Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Why the Ras defending Babylon?

Published:Sunday | August 23, 2015 | 8:00 AM

There is evidently still great resistance to the very existence of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). The Police Federation's chairman, Sgt Raymond Wilson, gave a scorching presentation at the funeral of Constable Crystal Thomas. The federation is powerful, and politicians will be tempted to bend to their will. But INDECOM is a social and political achievement that we civilians ought never to yield back.

I'm saying that a civilian oversight body of the police is an achievement, but not one that, having been established, is invulnerable. Consider the case of New York's Civilian Complaints Review Board which oversees the USA's largest police department. The Policemen's Benevolent Association, New York's equivalent of Jamaica's Police Federation, didn't like it at all, and at one time had its precursor dismantled.

Let's not go that route with INDECOM. I certainly don't believe it is beyond criticism, and valid points have been raised about how its effectiveness ought to be judged. Still, my own opinion is that Terrence Williams has been doing well.

Recall the need for an independent police oversight body predated Bruce Golding's administration by many decades, but only he had the political determination to create it. There are tremendous ironies here, because I believe Bruce to be a prime mover in the largest civilian slaughter since Governor Eyre. But he did the right thing with INDECOM.

 

NOT RIGHT

 

Now Minister Damion Crawford has entered this discussion, writing that: "The premise upon which an independent police oversight body would make sense is: the acceptance that the police force, in its totality, is too corrupt to investigate some crimes (in this case, crimes committed by one or some of its members)."

Except ... no! That's not right at all. It may simply be that the police are not the best at doing investigations on themselves, or that an independent body inspires more public trust and confidence. Either would be a perfectly sound premise for an independent oversight body.

Anyway, and however that may be, it also happens to be true that the JCF "in its totality, IS too corrupt to investigate some crimes (in this case, crimes committed by one or some of its members)." Why that is so, and what can be done about it, is what we need bright charismatic ministers thinking about.

Actually, just a couple months ago I was driving through Damion's constituency (on Gordon Town Road) when I was stopped. Things proceeded reasonably smoothly, although the submachine guns were unnervingly close. One or two policemen had their faces covered, which, as I understand it, is one of the international signs that something really unpleasant could be going down quite soon.

Soon another car populated by a group of young men was stopped. The driver did as he was instructed and halted in the middle of the road. A policeman then indicated that he should take his car over to the right shoulder. The car sort of lurched forward, then stopped again. Tension! It then moved ahead once more towards the spot to which the driver had been directed. Perhaps it was nervousness that caused the clumsiness, but it could also have been interpreted as an attempt to pull away really fast.

I don't know if there were words exchanged (as I wasn't close enough to hear), or if the policemen were simply interpreting the situation as I acknowledge it could be interpreted: that the driver had at least contemplated taking off.

What I do know is that immediately as the erratic movements began, policemen seemed to swarm the car with their massive guns trained on the occupants. It looked as though they were about to riddle the car full of bullets, and that I would become the star witness in a drama that I wanted no part of.

Having already been cleared to be on my way, I took off. My aversion to seeing something gruesome, particularly while young children were with me, won out over 'faasness' and my reportorial desire to see the outcome. Incidentally, I know this reaction pretty much disqualifies me as a Jamaican, at least that part of our national identity that mandates we stampede towards danger and not away from it.

Anyway, what I can tell you is that, were I in that car, I would be happy to know that Terrence Williams and his INDECOM team are out there. Whenever policeman meets citizen, it is commonly in situations fraught with danger, ripe for misunderstandings, and where a lot of damage can be done to people.

 

RESPECTFUL INTERACTION

 

Other than the experience mentioned above, I've been impressed by how polite JCF personnel have been in my last many interactions with them. Nowadays, an officer has approaches, volunteers his name and rank, and explains what he is doing and why we are stopped. It immediately sets a tone of respectful interaction.

And let's not kid ourselves: There are some very bad people out there and some hardened criminals who will take down civilians and/or police if they ever sense any vulnerability. Tragically, we've seen that recently. We also see footage of the Jamaican cops putting up with challenges and direct confrontations that I know would not be tolerated elsewhere.

Not uncommonly, people here will fight the police, openly and brazenly resist arrest, and proceed to tell the poor policemen about every part of their mother's anatomy. Look here: you try that crap in most places in the world and you get shot.

Still, when the numbers of police shootings and killings seem to have cliff-dived in the last couple years, I am among those willing to count it as one of INDECOM's achievements. As Sherlock Holmes famously observed, sometimes it's the dogs (and guns) that don't bark.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.