Monday | June 25, 2001

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Justice writes - Police brutality

IT IS difficult to imagine what police brutality is really like if you have never experienced it. Many, many years ago a 50-year-old employee of my mother's told us that police had stopped him on his way from work, roughed him up and searched his bag, for no apparent reason.

I remember being shocked, as this gentleman was a kind and gentle, mild mannered person. It was clear that the intimidating and threatening event traumatised him, and he became afraid of walking home at nights. Some of us may have seen a youth being "draped" on the sidewalk, but most of us probably feel quite safe, and perhaps convinced that police brutality is a figment of the imagination of ghetto people, or yet another dose of political propaganda. It is natural to want to believe the police, as the Jamaica Consta-bulary Force (JCF) is our only defence against criminal elements in the society and the first people we turn to in times of need. However, it must be recognised that there are rogues, out-of-control police officers within the force who are
dangerous.

Bad cops

No longer can reports of police brutality be discounted or ignored. The reputations of the majority of fine policemen and women are being tarnished and disrespected by the actions of the relatively few bad cops.

Police brutality is not a phenomenon peculiar to Jamaica. It occurs in many countries. The difference is how the authorities handle reports of police atrocities. When it is reported or suspected that certain officers have acted outside the law, it should be promptly and vigorously investigated. The system of police investigating themselves does not inspire confidence. In a number of countries, independent bodies have been established to investigate reports of police wrongdoing, and if the reports are proven right the law takes its course. The Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA), was established in Jamaica in 1992, to monitor investigations into complaints against the police. However, this body's true independence has been hampered by understaffing, dependence on police investigations, under-funding, and, despite all the work, it provides little more than recommendations.

Rights

Police brutality is an abuse of an individual's rights. When swift punishment is not meted out to abusers, it is viewed as being condoned by the State and a green light given to other police personnel to do the same. It is an outraged society that must demand an end to police beatings, shootings and killings. It is an outraged society that must call for police personnel to be trained to capture suspects using the many restraining measures available rather than the gun.

Police have a difficult, but not impossible task to regain the trust and confidence of the society. One understands, and may be sympathetic to the loyalty that policemen and women feel for each other as they carry out their difficult, under-paid, uncomfortable, disrespected and sometimes-deadly duties. However, this loyalty cannot extend to silence when there is knowledge of brutality and murder of innocent Jamaicans, who, it should be remembered, remain innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Michael Gayle was kicked to death by the security forces, and a Coroner's Court found "persons criminally responsible for his death". Had one or some of the soldiers or police present that evening given information as to who the killers were the result might not have been so unsatisfactory. Not one had the courage or decency to tell the truth about what happened when Michael Gayle was so brutalised that his stomach was ruptured and he subsequently died.

One wonders how well they sleep at night and what they say to their God.

When good men and women within the force remain silent after witnessing acts of brutality by their colleagues; when the systems established to investigate and punish those responsible for wrong-doing regularly fail; when successive governments remain reluctant to punish agents of the State when they break the law committed; when our people seem to prefer to remain silent, police brutality will continue.

Law and order

Let it be clearly understood that despite some attempts at propaganda to the contrary, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) supports the police in their efforts to obtain and maintain law and order in our society. JFJ is not now, nor has it ever been, anti-police. JFJ will continue to speak out fearlessly against all forms of injustice, including instances of police brutality, and encourage other groups in our society to take a stand on all issues of national importance.

You may email Jamaicans
For Justice at ja.for.justice@cwjamaica.com or visit them at web site http://www.jamaicansforjus
tice.org

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