Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Dahlia Walker-Huntington | That unconscionable Alpha student shooting

Published:Saturday | July 9, 2016 | 7:00 AMDahlia Walker-Huntington
FILE Vehicles passing a fire set by protesters along East Street in Kingston after the shooting of a schoolgirl.

I am particularly moved by the recent shooting of the Alpha student because I once wore that uniform. I often had to rely on public transportation in Jamaica to go to and from school and I put myself in that taxi at the corner of North Street and Mark Lane because the shooting could have taken place anywhere in Jamaica.

This child was on her way to school to receive an education, which is the great equaliser. Who knows if she will fully recover and ever reach her full potential after being shot in the head?

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that there needs to be a complete overhaul of the Jamaican police force. That statement is not in any way a condemnation of all the hard-working men and women who serve honourably in the force and upon whom we all depend to protect us in our time of need. Police personnel put their lives on the line every day they put on the uniform. But, for God's sake, what is it going to take for the leaders of the JCF to realise that some serious psychological evaluation and counselling need to take place?

So many persons have a 'police story' about a frightening encounter in Jamaica. The reason I say frightening is because we all look to the police to protect us, and when the encounter is hostile, the fear is heightened because you have to ask yourself, who is going to protect you from the police?

 

Cops protect each other

 

We all know about the fraternity that is the police - that it is a brotherhood/sisterhood where they circle around and protect each other. The fraternity is understandable because of the bond and trust that they must have with each other. However, what explains when police officers shoot innocent and unarmed individuals?

How do you get from confrontation to shooting into an occupied vehicle because the driver was operating illegally, or maybe he didn't stop fast enough for you? As an attorney-at-law, I champion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and deserves his day in court. But who shot this child?

The JCF has to acknowledge that there is a culture of 'badmanism' that has seeped into the force and must be dealt with immediately. Jamaica is constantly under siege from criminals, and the recent upsurge in violence across the island, particularly in our tourist areas, serves to solidify this point. However, as a people, we cannot continue to fear both the criminals and the police.

While as Jamaicans there is a taboo against any type of psychological evaluation, we have to acknowledge that there needs to be anger-management training and therapy throughout the JCF. Having a gun in your hand doesn't make you judge, jury and executioner.

Those in the JCF who are unable to handle the power that comes with the badge and the gun, and whose prejudices outweigh their abilities to perform their functions to serve and protect, must go. A better job has to be done to screen potential JCF officers to ensure that they have the mental ability and personality to handle their jobs and the authority that accompanies the responsibility.

The problem with policing is not exclusive to Jamaica. This week, in less than 48 hours, police shot and killed two black men in different cities in the United States in very questionable circumstances. The same analysis extends to policing in America.

- Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States and family, criminal, and personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator, and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida, and a weekly columnist with the Jamaica Gleaner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.