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How many more victims?

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, August 24, 2014    

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The fundamental purpose of government is to protect its citizens. — Arlen Specter

To say that Jamaican governments have failed, and failed miserably, in the most basic function of protecting her citizens, is an understatement. Arguably, many Jamaicans have been psychologically, socially and emotionally abused, maimed, killed and otherwise had their lives destroyed by agents of the State.

Report upon report, investigation upon investigation have done little to change the culture of impunity which seems to characterise the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), in particular. While many continually point out that there are scores of good policemen and women, some of course use this argument as a conduit or escape route rather than face the magnitude of the problem which currently afflicts us.

The crux of the problem must not be ignored. Our police force is not a perfect one; in fact, it is far from perfection. Add to that reality the fact that the police are often given "basket to carry water", especially with respect to the conditions they work in and the resources they are given to do their jobs — or more so, not given. And we see why we are on Caligula's [Roman Emperor] Bridge to nowhere if we do not use the killing of Mario Deane from a beating he received while at the Barrnett Street Police lock-up as the catalyst for revolutionary changes to the operations and culture of the security forces.

For those who might still be in doubt as to the urgent need for an uprooting of the Praetorian Guard culture in the JCF, let me remind you of a few ghastly police-related killings which were brought to public attention. The information (except for that on Agana Barrett) is taken from Amnesty International's 2001 report on police killings in Jamaica; subtitled 'Jamaica killings and violence by police: How many more victims?' and Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) 2012 report to Parliament. Sadly, in some of these cases no agent of the State has yet been charged, let alone convicted. For those who ask why bring up these matters now, I can only wonder at the kind of Jamaica you wish to live in and or see your children and their children grow up. As a rule, you cannot change what you are not concerned about.

Agana Barrett

"Police lock-ups are designed with certain specifications with the intention of housing a

certain number of prisoners. This is for the purpose of safety of the prisoners, who even

though they have been deprived of their liberty, enjoy certain rights and privileges, and

also for national and overall security.

"In 1992, Agana Barrett died at the Constant Spring Police Station whilst being housed in an overcrowded cell. The cell measured 8ft x 7ft and was housing 19 men. He, along with the other men, was inside the cell for several hours between October 22 and 24. It was on the 24th that it was discovered that Barrett and two other men, Vassell Brown and Ian Forbes, had died. Reports published are that the men died from lack of oxygen."

The men were picked up by the police to see if they were wanted in connection with any crime. Quoting from the case, Fuller (Doris) v Attorney General, presented in the Court of Appeal of Jamaica, the trial judge found that "... [it]...was extremely hot due to congestion. There was very little air available and this was only accessible through small holes in a metal door for the cell. The cell had no windows and they were surrounded by a concrete wall. Water dampened the floor and, in order to quench thirst, perspiration and water dripping from the walls had to be used as no drinking water was made available for them...one man had to drink his own urine in order to quench his thirst..." (2012 IACHR Jamaica Country Report on Human Rights)

Patrick Alfred Genius

Patrick Genius, a 33-year-old welder, stall-holder, and father of three children was fatally shot by the police in August Town on December 13, 1999. The circumstances of the shooting suggest that it amounted to an extrajudicial killing.

Eyewitnesses indicated that Patrick Genius was detained by several plain clothes police officers travelling in an unmarked police car as he rode his bicycle. Witnesses stated that Patrick Genius had his hands up in the air before he was shot at close range in the head.

Autopsy report findings are consistent with this account, indicating the presence of five gunshot wounds on the body; one in both thighs, and two in the back of the head (including a graze), and one in the left side of the head. An independent pathologist who reviewed the report concluded that the pattern of injuries indicated the likelihood of deliberate incapacitation followed by killing.

Delroy Lewis

Delroy Lewis, aged 29, was fatally shot in August Town, St Andrew, on September 2, 1999 in circumstances which suggest that the killing was an extrajudicial execution.

The police account of the shooting alleged that a group of three gunmen, one of whom was Delroy Lewis, opened fire on police officers after they were challenged by police for looking "suspicious". They also alleged that a semi-automatic pistol was taken from him and that the two other gunmen escaped on foot and were not apprehended.

Witnesses, however, stated that at least seven police officers in plain clothes, including an inspector, were seen entering Delroy Lewis's yard shortly after several police vehicles arrived outside the house. The officers were seen proceeding to the back of the yard -- an area hidden from public view by a fence on one side and dense vegetation and a hillside on the other. Neighbours and others, including Delroy Lewis's girlfriend, were refused entry to the yard, but those outside the house reported seeing police officers fire shots at a tree in the yard as the police went around the back — possibly indicating an attempt to make the shooting appear an exchange of fire.

