The culture of silence must be broken

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

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In the context of debate on the recently passed Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Bill and the need to protect human rights, we've made note of the promise by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to provide additional resources to the security forces for the purpose of social intervention programmes.

It is also worth highlighting the fact that the prime minister will be empowered by the legislation to declare any geographically defined area as 'a zone of special operations', within which the security forces, upon reasonable suspicion, may search a person, vehicle or property without a warrant.

However, let us not lose sight of the fact that evidence is required in a court of law for perpetrators of crime to be punished. In our already overburdened system of justice, people have to be willing to attend court and give evidence as witnesses.

This point cannot be overemphasised, because as we are well aware, years upon years of especially police overuse of force have brought fear and anxiety in the hearts and minds of many Jamaicans. A lot of our citizens are simply afraid to go to the police, give a statement, and then attend court.

Add to this already volatile mix is our court system which encourages delays, thereby severely testing those who are brave enough to give evidence.

We are therefore hoping that these additional resources, as announced by the prime minister, will be used to assist in the development and implementation of social programmes aimed at winning over the populace. Our approach must not be short term, but with an eye to the long term, where eventually it will become the norm for people to interact with the police and the courts without fear because they know and have belief that their interests will be protected.

For this to happen Police Commissioner George Quallo has to have the right personnel at the helm of managing these programmes. He can no longer rely on meetings alone, but he and his managers will have to roll up their sleeves.

This new initiative, oiled by the promised funding, has to have strong public relations support and it must be communicated loud and clear from headquarters at Old Hope Road in Kingston, across the length and breadth of the 19 divisions which form the administrative and operational platforms of the police force.

Of course, it is going to take time and effort, but at least now there is commitment to tackle the issue head-on. The talk shops are now closed; it is time for action by the Government, the security forces, the Opposition, and all law-abiding Jamaicans.

Let's remember the words of Justice Minister Delroy Chuck who opened the debate on the newly passed Bill: “We are in a situation where gunmen are rampaging through communities and the frightening thing is this culture of silence. Communities are under siege and the people across Jamaica are afraid. These communities are crying out for the leadership of this country to do something. There is no doubt that our security forces must go into the belly of these communities, if necessary, and set up base for extended periods, if necessary.”

We must end the culture of silence.




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