Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Orville Taylor | Woman strength or weak police?

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2016 | 7:00 AM

In some developed democracies, she would have been dead. At a minimum, she would have been tased with 50,000 volts from a police 'non-lethal' weapon. And there is nothing shocking about that.

Like thousands of conscientious Jamaicans, I saw the video of three policemen in denim struggling like rank amateurs to subdue a woman who was resisting arrest. Never mind the idle boasts from policemen about their prowess with the ladies. The evidence from the videotape is that they were all mouth and little action.

Admittedly, it was an unpleasant sight as the female was put on the ground in a scene that looked like a poor re-enactment of a primary schoolyard fight. Putting the 'P' in ineptitude, it played into the stereotype of (black) Jamaican men not being able to put a proper metal ring on a woman's hand. Hapless Officer Dibble simply could not slide the other metal circle of the handcuff on the recalcitrant suspect. Indeed, one would think that it was the now-infamous condoms, which the minister indicated that some police officers are incompetent at, or incapable of, properly slipping on.

My immediate reaction is that the three musketeers should spend a few hours in the dojo, with my fellow Man in Black, Sei Shihan Tony Robinson, or even some lesser martial artist. In fact, my fear was that the lady would have overpowered at least one of them and beaten him like the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Black and Blue.

That apart, let me make it clear. Under the Jamaican Constabulary Force Act, Parliament has given to police officers the authority and discretion to "apprehend any person found committing any offence ...". It is not an unrestricted power because the improper, unjustified, or illegal deprivation of the individual of his/her liberty, even for minutes or hours, can land the police officer in hot water and lead to millions of dollars in civil liability.

Millions have become due to the public because of improper policing. This includes a farmer, interestingly named John Planter, who was eventually awarded $3.5 million in damages for false imprisonment in late 2015, and strong-armed Akeem Armstrong, whose recompense was J$2.4 million, ordered in April this year.

 

PROSECUTE AND PERSECUTE

 

At a minimum, it embarrasses the constabulary and significantly damages its reputation and image. Such police officers bring the force into disrepute. Yet, despite the grand narratives, many officers who maliciously prosecute and persecute the public are routinely removed from the force by internal departmental procedures. Beyond that, there is the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), which has full autonomy in probing and pressing charges against cops who breach the police's own use-of-force policy and the various legislation that circumscribe the exercise of the awesome power that 'Corpie' has.

Therefore, as regards the viral event, my first question is, What was the sequence of events that led to the attempt to arrest her? Conflicting reports are that the lady was passing unprovoked when one of the three officers used telemetry and trigonometry and assessed the dimensions of her reproductive orifice, then sought to inform her of its proportions in a most derisive fashion.

Another account is that she saw the policemen carrying out their lawful duties and attempted to dissuade them from doing so. In the process, instructions were allegedly passed between the female and the cops that seemed to suggest maternal cunnilingus.

Again, there is no grey area here. It is an arrestable offence to "assault, obstruct, hinder or resist, or use any threatening or abusive and calumnious language or aid or incite any other person to assault, obstruct, hinder or resist any constable in the execution of his duty".

Calumnious means "false, malicious and intended to damage the reputation of any person". Thus, making any public utterance regarding the dietary preferences or sexual orientation of anyone, including a policeman, falls into this category and can lead to arrest. However, if she is merely revealing hidden truthful details of the cop's private and pubic life, she has done nothing wrong.

 

LAW AND ORDER

 

More disturbing is the allegation that the policeman used language inappropriate to his office and stature as a representative of law and order. Whether he was the server of the first salvo of expletives or he was returning serve, there are some rules in this game of verbal tennis that must be slavishly followed. Police officers must always deliver their service within the lines. Any poorly served stroke outside of these is a fault. However, it takes a well-disciplined player and lots of balls to be perfect on serve. One foul ball can cost the player the match. With the possible exception of the throes of ecstasy, police officers must NEVER 'cuss bad wud', and never publicly at all.

Nonetheless, everyone who is felt to have misconducted himself herself has recourse. One imagines that she has been charged for resisting arrest and possibly other offences. If she or anyone looking on believes that she was victimised, they should report what they saw and assist the investigations from INDECOM and the constabulary. Yet, I am flabbergasted that the public defender (PD), apparently, well-schooled in the techniques of arrest and subduing of suspects, found issue with the arresting techniques.

The deputy commissioner of INDECOM, a native of a country where black people disproportionately feel that police use excessive force when arresting them, remarked: "The police did not draw their weapons, they didn't threaten to shoot her, they didn't strike her with a baton, and they did not punch her. The officers were engaged in trying to force her into the vehicle once they had made the decision to arrest her, and so you are left with this shoving and pushing."

On the other hand, the PD saw "excessive use of force" and declared that "alternative action could have been taken and the police had a duty to de-escalate and defuse the situation". I am open to detailed suggestions; but following American or British use-of-force policies, most likely, she would have been extremely roughed up - and the officers wouldn't have used latex gloves.

- 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 columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.