Citizen calls for better treatment from security forces during SOE


Citizen calls for better treatment from security forces during SOE

Staff reporter

Sunday, December 15, 2019

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“I felt threatened.” That's how a 20-year-old citizen, who asked not to be named, described his recent encounter with soldiers whom he said accosted him behind the gate of his St Andrew home.

The young man, who said he was speaking with his neighbour on a Thursday night when the incident occurred, said he feels his brother's motorcycle, which was parked in the yard, made him a target.

“A soldier van was driving past with three men in it. I wasn't paying it any attention, then mi see dem reverse and mi see three of dem jump out. One of them come to me and my neighbour asking what's our name. I give him my name and the next one now was walking into my yard,” he said, recounting his experience.

“So I was asking 'do you have a warrant to come in my yard?'. He still walked by, shine his light on to the motorbike — he was looking on it — then him walk come back to me now and ask me 'do you know that a state of emergency is going on in this area' and I said 'yes, I know of that but I do not know of any state of emergency in my yard,” the St Andrew resident told the Jamaica Observer.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a state of public emergency (SOE) for the South St Andrew division on July 7, 2019.

Holness said that the declaration was made after a review of the crime situation in the division which at the time had the highest number of murders since the start of the year with 94 cases.

During a SOE, members of the security forces are given “extraordinary powers” while some rights of citizens are suspended including freedom of movement, freedom of the person, and due process — that is the right on arrest to be charged and brought before a court. Members of the security forces may also search places without a warrant.

But the citizen, who said he was not aware of what rights were suspended, called for better treatment from the security forces.

“Dem need fi at least ask questions, ask something or seh, 'can I proceed?' or whatever,” he said.

“You never ask me, 'okay sir goodnight, may I proceed to look on that bike?' Even if you don't want to talk to me about what's the problem, but to even say I'm going to look on the bike. You never say nothing, you just come in my yard. So basically mi nuh supposed to ask you no questions. You supposed to just come and do what you feel like fi do,” he added.

“He said something to me that I was not pleased about,” the young man continued. “He asked me if I want him to show me his full powers... I felt threatened, like mi nuh supposed to ask any questions, him supposed to do what him want.”

He said this was his first incident of that nature since the five-month-old declaration of the SOE.

“So my brother come out now and is like him just seh, 'him young man, him young'. After that my mother run come out and ask what is the problem and him end up walk away and then dem jump inna dem van and drive weh…cause him realise seh my brother come out, my mother come out and my neighbour was there so him probably back up 'cause him never wah show mi him full power then or whatever.”

“You cyah deal with people suh. Dem need fi learn fi deal with people better,” he insisted.

Head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Corporate Communications Unit, Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, said the security forces are creatures of the legislation, in that they are only allowed to operate within the provisions of the law.

“So where you have the law making some specific rules and terms [in which we operate in], that's how we operate,” Lindsay explained.

She noted, however, that there are multiple options available to citizens if they believe that their rights have been abused.

“We do have our internal departments that you can make that complaint to and it would be investigated, or if you want to go external to the force then you can go to INDECOM.

“INDECOM is one of the avenues that citizens have that they can report to. You also have, external to the force, you have the Office of the Public Defender that you can make those complaints to,” Lindsay said.

“If you believe that the situation is of such that you want to advance further then you can always get the services of an attorney, who will assist you through the process of a lawsuit in the court,” she added.

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