Murder of AG shatters peace and innocence (May 1973 revisited)
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
May 19, 2023

Murder of AG shatters peace and innocence (May 1973 revisited)

On a normal Friday night in Kingstown, shots rang out in the quiet neighbourhood of the Fort Charlotte area, a peaceful residential area. It was not like today when the sound of gunfire is

one to which many communities have become accustomed. No, not SVG 50 years ago. So, what was going on?

Vincentians didn’t know it at the time, but the peace and stability of the country were to be rudely disturbed over the next two weeks and then an unprecedented series of events including legal battles right up to the British Privy Council were to unfurl and make their mark on our history.

While rumours circulated during that fateful night, it was not until Saturday morning that the official word came out. The Attorney General, a Dominican barrister Cecil Eric Rawle, who had taken up residence here, served as Chief Magistrate and was quite a well-known figure among all social classes, had been shot at his home and was hospitalized critically injured.

In a separate incident, a supermarket owner was also shot and wounded in what appeared to be a robbery attempt.

The Police announced that they were searching for three suspects, Junior “Spirit” Cottle, Marcus “Bomani” James and Loraine “Blackie” Laidlow. Both Cottle and James were members of a fledgling Black Power organization, grandly named the Black Liberation Action Committee (BLAC), formed just one year before and based in the lower Kingstown area. That connection was to have huge ramifications as to how this story would develop.

AG Rawle died two days later and was buried in a mournful ceremony shortly afterwards. In the meantime, the rumour mill kept churning out stories. Not surprisingly “Black Power” became the target of attacks, but local politics was such that stories spread that Rawle was a victim of an assassination plot relating to election petitions filed after the historic tied election of April 1972, suggesting that the accused were paid assassins. Nothing but a dastardly lie.

The death of Mr. Rawle brought about a dramatic change in the behaviour of the police both to local Black Power activists and in general to the youth of SVG in both Kingstown and rural communities. Previously there had been occasional skirmishes based on the police attempts to crack down on ganga smoking. There was little love lost between the police and the rising conscious youth.

The Black Power influence was sweeping the Caribbean and SVG stood up to be counted. There were four small, organized groups in the Kingstown area and at least one based in the rural area, in Diamond Village. There had been occasional protests and demonstrations about police brutality, but the most prominent altercation had occurred in February, 1972 when there were protests against the visit of Margaret of Windsor, sister of the Queen of Britain, and its colonies. It was as though the local middle-class elite had gone crazy that young Vincentians were daring to challenge colonialism. The wrath of the Police Force was unleashed in an unprecedented manner to beat and arrest the demonstrators including a female secondary school student.

All of this paled in comparison with the response to the killing of the AG. A virtual reign of terror was unleashed, with young men being arbitrarily beaten and illegally detained as police desperately sought information about the murder. A month-long manhunt was launched for the suspects, during which Marcus James was shot and killed and finally, on Sunday, May 27, the police surrounded Cottle at his humble residence in the Lower Kingstown area, “the Ghetto” as it was popularly known then.

The behaviour of the police that day was a forerunner of things to come, for having surrounded the area, they indiscriminately tear gassed the entire area, affecting old and young alike in their attempt to flush out Cottle. Little did we realize at the time that a mere two years later, we would witness the same tear gas treatment against teachers, students and the general public.

It was a traumatic experience for me as one of the leaders of BLAC. In the week leading up to the shooting of the AG, as a young teacher at Bishops College, Kingstown, I had been involved in altercations with the management after it consistently failed to address complaints about the racist practices of a British priest who was then the Principal. It led to my suspension and on just the day before the Rawle shooting, the students had staged a protest march around Kingstown calling for my reinstatement.

The new situation put all of that in the pot. I was summarily fired and worse, the leadership of the country went on radio to charge that the murder was part of an assassination plot and that a list was found of the names of several citizens earmarked as victims.

Dangerous lies! The Rawle affair was nothing of the sort. It was an exercise in reckless adventurism. But the politics of the time determined otherwise. Faced with the situation, we as “young revolutionaries”, as we called ourselves, made a martyr out of Cottle, a “revolutionary hero “as we said then. I must take full responsibility for my role in it as we attempted to combat the injustice.

(To be continued)

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.