Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Editorial | Dignity amid emergency detentions

Published:Friday | January 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The chaos over detentions so far in the one-week-old state of public emergency in St James contradicts Prime Minister Andrew Holness' claim that the germination of this security plan was long, studied, and well-prepared.

But there is virtue even amid vice. For the state of emergency has again turned the spotlight on the grimy, grubby state of police lockups islandwide, many of which make poor stables for even the most decrepit of animals.

Full-throated but blind supporters of the state of emergency will no doubt pooh-pooh the concerns about human rights, arguing that the gravity of Jamaica's crime crisis obviates pharisaic insistence on constitutional provisions. Maybe so. But we sense an ill-directed arbitrariness in wide net-casting exercises, thus leading to small, dank, dreary jail cells stuffed with youths smouldering with anger.

This newspaper might have thought that the state of emergency, which has been long in the making, according to the prime minister, would have centred around a more cerebral fulcrum, marked by surgical thrusts by the security forces. We hope we have grossly misinterpreted the confusion being played out in overcrowded detention centres - with family members being kept in the dark, hours-long waits before access to food and water, inadequate sleeping conditions, and no access to running water. Mass detentions tend to smack of fishing expeditions.




For the security operation across St James to reap significant success, that is, not just a temporary cessation of acts of violence but the uprooting of gangs, the arrest and prosecution of criminal actors, the seizure of guns, and the staunching of the sponsorship of state terrorism, detentions and interrogations must be driven by intelligence. Anything less might eventuate in the useless expenditure of law-enforcement energy, the erosion of political capital, and the sapping of public confidence. In effect, the state of emergency would be in danger of developing into a farce, as Hardley Lewin, former head of both the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force, said in a letter published in this newspaper on Monday.

States of emergency are designed to be tough security operations, but they must also be strategically calculated not only to displace criminal enterprise but tap into a critical mass of civic support by patriotic Jamaicans who will prove strong partners in a counter-revolution. Embittering honest folks by randomly throwing black boys and men - on the pretext of haphazard processing - in jail for days in inhumane conditions will not win the war for hearts and minds.

The state of lock-ups goes beyond the state of emergency. Inhumane conditions and treatment have been recorded in reams of newspaper for many years. Lest he might have missed them, the prime minister, we assume, would have taken note of the United States Department of State 2016 report which stated: "Overcrowding and difficult conditions remained in some facilities. Cells in some facilities had little natural light, inadequate artificial light, subpar bathroom and toilet facilities, and limited ventilation."

And as Jamaicans for Justice, the human-rights advocacy group, has posted: "Too many ordinary people are scraped up, sometimes without being charged for any crimes, and held for weeks in filthy, inhumane lockups. Lockups are NOT prisons. The people held in lockups have NOT been convicted of crimes. But in our experience, their treatment is sometimes worse than prisoners."

Even in the exigency of a state of emergency, basic human dignity should be maintained. If we fail on that score, our jails may end up, like some of our prisons, becoming manufacturing lines for criminals.