Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Abuse of power by Jamaican police

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2016 | 12:00 AM

It's telling that so many of us think that killings and abuse of power by the police are not an issue in Jamaica, despite the cries from families which echo across the length and breadth of this country like that of a wounded animal.

One would think that in a country where, on average, 200 or more people were killed by the police between 2005 and 2013, we would be more willing to discuss this pressing issue. How can we be so resolutely opposed to the advocacy regarding the need to address the 'persistent pattern of unlawful killings by members of the Jamaican Constabulary Force' which, according to Amnesty International, represents around eight per cent of all killings in 2015? Should we not acknowledge that there is a problem and work collectively to ensure even more reductions in killings by the police (which has reduced by half since 2014), and provide support to those who are left to mourn the loss of their loved one?

I imagine it is because we have never experienced such an abuse, never suffered in such a manner, and many of us think this is necessary to rid our country of the high levels of crime and violence. I am fully aware that our officers also work in very stressful and dangerous circumstances. I acknowledge, as well, that they often have to battle with criminals with more sophisticated and high-powered rifles than they have. This should not, however, impede our ability to show empathy and acknowledge systematic cases of impunity, inadequate investigation, lack of accountability, and delays in securing justice. As Shackelia Jackson, sister of Nakiea Jackson - the 29-year-old restaurant owner and former Gleaner employee who was killed by the police in 2014, said, "[we] need to recognise that no one wins" when we so fiercely oppose advocacy around police killings. "These occurrences threaten public confidence in the state and disconnect the state from communities."

 

DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES

 

Amnesty International has published a fascinating new report titled 'Waiting in Vain', which features a sample of the experiences of persons involved in the over 400 cases Jamaicans for Justice had in the courts, which they had to drop because of lack of funding. What stood out most profoundly is the difficult circumstances families experience in securing justice for their loved ones who were killed.

Sadly, the families cannot get legal aid from the State to pursue these matters, while the police get it through state grants to the Police Federation. As JFJ's Advocacy Director Rodje Malcolm argues, "There is something profoundly unjust about the state violating your rights, then erecting barriers at every stage of the redress mechanism, then subsidising the rights' violator's defence, forcing you to pay, then ignoring you."

Consequently, unless we use the insight provided by Amnesty's report to urgently arrest this grave problem, these (and all future) families still have the deck stacked against them.

We cannot continue to deny such a pervasive problem. One wonders, how can a people who vehemently protest against injustice every day be so opposed to holding the security forces accountable if they have committed unlawful killings?

 

STRUGGLE FOR LIFE

 

"The struggle for democracy and human rights in Jamaica is a struggle for life and dignity. Unless we remove the vestiges and biases that arise from the 'us versus them' approach, we will fail to see the greater implications of the abuses meted out to, and injustices perpetuated against, our people, especially those of us who are more vulnerable and marginalised, such as those us who are from low-income communities."

Think about it, with at least 100 officers implicated and out of active duty, with little or no pay, it is also in the country's best interest to thoroughly investigate these cases, and secure justice for those wronged, so that those that can be returned to active duty may do so, considering over 400 people resigned in 2015. Addressing the issue police killings is a matter of national security.

Like Jackson, "My greatest wish is that we will, as a nation, recognise that these results could be averted and work to collectively alleviate them - saving a nation on the cusp of permanent brokenness."

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.