Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Mark Wignall | Street ops run things

Published:Sunday | March 5, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey

The year-to-date increase of 55 per cent in police shootings of civilians who may or may not have been shooting back at them or endangering the lives of others is not in the least surprising to me.

It is, in effect, a social law of motion. Newton's third law of motion states, 'For every action (force) in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction.' With a significant spike in violent crime, gang related or not, police operations on the ground take the 'rational' response to what is believed are the urgent needs of the community.

In this way, they are not unlike politicians who take their cues from the demands of their constituents, whether or not those demands fulfil the objectives of the common good.

Since I began writing newspaper columns 24 years ago, there is a feature I have noted that keeps on cropping up in our political and public discourse: the ability of society's leaders to bamboozle us with talk from the public podium while the action on the ground is the very opposite of what the oration was supposed to attain.

I am not here writing in support of extrajudicial violence or killings. It would be foolish of me to do so, as I suffered physical abuse at the hands of the police twice - first when I was 15 (1965), and again when I was 39 (1989).

With females being killed, the society finds itself questioning its collective values, and the blowback results in police operations at street level tending to supply the community with its needs for 'justice', in effect getting back at the killers. Of course, there are other important factors.

Some policemen are plainly scared of the streets, and that brings about trigger-happy behaviour. Better to kill than be killed, they conclude. To hell with investigations. I am alive.

Along with this is another behaviour which I first came across in 1996. The official reports stated that four men on Albert Street, not 50 metres from the Denham Town Police Station, were shot and wounded after they had challenged the police. At the hospital, all four were pronounced dead. On the scene, I saw drag marks in blood on sections of smooth concrete paving. I asked myself the obvious: Why would a policeman drag a wounded man across the pavement?

A few days later, as the media attention intensified, an elderly woman from Denham Town boldly stated to a battery of microphones, "Mi not saying dem is not gunman, but dem neva did have any gun dat day."

Gunmen or police?

We are, many of us, caught in a trap or a conundrum in that no matter the extent to which we criticise the police, whenever we hear an unusual sound at the window or on the lawn at two in dark of night, it is the police we will be calling.

"If me was a big man policeman an mi know sey a guy a murder people, especially woman, mi nuh care if mi ketch him wid gun or not. Mi a go dun him,' said a 47-year-old carpenter to me last Thursday morning.

In 2001, after the infamous William 'Willie Haggart' Moore, along with Albert 'Blacka Douche' Bonner and Lowell 'Big Bunny' Hinds, was killed gangland style by three gunmen, I was contacted by persons who were close to Moore after Arnett Gardens PNP political activist George Phang miraculously survived 19 bullets in 2003.

According to those close to the Moore family, it was being said, wrongly, that a relative of Moore's had ordered the hit on Phang. I wrote a piece on the interview with her. What also came out of that interaction was a conversation I had with someone else who told me he was on the scene at the shooting of Moore and his two friends, and was shot in the finger during the execution but miraculously escaped.

"All a wi dey pon di scene at Black Roses when di three man dem come up wid dem gun. Willie did jus come back from East Kingston. Blacka did have a licensed firearm, and sey, 'Licensed holder,' as him recognise di man dem looking like police weh him know. Den dem open fire. We know who order di hit."

They told me the name of the man, his closeness and activism with a political party, and rogue cops and the circumstances which led to the gangland-style hit.

On Thursday, I asked a group of men if they believed that rogue policemen dressed casually are in the business of killing gunmen.

They all laughed. "A weh you live, Missa Wignall? A common assault dat. Sometime some murderer fi dead, an if it haffi go so, a so it a go go."

With no hard evidence that some policemen are involved in such activity, they were 100 per cent sure that it was taking place much more than we were prepared to admit publicly.

FITZ IN A BLITZ?

During the run of Portia Simpson Miller as active PNP leader and prime minister of Jamaica, it was no secret that certain alpha-male personalities in her team and Cabinet were uncomfortable with 'woman rule'.

That same alpha-male characteristic that is rife in Jamaica may make the professional life of Novelette Grant a daily hell should she get the final nod for the top spot in the JCF.

One quite powerful person in the JLP suggested to me recently that he believes ACP Fitz Bailey is the best of the lot for the post. "He has the ideas to take the JCF in the directions that the country needs. We cannot ask for more than that."

"What about Grant?" I asked.

"Good person, but life is based on much more than that. It has to be who is the best person at the right time, and while I cannot force the hand of anyone in the decision-making process, I believe that Fitz Bailey will come out at the top."

I tried to get the view of some of those in low ranks in the JCF, as many of their bosses were tight-lipped. "I have never met him," said a corporal of seven years service, "but from what I have heard, he listens to those people like me."

Another, a constable with six years in the JCF said, "I have never met him, but I have heard things about him. All I can hope is that he is a facilitator. The culture can't change overnight. The dinosaurs have at least 10 years left to dominate the key positions.

"However, a good leader must give ear and be open to innovation. Needs to be willing to deviate from the rigid rank-and-file standard operating procedure, and empower his young staff. If he can do all of that, I will be willing to give him my full support."

I sought the view of a well-connected businessman. "I don't believe his personal politics will be a hindrance to his role should he become the commissioner."

"His personal politics? What do you mean by that?"

He laughed. "You have your personal politics and I believe it is now more allied to the JLP. You know I am allied to the PNP. I believe Fitz Bailey is the sort like you that it doesn't matter who you voted for the last time, you are willing to give a fair shake to anyone based on merit and not on party choice."

"So, what is his politics? Why are you playing with me?"

Then he told me what he believed his party affiliation was. "Do you have a problem with that? And you know you cannot write anything about that. If you say he is allied to the PNP, it will create a problem. If you say he is allied to the JLP, it will be a backlash, but in reverse."

"Yes, I understand. I have no problem with that."

- Mark Wignall is a political and political affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.