Abuse of power by Jamaican po­lice

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jae­vion Nel­son is a youth de­vel­op­ment, HIV and hu­man rights ad­vo­cate. Email feed­back to col­umns@ glean­erjm.com and jae­vion@gmail.com.

IT’S TELLING that so many of us think that killings and abuse of power by the po­lice are not an is­sue in Ja­maica, de­spite the cries from fam­i­lies which echo across the length and breadth of this coun­try like that of a wounded an­i­mal.

One would think that in a coun­try where, on av­er­age, 200 or more peo­ple were killed by the po­lice be­tween 2005 and 2013, we would be more will­ing to dis­cuss this press­ing is­sue. How can we be so res­o­lutely op­posed to the ad­vo­cacy re­gard­ing the need to ad­dress the ‘per­sis­tent pat­tern of un­law­ful killings by mem­bers of the Jamaican Con­stab­u­lary Force’ which, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, rep­re­sents around eight per cent of all killings in 2015? Should we not ac­knowl­edge that there is a prob­lem and work col­lec­tively to en­sure even more re­duc­tions in killings by the po­lice (which has re­duced by half since 2014), and pro­vide sup­port to those who are left to mourn the loss of their loved one?

I imag­ine it is be­cause we have never ex­pe­ri­enced such an abuse, never suf­fered in such a man­ner, and many of us think this is nec­es­sary to rid our coun­try of the high lev­els of crime and vi­o­lence. I am fully aware that our of­fi­cers also work in very stress­ful and dan­ger­ous cir­cum­stances. I ac­knowl­edge, as well, that they of­ten have to bat­tle with crim­i­nals with more so­phis­ti­cated and high­pow­ered ri­fles than they have. This should not, how­ever, im­pede our abil­ity to show em­pa­thy and ac­knowl­edge sys­tem­atic cases of im­punity, in­ad­e­quate in­ves­ti­ga­tion, lack of ac­count­abil­ity, and de­lays in se­cur­ing jus­tice. As Shack­e­lia Jack­son, sis­ter of Nakiea Jack­son – the 29-year-old res­tau­rant owner and for­mer Gleaner em­ployee who was killed by the po­lice in 2014, said, “[we] need to recog­nise that no one wins” when we so fiercely op­pose ad­vo­cacy around po­lice killings. “These oc­cur­rences threaten pub­lic con­fi­dence in the state and dis­con­nect the state from com­mu­ni­ties.”


Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has pub­lished a fas­ci­nat­ing new re­port ti­tled ‘Wait­ing in Vain’, which fea­tures a sam­ple of the ex­pe­ri­ences of per­sons in­volved in the over 400 cases Ja­maicans for Jus­tice had in the courts, which they had to drop be­cause of lack of fund­ing. What stood out most pro­foundly is the dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­ence in se­cur­ing jus­tice for their loved ones who were killed.

Sadly, the fam­i­lies can­not get le­gal aid from the State to pur­sue these mat­ters, while the po­lice get it through state grants to the Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion. As JFJ’s Ad­vo­cacy Di­rec­tor Rodje Mal­colm ar­gues, “There is some­thing pro­foundly un­just about the state vi­o­lat­ing your rights, then erect­ing bar­ri­ers at ev­ery stage of the re­dress mech­a­nism, then sub­si­dis­ing the rights’ vi­o­la­tor’s de­fence, forc­ing you to pay, then ig­nor­ing you.”

Con­se­quently, un­less we use the in­sight pro­vided by Amnesty’s re­port to ur­gently ar­rest this grave prob­lem, these (and all fu­ture) fam­i­lies still have the deck stacked against them.

We can­not con­tinue to deny such a per­va­sive prob­lem. One won­ders, how can a peo­ple who ve­he­mently protest against in­jus­tice ev­ery day be so op­posed to hold­ing the se­cu­rity forces ac­count­able if they have com­mit­ted un­law­ful killings?


“The strug­gle for democ­racy and hu­man rights in Ja­maica is a strug­gle for life and dig­nity. Un­less we re­move the ves­tiges and bi­ases that arise from the ‘us ver­sus them’ ap­proach, we will fail to see the greater im­pli­ca­tions of the abuses meted out to, and in­jus­tices per­pet­u­ated against, our peo­ple, es­pe­cially those of us who are more vul­ner­a­ble and marginalised, such as those us who are from low­in­come com­mu­ni­ties.”

Think about it, with at least 100 of­fi­cers im­pli­cated and out of ac­tive duty, with lit­tle or no pay, it is also in the coun­try’s best in­ter­est to thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gate these cases, and se­cure jus­tice for those wronged, so that those that can be re­turned to ac­tive duty may do so, con­sid­er­ing over 400 peo­ple re­signed in 2015. Ad­dress­ing the is­sue po­lice killings is a mat­ter of na­tional se­cu­rity.

Like Jack­son, “My great­est wish is that we will, as a na­tion, recog­nise that these re­sults could be averted and work to col­lec­tively al­le­vi­ate them – sav­ing a na­tion on the cusp of per­ma­nent bro­ken­ness.”

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