Shearer's hard line was not 'shoot first'

Thursday, September 26, 2013

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Dear Editor,

It has been repeated often enough in recent times that I suppose history will one day record that former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer did, in fact, instruct the police to 'shoot first and ask questions after'. In my many years of close observation to public utterances, I cannot recall by memory or by research that Shearer ever used that phrase in any of his many public speeches to the police force. I clearly remember his statement about reciting the Beatitudes; and I think that what he said on that occasion is so relevant today that it should be published again in detail.

Addressing the Police Federation some time around 1967 he said some of these words:

As prime minister, I have a duty to...inform wrongdoers in Jamaica that the conscience of the society is hardening against violence to a degree never reached before. I have had proposals from responsible sections of the society to the extent where they have proposed to Government that wrongdoers in certain subjects like rape, assault, burglary, and assault on children should be punished by flogging in the public square."

I am bringing this to the attention of the nation so that the wrongdoers can understand the mood and tempo of the nation against whom they are doing so many wrongs.

I want the country to take note of what can happen in a society when you harass, abuse, and ill-treat as these gangs of hooligans have been doing; where the society itself can be aroused to such levels where people say 'do not flog them behind prison walls, bring them in the square and do it at midday.

In exposing this hardening against violence I expect to hear some outcry from do-gooders and all sorts of 'ologists'. But in the interest of the nation, when it comes to handling crime in this country, I do not expect any policeman when he/she tackles and a criminal to recite any beatitudes to him. With due respect to all the apologists, the police cannot attack the wrongdoer and talk about 'Blessed are the meek...'

So when all the 'ologists' in their comfortable air-conditioned quarters read papers I ask them to bear in mind the dependents of the policemen already killed; and to understand why the attitude has hardened against the criminal elements in this country, and why drastic action has to be taken to deal with this drastic complaint that is totally alien to our way of life.

I make no bones about it gentlemen, and I want all Jamaica to get the message that the police force under this government is not reciting beatitudes to anybody.

Nothing that I say here today could ever offend a citizen who is law-abiding. I expect the full backing of the nation for the stand I have taken in the name of the Government of Jamaica against this cancerous situation in our society.

At a later date, in 1971, when the criminals were getting on worse than before Mr Shearer addressed another meeting of policemen; and at that time he urged them, "Within the rules and within the legitimate limits for the preservation of law, stand firmly and keep on doing what you doing." None of this sounds anything like "shoot first..."

Ken Jones

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