Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Palomino bats for lasting tribute to slain cops

Published:Sunday | March 10, 2019 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju - Gleaner Writer
Gloria Palomino, founder of the Police Civic Committee, describes the maquette of the proposed monument for slain policemen and women at Devon House, St Andrew.

Working conditions for members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and affiliates have improved somewhat since 1960 when deplorable circumstances prompted businesswoman Gloria Palomino to start the Police Civic Committee.

With the support of patriotic individuals and organisations, the non-governmental organisation has been instrumental in improving the conditions under which crime-fighters operate. With parish chapters across the island, the overall impact of the committee has been life-changing, to say the least. However, the defining incident that propelled her to action more than 58 years ago remains indelibly etched in Palomino’s memory.

“I went to Lawrence Tavern (St Andrew) for an inspection and they were cooking outside on three stones with a cheese pan, and I said, ‘No, they can’t live like this.’ That’s what prompted me to start helping by furnishing their living conditions, which, in the case of the police, is actually where they work,” the philanthropist shared with The Sunday Gleaner recently. “That is the genesis, and we have gone on to do a myriad of things, including establishing Friends of the Police chapters as well.”

Even as she derived satisfaction from the appreciation from thousands of policewomen and policemen of all ranks and from all walks of life, Palomino was fuelled by a burning desire to do more, something that would resonate beyond the walls of individual stations, divisional jurisdictions, and parish boundaries.

In 2015, the murder of Constable Crystal Thomas would be the catalyst to get Palomino fired up “to honour those people who really gave their lives for this country”.

“Nobody is thinking about them,” she agonised.

On the evening of Tuesday, July 14, that year, Thomas boarded a Toyota Coaster bus that came under attack from armed robbers just metres away from the Denham Town Police Station where she worked. The policewoman was shot three times in the face when she tried to thwart the robbers.

The brutal murder stunned the nation and particularly pained Palomino.

MUST NOT GO IN VAIN

Adamant that such sacrifices should not go in vain, she was seized with renewed sense of urgency to conceptualise a concrete tribute to police killed in the line of duty. Location would be critical and it would need to reflect the worth and work of the slain cops, while serving as a warning to those alive that their life is sometimes the ultimate sacrifice.

After getting the blessing of the North St Andrew Police Civic Committee, Palomino shared her vision with a friend of many decades and architect par excellence, Harold ‘Moxie’ Morrison, who was so enthused he surprised her with a design done pro bono.

Morrison, however, died before completion of the model, but his daughter, Marla, and the team at his company continued the job. They put careful thought into the monument he designed. The collection of sculptures (column, wall, ball of fire and arch) works in harmony to complete the idea of lives cut short in the line of duty, while encompassing the elements of fire, water, earth and air.

That Morrison enjoyed the process is immediately obvious – it diverted his creative juices from the multistorey commercial and residential edifices he is accustomed to fashioning. Like Palomino, he also felt that enough has not been done to pay more than lip service, by way of thanks and meagre salaries, to the men and women of the JCF for their tireless work and the mortal danger they face daily.

The broken arc in dark blue and red symbolises the cops’ blood, shed for fellow Jamaicans; quite by coincidence, the colours are also those of their uniform. The ball of fire speaks volumes of the heat of their battles, the raging violence they encounter, and also that the legacy of the work of the men and women of the JCF should not be forgotten. The rectangular column is encased in marble and balances the large, 20x20-foot granite monument in the centre. Viewers on both sides are guaranteed privacy by its height.

Both sides of the centre wall will be etched with the names of the dead policemen and policewomen, dating back to at least 15 years. All of this will be mounted on crushed gravel, and those walking thereon will be reminded of the ‘hardship walk’ of the officers whose memories they have come to honour. Here is where visitors will stand to view, pause to reflect, pose for photographs, or kneel on mats provided in silent words of prayer for the souls of their loved ones – or in quiet meditation.

However, to get to this viewing point, one has to cross a moat via a bridge over the water that surrounds the gravelled area.

The monument will have an earthy quality that also suggests that when all is said and done, all flesh is earth-bound. But the philanthropist really hopes that it will send a deeper message to all friends and family of Jamaicans that the work and lives of their beloved is deeply appreciated.

Though undecided at this time, the monument will likely be sited in the Corporate Area, at an area under police jurisdiction and for which construction cost has been estimated at $26 million, $14 million of which has already been earmarked by the Government. Palomino wants to see the monument brought to life very soon and is seeking the public’s support to raise the rest of the funding.

If you are interested in supporting this effort to erect a lasting tribute, direct queries and comments to japolicemonument@gmail.com and make financial contributions to Sagicor Bank Jamaica Limited account number 5500225237.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com