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Death Postponed: British High Commission's name sways cops

Jamaican-born Brit looks down gun’s business end in Kingston incident with law enforcers

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 25, 2012    

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This is the 39th in the award-winning series on close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of them in prominent positions of the society.

HE never experienced the horrors of being shot and left to die like so many other persons, but Al Hamilton swears that had he not mentioned the name of the British High Commission, his last day on earth would have been November 14 — two and a half weeks ago.

Hamilton, a Jamaican-born citizen of the United Kingdom who has worked as a journalist, author and promoter, has spent 50 years of his life in the UK. But periodical visits to the land of his birth allow him to maintain a link with family and friends and to ride the waves of Jamaica's present-day customs.

However, the night of November 14 left him trembling in his boots when two policemen stopped his car and menacingly poked guns at him and his passenger.

It is an experience that he will never forget, he admits — one that allowed him to feel, first hand, the psychological pain that many Jamaicans have complained about when they are accosted by some of those who have pledged to protect and serve.

Around 7:40 pm, Hamilton, who had flown to Jamaica to relax following the successful staging of his Commonwealth Sports Awards in Trinidad & Tobago, left his New Kingston home to drop off a young man who helped to service his car. The two were heading down South Road, in the Kencot area of finance and planning minister Dr Peter Phillips' St Andrew East Central constituency, when they came upon a police duo.

"As I turned the corner, there was a car in the middle of the road with its bright lights on. Those are roads that I am not familiar with, so I came down slowly, put my bright lights on to ensure that I don't hit any ruts, but as soon as we got alongside the vehicle, the guy who looked after the vehicle said 'is police dem you know'," Hamilton said.

"So I said ok, I haven't done anything that should warrant me being worried about them. I was taking my time going down, when all of a sudden I am seeing some blue lights in the background, and the man said to me 'Is you dem stopping you know sah'. So I said 'No, I don't think so', after which I decided that this flashing light was persistent, so I pulled up.

"As I pulled up I heard a voice saying to me, 'Driver only, come out'. I responded, and at this time that officer had his service revolver drawn. The other officer, the smaller of the two, had a semi-automatic gun around his neck and that was now positioned towards my head," Hamilton stated.

In-between thoughts of trying to figure out whether or not he was in a dream, Hamilton, with the semi-automatic weapon still pointed at his head, was asked if he had a firearm, to which he responded in the negative.

The attention soon switched to the passenger, who came under vicious physical assault, Hamilton said.

"One of the policemen just orders the guy out of the vehicle, had him against the wall, with the other one having the gun pointing at him. One was searching him; they found his licence and other things that were not untoward.

"When he tried to turn around to say something, one of the policemen said to him 'Bwoy, tun back yuh face 'roun an nuh bodda tun back you face 'roun, or else', and the fellow just complied.

"He was forced against the wall ... and one said 'Open yuh foot bwoy! Wey you have ya? Drop yuh trousers' ... It was rugged. You could see the fear in him.

"They searched the whole car and found nothing. They had already been in the glove compartment and the bigger of the two, who had two stripes said to the other 'Weh the documents dem deh?'. So I said 'You just saw them in the glove compartment, feel free to take them out', to which I then stretched across and handed them to him," stated Hamilton.

The situation threatened to get sticky and Hamilton, fearing that the two could get killed, felt that he had to act fast. He looked the corporal of police in the face, told him that he had taken the situation too far, cited police harassment and mentioned going the diplomatic route.

"I told the one with the two stripes that, 'To be honest with you, I think that this is a matter that should be brought to the attention of my high commission', to which he turned and queried 'Which high commission?'

"I said the British High Commission, and with that I just heard him make some remarks to his colleague and both of them sped off in the marked police vehicle down toward Lyndhurst Road side. Heaven knows what would have transpired had I not mentioned the British High Commission. The conduct of these two policemen disgraced the force. I have people that I know in the police force and in the military and some of them have expressed their disgust at that kind of behaviour.

"As it turned out — I found out later on — what really upset them was that there was a little bar at the corner of the road, so when I am driving back now, I saw three young ladies scantily clad sitting there, so when I came on the spot, one of them said 'Patsy, see the man weh dem jook dung dey'.

Hamilton explained that the cops had blocked the road near the bar, barring traffic in both directions. "These guys were like they were in their element. The guns seemed to give them a feeling of invincibility. They didn't even search me or ask me for my driver's licence (and) they didn't take the documents for the car, so it was just for show, because I had the nerve to put on my bright lights on them while they were there chatting up the ladies.

"The car was in the middle of the road as if to say 'how dare you put on your bright light on us?' — that attitude. It was a very hostile action," added Hamilton.

Based on what he learned about the police force and the several stories about irregular police activity, he got jumpy. He did not get the car's licence number, he said, because he didn't want to do anything that might have angered the cops. He was also concerned that the policemen could take him elsewhere and harm him if he had put up further resistance. Hamilton said that he also thought about reaching for his cellular phone, which was on the driver's seat, to take a picture of what was happening. But something told him that it would be a bad idea.

"By going back in the vehicle like that he could see it as a hostile action and could well shoot. Even if I tried that and the light flashed, he might get at me. So I thought 'let me leave that and don't try any heroics'."

"I didn't want to do anything that would make them want to take me away from that place — like having the guns trained on me and putting me in the vehicle — that's what I was trying to avoid.

"I thought they might have been thinking of taking me away to give me a good thrashing or something like that. So I felt it was safer to stay calm and stay there, because there were people standing around still, so even if they were going to fire people would see what happened and know that I didn't draw a gun. But to take me away to some remote place and do what they want to do could easily have been done, because these guys were fired up ... something got them into that state," Hamilton argued.

But just what might have caused the policemen to react to him in that way?

"The mechanic said that it was because I had put on my bright light, which seems quite simple.

"It's an experience that will take me to my grave," he said. "It is not the most enjoyable sight staring down the muzzle of a semi-automatic gun. Now I see what some other people have gone through and now I see how they treat their nationals... I have never experienced that situation in 50 years of living in the UK. I have been driving in Jamaica for over 15 years, I have been stopped several times by policemen, but these guys, if they didn't have on uniforms, I would think they were gunmen.

Hamilton, a firm believer that 'evil men prosper because good men stand aside and do nothing', made a report of the incident to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). The important thing for him, however, was that he lived to tell the tale.

"These guys just use the pretext of the firearm to orchestrate their bad behaviour. This hasn't put me off from home, and I hope it doesn't put off any other Jamaican or any citizen of the world who wants to come to Jamaica because these are is just the rotten apples in an otherwise decent force.

"They made my life hell that night. I have been to places like Uganda and Ghana, and what I experienced here, nothing can compare to it; I felt threatened. I felt as if I could lose my life. This one certainly made me feel like any moment now, if I just made the wrong move or said something, he could fire.

"It was a hostile environment," said Hamilton, who this year marked 30 years of running the Commonwealth Sports Awards.

He was invested a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 for service to sport in the UK.

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