The Curious Case of Ganja, Police Powers and Human Rights
I recently watched a very disturbing video of a police officer attempting to arrest a man who was smoking marijuana in public.
In the video, the man is seen being dragged by the waist by the officer. There are shouts by onlookers to the effect that "weed free up" and that the police can't kill anyone.
As the man resists the efforts of the officer to arrest him, a shiny object is then seen in the hands of the police, a loud bang is heard, and the man who refused to allow the officer to drag him to the police station like a common animal is seen laying on the ground. There are then screams by the onlookers that the man has been shot and they beg that he be rushed to the hospital. In attempting to preserve his dignity, the man lost his life. In attempting to save face, the officer shot and killed a man.
Absent from the video, was rational thinking on the part of either individual or any of the onlookers.
It can be argued that the man should have allowed himself to be arrested and then seek legal recourse to safeguard his rights. It can be argued that the officer should have left the scene and returned when tempers were calmed to carry out the arrest. It can be argued that the onlookers should have encouraged the man to go with the police and follow them to the station to ensure his safety. It may yet be argued, that the deaths of Mario Dean and Oshane Dothlyn, while in police custody under similar circumstances, attributed to the position of resistance taken by the man and the onlookers.
Notwithstanding all the possible arguments that could be made, what is clear is that the man was seemingly killed without any lawful justification.
It is ironic that in 2015, following the recent amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, that another young man is killed in very questionable circumstances by agents of the State, or while in their custody, related to possession of marijuana, which I maintain, is a victimless crime.
Although not yet in effect, the reform of the law is significant as young men with small amounts of marijuana are no longer to be arrested and carted off to prison. Instead, they are to be ticketed for the offence, which now carries a fine of $500. More importantly, the amendments ought to safeguard the lives of young Jamaican males who should never have to suffer the brutal and unfortunate fate of Mario Deane and Oshane Dothlyn, who died tragically while in police custody after being arrested for having marijuana in their possession.
Unfortunately, the law has not received the assent of the governor general, it has not yet been gazetted, and some police personnel refuse to exercise their discretion notwithstanding the known amendments which will soon take effect.
failure to understand
Without more, the images on the video suggest that the death of the man is indefensible. His sole crime was his failure to understand that amendments to the law relating to the possession of marijuana have not yet taken effect. Who is to be held accountable for his death? The Government which refuses to launch a national public education campaign to educate Jamaicans on the difference betwen decriminalisation and legalisation? Police officers who still refuse to exercise their discretion in the treatment of "ganja offenders"? The man for his ignorance of the law? Or we the people, who hardly murmur any social outcry or call for accountability at the highest levels when another one of our brothers is murdered?
We talk about wanting change in Jamaica, but change will never be achieved while we consistently ignore the suffering of our fellow men. For the issue surpasses whether marijuana is legalised or decriminalised. It is far greater than the powers of arrest or disobeyance of police orders. It is fundamentally a human rights issue and how we treat human lives in Jamaica. Jamaica has one of the highest rates of civilians being killed at the hands of agents of the State, and still our silence betrays our placards and cries for "justice". We have become so numb as a people that our children, women, the elderly, and those deemed the weakest among us are attacked and murdered daily without persistent social scorn. The Government, Opposition, corporate Jamaica, articulate minority, We the people, are all culpable. For while we are all busy fighting to perfect our daily lives, human rights remain a myth in Jamaica.
- Alando N. Terrelonge is an attorney-at-law and Jamaica Labour Party caretaker for East Central St Catherine.