George Floyd murder vs policing in JamaicaWednesday, May 05, 2021
The murder of 46-year-old George Floyd, a black man, by white police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, USA, has been on the minds and the lips of people around the world. The spectacle of Chauvin defiantly placing a knee on the neck of the handcuffed Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds, while ignoring his pleas, “I can't breathe”, touched the stoniest of hearts — even in a country like Jamaica known for wickedness by the police.
While we display righteous indignation at the unjustifiable act of brutality by law enforcement officers in a place far from our shores, we should look in the proverbial mirror, examine our sordid history and our own blood guiltiness with police killings.
From my own casual research, talking with people, a significant number of Jamaicans favour the type of policing practised by controversial former Senior Superintendent of Police Reneto Valentino Adams as the way to deal with rising crime and violence. Most worrying is the finding coming out of a 2016/2017 public opinion survey, conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), that close to one-third of Jamaicans would give up some of their rights for the police a have free rein in going after alleged criminals.
The matter of police killings is real bad. Erica Guevara-Rosas, director for the Americas at Amnesty International, put out the following statement, July 8, 2020: “As the world experiences a collective moment of outrage and grief over the killing of George Floyd and so many other black people in the United States, the Jamaican Government must take the opportunity to put an end to its own human rights violations by the police.”
The United Nation's Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group conducted an extensive review of Jamaica's human rights record out of which came several recommendations. One in particular gives a measure of the serious nature of police killings and other abuses in Jamaica. “End abuses by security forces and other government agents involved in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and life-threatening prison conditions, and ensure swift accountability for those who commit abuses by implementing existing mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses and clearing administrative backlogs.”
By virtue of our track record, Jamaica has no moral ground on which to commiserate with law-abiding peoples from around the world about the sin committed against humanity in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 — the day Floyd was murdered. The statistics on police killings tell a chilling story. In the year 2018 the number of civilians killed by police was 1,146 in America, 36 in Canada, three in the United Kingdom, and 137 in Jamaica. America is an outlier among rich countries for the number of police killings. Jamaica heads the list on a per capita basis, given its much smaller population.
Is the situation in America any worse than what is happening with police killings in Jamaica? We hide behind the fact that George Floyd was a black man and the people killed by police in America are disproportionately black, which makes it a matter of denying a particular group its civil rights. But there is no solace to be found in the discriminatory practice by the policeman who killed Floyd and those who stood by and watched. No comfort we can take in the adversity of others in this case American jurisprudence — not when we consider that young men and youth from inner city and other poor marginalised communities account for most of the victims of extrajudicial killings by the police in this sun- and blood-drenched island.
To Jamaica's credit, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) was established to tame the beast, so to speak, by holding the police accountable for being judge, jury, and executioner. While there have been ups and downs in the year-to-year statistics, police killings have been trending downwards. From INDECOM's own reports, and Amnesty International, the number reduced by half from 258 in 2013 when INDECOM began arresting and prosecuting police alleged to have committed a crime to 115 in 2014. In 2020 there were 86 reported fatal shootings by the police, the lowest in 20 years. Since 2014 INDECOM has successfully prosecuted 21 police offers for wrongs they committed. But there remains more to be done legislatively, as well as operationally.
It appears that the Government of Jamaica does not have the appetite to give to INDECOM the authority it needs in the tool kit of legislation to bring rogue cops to book. Let us, therefore, turn our attention to what can be done from an operational standpoint as we learn from the Americans and the George Floyd case which led to the conviction of Chauvin on all three counts.
Police in America have always got away with their nefarious acts as if they never happened. Without a teenage girl having had the presence of mind and courage to video record the event as it unfolded, and without footage from body cameras worn by policemen, George Floyd's unnecessary and unjustifiable death would have gone unpunished like all others before it.
What is the situation with Jamaican police wearing body cameras? Lloyd Distant, chairman of the local Crime Monitoring and Oversight Committee, in a front-page story in the April 23, 2021 edition of the Daily Gleaner, was quoted saying the following. “The projection was to bring in 1,000 new body-worn cameras in this year. We are likely to bring in 120 additional. I think we have just about 200 in place right now. We are a far cry from where we need to be, and the conversations, they are largely around budgetary limitations that exist.”
Those who hold the purse strings, who say we cannot afford it, should be reminded of this adage attributed to Harvard University President Derek Bok: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” It is to them that I direct this question. What costs a Government, a society, and a country more than a life unjustifiably taken at the hands of representatives of the State?
The upholders of the law cannot be the breakers of the law.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login