Mon | Aug 20, 2018

How many more have to die?

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

In February, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), as an organisation, was responsible for the deaths of two citizens. This was a 'good' achievement given its record over the recent past. This good outcome had induced me to start thinking about how to capitalise on this for the greater good of the society. Should we as a country contemplate trading some freedoms and a share of our privacy for more security? The trust in the police was to be an integral part of the proposal.

And then Lawrence Tavern happened.

This community in the hills of West Rural St Andrew is made up of multiple districts that encircle the meeting point of the four roads in the 'village' of Lawrence Tavern. An abundance of subsistence farmers, male and female, who though close to the metropolitan area of Kingston and St Andrew, do not refer to themselves as urban people.

They enjoy the intimacy of extended family, the cool temperature, dominoes, rum and frequent dances. Garfield Coburn was a typical resident. Last week, this father of two, principal economic provider for the extended family, went fewer than two miles from his home to a dance. He was to die from being shot by a policeman.

The reports of the activities that led to the confrontation with the police vary. Did he have a tobacco cigarette or a ganja spliff? What is known is that he was accosted by the police and shot to death. He had no previous history of bad interaction with the police. He was killed for either possession of a spliff or a cigarette.

I have seen the video of the events leading up to the discharge of the firearm by the police. The JCF took another life.

This bothers me because prior to this incident, the police in Lawrence Tavern had been doing a good job. There was an officer who, at the request of the citizens, was brought back to Lawrence Tavern because the performance on a previous tour of duty had left a favourable impression. There was discussion within the citizenry, prior to this, about increased cooperation with the police, providing them with physical assistance. They led an approach to meet persons within the community and it paid dividends.

Last week, we the citizens lost. We lost not only a life, but trust is a casualty of the stupid, unnecessary actions of a policeman. Now the community is tense and angry. Urgent intervention is needed. The citizens need to be assured that this was an aberration by a rogue who will be dealt with accordingly. We had Mario Deane in the west; now it's Garfield Coburn in the east. How many more will have to suffer? How many more will have to die?

The members of the JCF exercise, on behalf of the citizens, awesome power. They also face criminality that is ruthless and emblematic of mayhem. They have to be allowed to act as law enforcement. They have to develop the trust of those they are supposed to serve and protect. They must use the awesome power with a sense of responsibility.

You cannot be telling citizens that the law allows for you to kill. That is the last resort in the defence of life - your own or that of an endangered citizen. You do not kill people because their actions, words or mannerisms in the commission of a minor offence may annoy you. There was no risk to the life of the officer who killed Garfield Coburn.

Where does Lawrence Tavern go from here? The investigation must be thorough and swift. The legal, administrative and moral sanctions directed at the officer who killed the young man must be applied. The High Command of the JCF has, once again, blood on its uniform. The commissioner of police, as the officer in command, must make his presence felt.


microcosm of Jamaica


Lawrence Tavern is a microcosm of Jamaica. It is noteworthy because it is nondescript, but the citizens serve this country in a multitude of endeavours. We are soldiers, police, farmers, civil servants, nurses, teachers, businesspersons. We have spawned politicians of yesteryear and today, for both major political parties. I am persuaded that the outcome of this incident in the village of Lawrence Tavern will resonate throughout Jamaica. How disconcerting that I, an attorney, would join the chorus and say loud and clear, "We need justice!"

This one strikes home with a resonance that I have not been exposed much. For me, this is different; this is my family. My roots go back more than 100 years in the little village of Lawrence Tavern. Generations of my maternal and paternal family are buried within the radius of the distance between Garfield Coburn's house in Unity and the site of his execution in Mahoney.

I hope that this death will live in infamy as the last questionable killing by the JCF.

- Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to and