George Davis | The blame game: police vs citizens
Just who is to blame for the steady deterioration in the relationship between us, citizens, and the police?
Social media has thrown up some distressing videos, especially in recent weeks, of citizens confronting police personnel in public as the law enforcers discharge their duties. The situation is dangerous for all concerned, especially when the police pull their firearms in anticipation of using deadly force against a mob angry at what they perceive as the incorrect or oftentimes heavy-handed approach to enforcing the law.
But let’s play the blame game and see what we come up with.
Jamaican citizens in 2019 are more aware of their rights than at any time in this country’s post-colonial history. People are aware that a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms does exist, even if they do not know the specifics about the 21 ‘rights’ covered as per the constitutional amendment.
Citizens know that unlike in previous times, police personnel who engage in misconduct are almost certain to be prosecuted and are more likely than before to be convicted by the courts
Citizens know that ‘police-bashing’ is almost a national pastime, with public support more likely to attach itself to persons who scream police abuse and victimisation than to the police who protest innocence when accused of wrongdoing.
Jamaicans know that the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has changed the game for the better, where police-citizen interaction is concerned, given the hawkish, borderline, overzealous manner in which Terrence Williams’ team handles reports and complaints about the conduct of the agents of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
And then there is the ubiquitous smartphone which records, especially for social media, clashes between citizens and the police.
So take the knowledge by citizens of their rights, add that to the surety of the backing of public opinion, add to that the pressure exerted on misbehaving cops by INDECOM, multiply that by the factor of social media, then form said citizens into a group before turning them into a mob and brace for fireworks when they confront police personnel looking to enforce the law.
MAKE THEM INTO VILLAINS
Where the police are concerned, consider how much pressure they come under when citizens, untrained in the law, openly challenge them as they go about the job of law enforcement.
Consider how the conduct of some of the men and women who’ve worn the uniform before them, make them into villains in the eyes of the public, even when they are discharging their duties to the letter of the law.
Consider how their deficient language skills, for which a few months’ lessons at the training college failed to undo a lifelong struggle with verbal expression, especially in conflict resolution, make it difficult for them to reason with angry citizens as they discharge their duties.
Then consider how the police must feel when even after they’ve brandished their gun, the ring leader/s of a mob continue to defy them, even as the venom, hate and bile from among other members of the group rises to dangerous levels.
Consider how the police must feel in a situation where their every movement is being captured by multiple smartphones, even as they are confronted by an emboldened mob determined to apply their own version of law enforcement in the specific case.
On many occasions, we see the police and citizens clash on the nation’s streets about the law enforcers’ use of discretion. And on some occasions, citizens rush in, often to free a suspect from arrest or to prevent, say, a motor vehicle from being towed. All because they believe the law is either being enforced incorrectly or without discretion.
These citizens do not realise that the place to stand up to the law is not within a mob setting in public. Rather, the place to stand up to the law is in court, alongside an attorney.
The outcome of the blame game is perhaps inconclusive. But what is true is that as a people, we are very hard to police, especially in this time of rights and protections against police abuse.
d our maladjusted police must shoulder their share of the blame. After all, the record of the JCF is partly responsible for the way the public continues to treat the men and women in uniform.