A large number of innocent people living in Tivoli Gardens have suffered a double whammy. Many of the people killed and injured in the May incursion by the security forces were innocent bystanders, according to reports. Some were killed after the security forces had successfully completed the initial assault of removing the armed barricade mounted by criminals in the community.
Now don't get me wrong. The security forces had a duty to remove the barricade. It is wrong to bar the military and police from entering any community and the people who did it were misguided and suffered the consequences. The mopping-up exercise seems to have been brutal with some people reportedly killed in cold blood and properties methodically destroyed. Was vengeance in the air after a soldier was killed?
It also seems that insufficient work was done in the area of intelligence. Operations should have been based on reliable information as to the likely whereabouts of the people they wanted, assuming they were gathering information on the wanted men and women over the years.
A tragic mistake in the state of emergency was the brutal killing of an innocent
citizen, accountant Keith Clarke, at his home at Kirkland Heights, St Andrew, in front of his wife and daughter. Some reports say that believing he was Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the Tivoli Gardens strongman who was wanted on a deportation order, the security forces shot Clarke 20 times,15 times in his back. It so happens that the house they were looking for was one mile away.Poor intelligence! It is full time the country heard the result of the investigation and why no one has yet been charged for manslaughter. The emergency regulations do not make any soldier or policeman immune from the law.
The treatment of some of the people detained under the state of emergency regulations was inhuman. For example, women were sleeping on concrete beds using newspaper as bed sheets.
One young man vomited blood for three days before receiving medical treatment and 61 detainees were placed in a room built to accommodate fewer than 20. It could not be the intention of the emergency regulations for people to be treated like animals.
Under the state of emergency, some people have been detained indefinitely without any justification. They were just picked up and detained by the security forces without any particulars on the detention order as to why they had been detained. This is wrong and unacceptable, and clearly a breach of human rights. There were similar occurrences during the 1976 state of emergency which were criticised by lawyers. We did not expect a return to those days.
Having said all of the foregoing, this column supports the state of emergency
in principle. What I am critical of is the way some aspects were carried out. The preparations to hold the detainees were inadequate and it appears that insufficient thought was given to the matter. I do not think that Minister of National Security Senator Dwight Nelson has been given sufficient credit for placing Tivoli Gardens under curfew, which enabled the security forces to smash the barricades and go in search of Coke and other wanted men.
I think the state of emergency served a critical purpose. For example, crime has
decreased with the incidence of murder being reduced dramatically. It should be further extended to enable the police to deal effectively with criminals across the country, but there must be improvement in the detention facilities and preservation of human rights principles. It should be pointed out that the 1976 state of emergency lasted one year.
Both Dr Carolyn Gomes, Jamaicans for Justice's indomitable advocate of human rights and the head of Families Against State Terrorism, the vocal Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, have come out strongly against the extension of the continuation of the state of emergency. I agree with them that a state of emergency by itself cannot fight crime, and it does not make sense to detain thousands of people without any charge and hold them until the emergency ends.
Social intervention to change the lives of the people and a state of emergency to rein in the criminals must go hand in hand, at least until the situation is stabilised. I worked among gang leaders in the Peace Movement in Kingston and St Andrew as well as with the police after the state of emergency ended in 1976, and we saw that as soon as pressure by the security forces was taken off criminals and wrongdoers, crime and violence escalated. Of course, no social intervention programme was put in place.