Mon | Apr 19, 2021

Orville Taylor | Wah-wah emergency

Published:Friday | July 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM

My long-term memory is as sharp as an old lady's mouth, and it seems like yesterday that soldiers and policemen, dressed in fatigues, with long guns and ugly faces, told me to "come outa di cyar!"

It has been a long time since I've been made to feel like a criminal or called 'bwoy' by members of the security forces, but my muscles remember when part of my track and field training involved running from the police, flat out like a lizard drinking water. Corpie took no talk; whether male or female, he took no backchat. Thus, our 'run-from-police' track meet had no field events like 'discuss', unless he was throwing you into the open-top Jeep or in the deep hatch of the Ford Pinto.

Indeed, there is a retired inspector of police who, without provocation, slapped my friend for no reason than to show that he was some sort of 'top man'. The memory of that abusive behaviour is as clear as if it happened tomorrow, and I can easily understand why he still hates him.



Police beat my friend, a humble Rastafarian, as if he were the American 4x100 male relay team. Grabbing his locks like the reins on a racehorse and shaking him like a rag doll, gun-butting and kicking him, they mercilessly rained blows on him using the high-voltage electrical wire called 'buss mi cock.' And what was his crime?

That was the 1970s when the 1974 Suppression of Crime Act (SPA) was in full force. For the next 20 years, an entire generation of police officers, some of whom are still in active service, were socialised into a pattern of law enforcement, which totally violated every semblance of decency and humanity. However, there has been a slow and steady evolution as the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) tried little by little to transform itself into something that it was not designed to be. Much of that past is behind it but there is still more work to do.

You see, we have always implicitly accepted that there are at least two Jamaicas; a light brown and a deep black. In the middle is a butterscotch brown layer which acts as a buffer. When the JCF was formalised in the aftermath of the Morant Bay War, it was designed to keep the natives in check. Note: Its mandate was not the enforcement of the egalitarian Constitution which declared that all men (and women) are equal under the law. Rather, its mandate was to keep the black underclass in subjection.

It has been a long journey, and when I look at the data regarding policing in America and techniques that they use to apprehend 'suspects', I give God, Allah and Jah Jah thanks that I live in Jamaica. A state of emergency is nothing to play with. Indeed, it was during the 2010 state of emergency that the 69 civilians were killed by the security forces and embarrassing incidents of human-rights violations occurred. And I'm going to invite the learned attorney general to revisit the pages of history, including a subchapter in my recent book, as to how the party of which she is a member did things which trampled on the Constitution.

I like the present AG. After all, she is far more aesthetically pleasing than anyone who has ever occupied the post, and there is no hanky-panky suggested here. But perhaps she has found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow flag and took a Golding opportunity to speak ultra vires.

This is the same person, but this time elected and in the Lower House, who just a few months ago told the Senate that certain proposals were a "mockery to the Constitution". She must not be the one pushing for any legislation or suspension of the fundamental rights under this supreme statute. We have an appointed justice minister and a minister of national security who, though not exasperated, decided to call in a wide cross section of well-thinking Jamaicans to face the crime problem.

Never mind the perennial Fresh Prince, the law is a shackle, and though drafted by lawyers, legislation, including the Constitution, is made mostly by non-lawyers and is supposed to reflect the will of the people in a post-1962 democracy. Pardon my lack of juridical knowledge, but a state of public emergency can only be declared by the governor general and under strict conditions. A panicking public in the face of a temporary spike in murders, when all other crimes are trending downwards, is not one. These shall be either (a) "that a public emergency has arisen as a result of the imminence of a state of war between Jamaica and a foreign state," or (b) "that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety ...", or (c) "that a period of public disaster has arisen as a result of the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence ...".



Now, despite Zika and the pain that it has brought to my fingers, there is no catastrophic pestilence. Nor is there any natural disaster, and ISIS is not attacking us. To call for a state of emergency is not facing the problem. How does one justify seeking extraordinary measures when, despite the high rate of homicide over the past year, an increasing percentage of killings are being cleared up? And how would the abridging of human rights assisting effective policing?

In fact, more murders, in absolute numbers and proportionally, have been cleared up during this period than in any other time frame since the SPA was first passed. Fewer and fewer people are getting away with murder. Moreover, gang-related homicides also declined. What is causing the panic is not just that murder has trended up in rural parishes, but perhaps that there seems to be an increase in the number of persons in the non-expendable categories - that is, persons who are not inner-city youth.

Would the knee-jerkers and persons outside of the expendable category be willing to have police and soldiers arbitrarily stop them, dig up their purses with feminine paraphernalia, or kick off their doors late at night? Ask Keith Clarke's family and wait for an answer.

Calling for a state of emergency is a statement that the cops can't manage, and this emboldens the criminals and fans the flames of resistance.

Big speech is silver, but silence is golden.

- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to and