She feels she wants revenge. The police shot him up in front of her, then seventeen-years old, as she held their weeks old baby girl. “If I had it to do again, I would run towards Ryan with the baby in my hand. and let them kill all of us together.

“When I was three I lived at my godmother. I used to see Ryan there as a little girl. I did not know him so good. There were about one hundred policemen that night from everywhere. They even brought a photographer with them. They killed Ryan at eleven and they came into the house and held me until after one o’clock. I could not call for help.”

Truth & Rights by Andrew Pilgrim

More questions than answers … Nation Newspaper, January 2000

This week we should look at some truth. I think there is more to be said about the day-to-day functioning of the Legal Aid System, but I would like to hear your views on that. I would also like to know if you feel that Queen’s Counsel (QC) and senior lawyers are available to help you or not.

My view is that it is all junior lawyers (who usually need the little money) who carry the system. There are exceptions, but there are, in my experience, few and far between.

Others do it … Some QCs even take the work and get junior lawyers to do it, giving the appearance that they do free work.. Of course, some politicians do free legal work for their constituents, but this is on an ad hoc basis.

Here are some cases that need some answers, and indeed questions. I am giving the bare bones. Through your letters, we are going to conduct an ongoing inquiry into some of these cases.

The Melrose Inquiry - Three black Barbadian boys shot dead on the day of June 22 1993. The coroner’s inquest is still incomplete today. Are the parents and families of these boys not entitled to a final answer? Are the police not entitled to be exonerated?

I am not writing to say that police are at fault, or to say the boys were at fault. I am writing to say if we don’t investigate and ventilate these matters in a reasonable time, we created and inculcate a type of resentment in our society that we could do without.

Ryan Clarke shot dead by police in the presence of the mother of his child. Several rounds of ammunition used- the pools of blood allegedly washed away by a fire tender before the area was forensically tested. Witnesses say he was unarmed. Family members say shots were fired in their direction.

I want these allegations to be challenged, but since Clarke’s death, all we have heard is he was wanted by the police and was shot at a house in Bagatelle, St. Thomas while in the company of another man, probably Alfred Harding.

Well that house was Clarke’s home and now some intelligence suggest that Harding was not in Barbados. In addition, police were interviewing Clarke at Queen Elizabeth Hospital a few days before the shooting, and did not arrest him then.

Truth be known, all of this is just loose talk. The only reason that you should listen to it at all is because the coroner’s inquest still has not started.

Waiting – A prisoner by the name Andy Pilgrim (no kidding) filed his appeal six years ago. He was told this week that it is now being processed – he should hear “within this year” when his appeal is to be heard. After the hearing, he still has to wait on the decision (no big deal)

Speaking of decisions, Anthony Prescod’s case was argued in February of 1998. He is just waiting on a decision now – all indications are that it should soon come. (Yippee!)

An off-duty policeman runs over and kills Reuben Edwards in My Lord’s Hill, St. Michael, on October 1, 1998. Nothing yet – no inquest, nothing.

Police in Haynesville St. James shoot Shawn Brathwaite in the back; the young man flees the scene and goes to Complaints and Discipline the next day. He is charged with possession of marijuana – perhaps it was thought that this could justify shooting a boy with no criminal record. Anyway, the police in the alleged drug case never showed up, so the drug case was dismissed. We are just left with a shot in the back.

If you got a fella to lock up, lock he up. If you got an inquiry to do, do um; but don’t feel that you can keep people strung out like this. Lemme hear how you feel.

The discrepancies in the killing of her son are evidence of what Shirley knows – police cold-bloodedly executed her son. In the last few months alone a casual perusal of the newspaper will reveal that the police have had a death in custody: the claimed that an eighteen-year-old boy died of an asthma attack while in their custody but the family say the victim did not suffer from asthma, and doctors have not verified the police claim.

Police shot a female pedestrian while trying to apprehend another individual. Eyewitnesses said the police shot first and that the fleeing individual did not draw a gun. A seventeen-year-old boy was shot in the stomach when police went to his home; they claim he pulled a gun and they responded; and a fatal police shooting in a city tenantry of a reportedly unarmed man after he had raised his hands in surrender.

The reason why police misconduct goes unchallenged in the press is because the two newspapers are more interested in printing advertisements and promotional hype. There is more money in it and they think there is no demand for real news analysis and commentary. Also they are too timorous to deal with the libel laws on the one hand and an authoritarian regime and court on the other.

As to whether Barbados’ Human Rights record will catch-up with it at sometime in the near future and it will suffer financial and economic consequences of its repeated failure to ensure proper functioning guidelines for the police: it already has. Police brutality is just the tip of the iceberg of under-development. Barbadian economic and social planners have not yet realised that the intelligence and creativity of the population is the country’s greatest asset. Squalor, hopelessness, corruption, graft and nepotism, brutality and crime are the destroyers of national consciousness. Even if at the end of the day no one sees a direct loss in their pockets, the lowering of the cultural index of the people will mean loss of productivity and competitiveness on the macro-economic level. One day the country will wake up but by then the price will have already been paid.

Finally is there any justice?

“There is no justice in Coleridge Street.”

The End