Mark Wignall | Can the JCF be salvaged?
It has gone way beyond a simple numbers game where some sage, brimming over with eternal optimism, pronounces that only an infinitesimally small percentage of the 11,000 members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) are corrupt or rogue, and that in time the cream will rise to the top.
What the nation was witness to, mostly in its aftermath, along a few streets in the perennially troubled Spanish Town was open manifestation that murder-for-hire is alive and well in the JCF, and what it defines for the wider society is much more important than calculating a percentage.
At close to midnight last Saturday, a cop is moonlighting by doing body-guard duty for a businessman from the area. A rogue cop removed from front-line duty and accompanied by two others facing the same disciplinary predicament shoots dead the businessman, and as they make their hasty exit, the bodyguard cop gives chase in his car.
I can only imagine the crazy chase and the shots ringing out as the mad cars screamed along their way in the midnight hour. One cop is killed in addition to a citizen from a car that crashed with the car carrying the rogue cops. One of the rogue cops is held and, on his way to being taken in, conveniently escapes.
There are many elements to unpack here. As crazy as the idea and the reality of cop chasing after cops in cars with gunfire as the main element, only very few Jamaicans would be surprised at the spectacle. Many have long seen the force as systemically riddled with corruption, from the traffic cop on the take to hit squads.
I do not know enough about the antecedents of the deceased businessman to make any specific comments on him. He is dead and his relatives and friends will miss him and mourn his passing. The investigations will begin, but very few Jamaicans will trust whatever results come out of it.
For years, many cops with their reputations of fearlessness preceding them have been natural fits for doing guard duty for businessmen of both types: those upholding the law and those operating on its fringes.
More than a decade ago, I met for lunch with a well-known Kingston-based don and political activist. As I sat in the restaurant glancing at my watch and anxiously awaiting the chance to meet him, it did not immediately come to my attention that three tables nearby were being occupied by some men who shared one common physical feature. They were huge.
During our meeting, he divulged that the men were his uptown bodyguard unit and they were all cops, in this case moonlighting at midday. A few months later, I met with him at his business place where he introduced me to his ‘soldiers’, about a dozen evil-looking young men with scarves around their heads. They were his mobile armed militia, his enforcement team. It was also not a secret that he ‘owned’ the policemen from a certain jurisdiction.
After the bloody madness in Spanish Town, some obvious questions come to mind. Were the low-level cops off on their own adventures or were they under orders from officers high up in the JCF?
Unfortunately, many of our citizens support extrajudicial killings, and while I can understand their years-long frustration, I still cannot agree to a process that denigrates the rule of law and takes us in a scary direction as a people.
We do not trust those who fire guns and we do not trust those who investigate them. We are boxed in.