Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | New vision of policing

Published:Monday | August 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh

Maintaining law, order, and civility in Jamaica has been a perennial problem. From the moment we became captives in this capitalist plot, the phantom of rebellion has lingered, stirring anti-establishment sentiments among a population frustrated at its containment by an illegitimate authority.

The police have historically been seen as a proxy for that illegitimate authority in Jamaica, Babylon's bloodhounds set loose to maul the unruly natives whenever they get out of line. That was precisely the repelling effect devised by Governor Eyre when he released his mercenaries to massacre their kin at Morant Bay in 1865. In the aftermath of that despicable act of brutality, believing Bogle's uprising "demonstrated the vulnerability of peace and law on Jamaica", the Crown established a new and improved Jamaica Constabulary Force as a way to ameliorate the threat of anarchy.

A century and a half later, the idea that police are the beasts of Babylon has persisted, and taking into account the long-standing, tumultuous relationship between the police and poor black Jamaicans, that perception of acrimony or even contempt has been the reality for many, civilian and state agent alike.

Recent images of police personnel rolling in the dirt while entangled with some poor civilian collided with images in my memory bank of all the occasions law enforcers have lost their cool while losing control of some unnecessarily contentious situation.Whether it was shooting a pregnant woman for having a potty mouth, or morphing into a gun-wielding acrobat for the news cameras, during my childhood, I always hoped my encounters with the police would never result in the personal misfortune of becoming one of those poor chaps with the ubiquitous .38 revolver that was typically found suffering from gunshot wounds after escaping into nearby bushes.

 

AGENT OF DESPAIR

 

These images are not easily freed from the subconscious, and in my case, a montage of such episodes replays whenever the long arm of the law raises its hand to the sky, instructing me to defy the laws of physics and bring my vehicle to an immediate halt. Once detained, I have to quickly consider the dualism of whether the universe has delivered the agent of a lawful state or an agent of despair guided either by the Macka D ideology of 'Money-o!' or the 'Kartel-ian' philosophy of 'kill dem all and done'.

At this moment in our story, there are indications that we have grown tired of the persistent antagonism between citizen and police and are slowly beginning to realise we should stop fighting crime and instead start solving crime - together. This is the essence of community policing, a not-so-new idea that is now being proliferated within the contemporary JCF.

The concept focuses on a shift in the role and implementation of law enforcement from static, reactive, and incident-driven to a more dynamic, proactive, and transparent partnership with the community towards the mutually beneficial goals of safety and security.

With the expansion of stakeholders in such a new operational system, police are no longer regarded as the sole guardians of law and order, and all members of the community become active allies by their vested interest. The first step in this partnership is, therefore, to befriend, rather than fear, the police, and this is reliant on the establishment of a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Dysfunctional relationships yield very strange fruit, and in the case of the relationship between Jamaica's poorest and the police, there is still blood on the leaves after centuries of conflict, each new incident reminding of the last and reopening wounds that are old and deep.We are now reaping the fruit of this sustained trauma, as we continuously grapple with disorder, both in the public and the personal spheres.

It cannot be that we continue in the same style of law enforcement, despite the failure over the centuries to achieve the desired results. If we truly wish to reside in a lawful and peaceful society, we will have to think carefully about the rule of law, and how to encourage allegiance to it while preventing the lowliest from being crushed to death by the Leviathan.

Whatever the euphemism we might wish to use for political correctness, be it Flying Squad or Kingfish or Tonton Macoute, the paramilitary style of policing we have employed since the days when citizens were livestock is unsustainable, inhumane and unjustified.

We will never defeat crime by fighting it tooth and nail, but in order to see that, we must first put down our arms and have a meeting of the minds in preservation of our community.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.