Ja Blog Day 2013 – Police & Security Force Abuses
I have so many thoughts about today’s initiative and about this topic. It’s been difficult to distill my thoughts into one coherent post but one thing keeps coming to mind and it is this: Those police officers or soldiers (because it is not all of them, remember that) who illegally kill Jamaicans are not the only guilty parties. Those of us who are content for their methods to be the prevailing “crime fighting measure,” who long for the days of Adams and his ilk, who are content for too many in the JCF and JDF to get away with extrajudicial behaviour that often amounts to murder…we too are guilty; we are complicit in the murders of our fellow citizens. Another way of putting it: it is as if you had your finger on the trigger too.
When Matthew Lee, Eucliffe Dyer, and “Ratty” were killed in January 2013 I watched an interesting thing unfold on my Twitter timeline. Initially quite a few people tweeted their agreement with the police officer’s actions; the police had, in their eyes, succeeded in getting rid of yet another criminal (it is ironic that Mr. Dyer — the one who was wanted — was apparently on his way to a police station for his daily check in) and the other two who were caught in the crossfire simply should not have been there; too bad, so sad. Funny thing was that initial news reports were uniform that Matthew Lee was simply caught up, wrong place wrong time. Then some tweeters realized that Matthew Lee was the brother of someone they knew. O! Matthew Lee was that Matthew Lee; he was no longer an unknown. Suddenly the tweets of police support ceased or the views changed. Suddenly there was a personal connection to a killing caused by the police…and suddenly it wasn’t OK.
To my mind police officers pulled the trigger and should be held accountable but I am convinced that they are not the only ones to be blamed for Matthew’s and others’ deaths. The police and army only continue to act this way because they are allowed; their actions are buoyed by the continuing approval that they get from too many Jamaican citizens. The persistence of police and security force abuses is possible because too many in society do not see it as a problem. That is, of course, until it affects them…and even then, there is a feeling of adolescent immortality that it actually won’t happen to them. Somehow they expect that the “fight against crime” in the manner in which it is being conducted will never and does not affect them.
When Ian Lloyd was killed by a police officer – who was later acquitted of murder -- a haunting part of the video that captured his death was the cheers of support for the police from the crowd. That ardent support was echoed when the police officer was acquitted; residents of Mr. Lloyd’s community thought him guilty of many things and of terrorizing the community so his death was seen as his justice. I wonder if residents will feel the same when a police officer comes for them, thinking them guilty of many things and a pariah to the community. And it’s not if it is when because the kind of license that Jamaican citizens have granted the police and army is a dangerous one that is difficult to revoke but not irrevocable. The question is whether we will realize this and act accordingly.
As many struggle to come to terms with the 73+ who were killed in Tivoli in May 2010, I am increasingly troubled by those who hold the view that those who died in Tivoli in May 2010 deserved to die; after all they had barricaded themselves in their community, they didn’t leave when urged to do so, they had supported Mr. Coke and his misdeeds, they had acted against the State. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this position is, to think that it’s OK for the police or army to mete out justice as either entity sees fit. Is that really justice? I’m not naive enough to think that when the police and army went into Tivoli in May 2010 that they met no resistance…but I cannot accept that the loss of 73+ lives should so easily be dismissed as mere inevitable consequence or collateral damage. Seventy-three lives wiped from our consciousness so easily? It cannot be. It cannot be we are so willing to thoughtlessly cede our freedom and the health of our society.
If even one of those men was unjustly killed it is one too many. Even criminals deserve their day in court, to be fairly treated according to the rules that society has laid down. It is only civilized.
Here’s the thing: the problem of police and security force abuse did not begin with either the police or the army. The problem began with US. We have created and continue to nurture a society in which it is OK to devalue human life because of home address, community or other associations, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have created and continue to nurture a society of gross and glaring but ignored inequity. That there are so many police and security force abuses is but a manifestation of how little we regard our fellow citizens, of — unknowingly it seems — how little regard we have for our own lives. That disdain that so many of us hold manifests as mob justice too, which is often supported by too many Jamaicans — “Yes, dem deal wid him wicked! Him fi get kick up!” Sometimes I’ve felt myself being drawn into this kind of thinking, especially when it involves crimes against children. I am so angry that someone could hurt a child, it is so automatic to want to make that person feel some pain…it is so easy to want to do that myself. But it isn’t right. I understand the compulsion but it isn’t right. It cannot be right that we have such a warped idea of justice and the sanctity of life that we’re willing to allow killings and abuses to persist in our society.
I mean, do you really feel safe? Do you really feel secure? Do you trust the JDF and JCF? Criminals on one side and those meant to safeguard on the other…but the side that is for us, we allow them to act like criminals. We allow an atmosphere filled with distrust for those meant to protect us, we enable their illegal behaviour. To repeat and though it may seem extreme I am firm on this: a police officer or soldier may be pulling those triggers but our fingers are on those triggers too. Until we realize that we need to revoke this apparent license to kill, and decide to equip the JDF and JCF with the laws, training, and other resources to ensure a safe country the instances of police and security force abuses will persist.
When Bob Marley sang Get up, stand up/Stand up for your rights…” do you think his implicit exception was to only stand up for your rights when they are directly threatened?