Daniel Thwaites | And then you will see clearly
If police brutality bothers me in Minnesota or New York or Florida, it only stands to reason that it will bother me in Kingston or St James or St Catherine. No? Were it otherwise, I would stand rightfully accused of being exceedingly selective in my outrage, and even of being completely hypocritical. Who would want that? Especially because it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy, not just a little oversight, but rather, based on determining where I can condemn my neighbour for the express purpose of making myself feel better about my own failings. And that would be less the love of justice and more the love of condemnation.
Of course, there is a special tinge of evil when there is racial animus involved in police brutality, and that’s because racial animosity is so dangerous, so irrational, so stupid, and has such a nasty historical pedigree.
But racism is not the only kind of evil stalking this world. And when a knee is on a man’s neck, that neck doesn’t care so much if it’s racism, classism, sexism, religious bigotry or some other kind of ‘ism’ or ‘schism’ that’s causing it. The knee connects with the neck in roughly the same way; the bloodflow to the brain dries up in roughly the same way.
Anyhow, given the peculiarities of American history and its social system, ethnic tension underlies almost every discussion of these matters, and not always illuminatingly. So let us agree that there is a problem in the USA.
We, on the other hand, are supposedly able to carry on without too much of the racial stress. After all, we are an overwhelmingly majority black country, we run our own affairs, and have done so for quite some time now. As Jamaicans, we can demonstrate to the rest of the world how an indigenous political class expertly manages its affairs and treats its people well.
It was in that spirit that I decided to spend some time comparing some numbers. I gathered, as best I could, data on the number of American, and then black Americans, killed by law enforcement annually. I then put beside it the number of Jamaicans killed by law enforcement and asked myself some questions:
If American law enforcement killed people at the rate Jamaican law enforcement does, what would it look like? Conversely, if Jamaican law enforcement killed citizens at the rate of American law enforcement, what would that look like? And since the rate at which American law enforcement kills African Americans is proportionately higher, what would happen if I extracted those more egregious numbers and compared them to Jamaican law enforcement?
REMOVE PLANK FROM THE EYE
If you are sensing that I want to parasitically siphon off at least some of the outrage and emotional intensity that is directed at overseas problems and direct them to the problems undah wi nose: Go to the front of the class! And you there at the back: First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly … that when a yute get lick inna Jamaica too many are only concerned that traffic will get snarled up. But they know every detail about Minneapolis.
The numbers tell me that if the police in the US killed proportionally the same number of people as the Jamaican police, they would have killed nearly 30,000 in 2013 instead of 1,106. And that would’ve been the case for many years going back, even if we extracted 2010, the year of that extraordinary massacre in Tivoli.
Once INDECOM gets going though – meaning once there’s a real investigative arm capable of reviewing police action – we see a precipitous decline in the number of Jamaican police killings. Who could’ve ever guessed it?
But even so, if the US police were to kill at Jamaica’s rate, during the period from 2014 to 2018 they would have killed around 65,000 more people. And we would be sitting around, watching CNN and MSNBC, getting righteously furious about such a bloodbath.
But what about blacks in the US, you say? It’s worth looking at because the charge against US police is that there is systemic and institutional racism responsible for disparities. Critics of that view point out that blacks are responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of violent crime and, therefore, have more frequent and tense police exchanges. Luckily, we won’t wade into that debate, because our concern is simply how those same blacks would fare if they were treated to Jamaican police standards.
If Jamaicans were killed at the rate that US blacks are killed by US law enforcement, there would be about 20 such deaths annually. On the other hand, if blacks in the US were treated like Jamaicans are treated by the Jamaican police, instead of around 260 to 300 annual deaths, there would be somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000.
BLACK LIVES MATTER ONLY IN THE US?
Again, let us agree that the USA has a major problem. But how then would you characterise the size and scope of our problem? Because aftah ah while mi nuh business ‘bout up desso. Wha’ bout we? Or is it that Black Lives Matter only when they get a visa and cross the border?
Now when confronted with information that makes them uncomfortable, most people will slink off relatively quickly. One set will immediately attack whoever is bringing the bad news. I’m very comfortable with that, so no worries. Another group will absorb the information, but since it insults their identity or assaults their entitlement to self-righteousness, will work to expel it, ignore it, or forget it. A very small subset will sit and think. Be that guy. If you can manage it.
But even if you can’t be that guy, at least ask yourself why it is that you are so familiar with the names and causes of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, but you know next to nothing, if anything at all, about Patrick Genius, Lance Zab, Romario Bruce, Orville Russell, André Thomas, Jeff Smellie, Dexter Hyatt, Akeem Stewart, Adif Washington, Fernando and Fabian Grant, Nakiea Jackson, Carmichael Dawkins, Jevaughn Duhaney, or Susan Bogle? Can you recall, unaided, the names of any killed at Kraal, in Clarendon? How about the young men at Braeton?
When I see my fellow countrymen expressing solidarity with whomever they agree with overseas, it warms the cockles of my cold heart. For we live in a global world of information and we are not disconnected. But when I see Jamaican politicians and civic leaders fulminating about the murderer in Minneapolis, I’m utterly unimpressed and, in fact, annoyed. I’m like “wait a minute … injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and all that jazz, but have you looked around you lately?” My granny used to tell me to stop faas inna people business when fi yuh business a spwile.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.