Within a few minutes, Delroy Lewis was shot. One witness alleged that he was shot several times in the head and chest after being surrounded by several officers. The witness alleged that he had first put his hands up in the air and was searched and asked whether he was carrying a gun, which he denied. An officer was seen putting a gun to his head was reportedly heard saying, "#$@*&^%hole, yuh remember mi, ah gonna kill yuh".

Matthew Mullins

On 27th July 2000, Autho Matthew Mullins, a 25-year-old man and recent convert to Rastafarianism, was shot and killed near a Rastafarian community in a remote, hilly area outside Kingston by members of the Mobile Reserve and the Anti-Crime Task Force — units within the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The police account stated that they had returned fire after three men, including Matthew Mullins, had shot at them. Police stated that they subsequently discovered one of the men injured after a search of the area and recovered a firearm from him.

However, eyewitnesses claimed that he was detained and deliberately shot and killed, even though he was just a bystander at the arrest of a criminal suspect who was allegedly hiding in the area.

In an account sent to a respected radio journalist, the suspect stated that he and Matthew Mullins had been detained and forced to lie on the ground. Matthew Mullins was then shot at point-blank range in the chest, despite the fact that the suspect protested to police that Matthew Mullins was unknown to him.

Relatives told Amnesty International that a state pathologist had indicated that Matthew Mullins was shot at close range in the chest and leg areas. His clothing — crucial forensic evidence — was also allegedly discarded after the autopsy. Relatives were denied permission to view his body in the morgue, but were asked to sign papers indicating that he had died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. An independent pathologist who performed a second post-mortem on the body noted the presence of three gunshot wounds; in the right thigh, the left thigh, and the upper back, penetrating the chest cavity.

Rasheed Williams

On 12th October 1999, Rasheed Williams, a 23-year-old mentally ill man, was fatally shot by police in Grant's Pen, Kingston.

Initial police accounts given to the media alleged that Williams formed part of a group of gunmen who fired upon police officer "in the vicinity of the Grant's Pen gully. The fire was returned and Williams was hit." However, witnesses alleged that police had been attempting to arrest and detain an unidentified man who ran away and starting shooting. A police officer was shot in the leg. Another policeman grabbed hold of Rasheed Williams' foot about a minute after the shooting stopped, asked him whether he was going to run away, and then shot him in the chest. The police officer allegedly carried on shooting another two or three times after Rasheed Williams had fallen on his left side.

At the Coroner's inquiry into Rasheed Williams' death, one policeman initially testified that after Rasheed Williams was shot, he was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a firearm and shooting with intent. However, the statement was later retracted during further cross-examination.

Official forensic and ballistics investigation into the death were inadequate, but the findings of an independent pathologist who observed the state autopsy appeared to confirm that Rasheed Williams was deliberately shot. The pathologist recorded bullet entries to the abdomen, back and head. The bullet wound to the right side of the head was noted at a position of "halfway between the right eye and right ear..." The pathologist also noted critical failings in the state autopsy. The cranium had not been fully opened and clothing was not examined.

Michael Gayle

Michael Gayle, a 26-year-old-man who suffered from mental health problems, was beaten to death by at least 14 members of the security forces on 21st August 1999 after he was detained at a roadblock in Kingston following the imposition of a curfew in Olympic Gardens. Nearly two years later, the authorities have yet to charge or discipline anyone in connection with the killing.

Gayle's account of the incident — given before he died two days later — indicated that police and army officers had attacked him, kicking him in the back and hitting him with batons and gun butts after he was refused permission to cross the security barrier. His mother, Jennie Cameron, who arrived at the security barrier shortly afterwards, claimed she had to "beg for mercy" to prevent her son receiving further beatings: "I told them my son is sick, that he is of unsound mind; but a [police] officer told me that I was obstructing justice. I saw Michael bleeding from his ear and face and he was beaten all over his body. I think his ribs were broken." The death certificate issued after the post-mortem gave the cause of death as peritonitis due to the traumatic rupture of the stomach — a finding consistent with the eyewitness accounts of the attack upon Gayle.

Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution, entitled Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Section 13(6) states: "No person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment." The reality is that poor, black economically-dispossessed Jamaicans seldom experience this protection.

Again, in its 2012 report to Parliament, INDECOM made the following observations:

"Considering the entries in station diaries, it would seem there is widespread concern about the conditions under which prisoners are kept. The similarity between this [the overcrowding] situation and the Agana Barrett case is that the conditions that exist in these lock-ups presently are sufficient to bring about a repeat of the tragedy of 1992."

Did this prediction come true on August 6, 2014? While many Jamaican were celebrating Jamaica's 52nd anniversary of Independence, Jamaican citizen Mario Dean was breathing his last breath. Whatever the investigations finally uncover, every Jamaican citizen must ensure that this tragedy never happens again. Where do we start? We start by holding the 63 people we employ in our Parliament accountable. It must never happen again in Jamaica

Either we believe that the State exists to serve the individual or that the individual exists to serve the State. — Ayn Rand

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com

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