Don't unleash police brutality

Published: Monday | June 8, 2009

Garth Rattray

There is no doubt in my mind that extra-judicial killings are carried out by the police every so often. As I understand it, the targets of these killings are usually identified based on their past record of criminal activities and/or on 'intelligence' provided surreptitiously by frightened civilians who cannot trust our justice system to protect them. Sometimes extra-judicial killings occur when police get caught up in the zeal of apprehending assumed criminals and wrongfully open fire on suspicious-looking or fleeing citizens.

I have many police friends (some as close as brothers) who relate horror stories of police encounters on the front line. Although they must put their lives at risk for us every day, they, along with many other police men and women, absolutely disagree with extra-judicial killings.

The dispensation of justice, even under the watchful eye of our judicial system, is occasionally flawed and sometimes sentences innocent men and women to wrongful imprisonment and even capital punishment. One can, therefore, only begin to imagine how many people are denied the legal course of justice or innocently killed when those who are supposed to uphold the law take it upon themselves to carry out summary executions.

Be extremely careful

This 'get rid of them' and 'take no prisoners' approach by some to policing is supported by the conviction that their colleagues and 'squaddies' will back them up when they submit fictitious reports. Therefore, the Government must be extremely careful not to give the impression that it will staunchly defend any questionable action of our police personnel.

This so-called 'war on crime' is a misnomer because 'crime' is a manifestation of a dysfunctional society. To reduce crime, we must fix our many social ills. Case in point: the 'collateral damage' spoken of in the security minister's now infamous speech would not be so flippantly mentioned if the 'war on crime' were taking place in the upper echelons of society where the well-to-dos and their children might fall victim to stray bullets. Such utterances only serve to trivialise human life, further alienate our less fortunate and encourage antisocial (criminal) behaviour.

Police brutality and extra-judicial killings are by no means unique to Jamaica. They are born out of a confluence of criminality, paramilitary policing and a reactive society. There is a vicious cycle of criminal activity and heavy-handed policing. One feeds the other until both achieve monstrous proportions and are sometimes indistinguishable from one another. Citizens caught in the crossfire will often lament that the police sometimes behave no different from (criminal) gunmen whenever they carry out raids in poor communities. Both incite terror in the hearts of innocent citizens.

A waste of time

I have always opined that no minister of national security can defeat criminality. Shuffling them around is a waste of time. Our criminals are well-armed. Assault rifles and handguns exist in every nook and cranny of our depressed communities. Many regular-looking, unemployed, disenfranchised young men have their M-16 rifles stowed away, primed and ready for action. They far outnumber our police and military. We need a body to coordinate various ministries and government agencies in the 'war' against the things that cause crime. Putting on war paint and delivering rousing speeches to the police force will get us nowhere - unleashing police brutality is counterproductive.

And, powering down the police force, dressing its members in more passive uniforms and assigning a more user-friendly name to the constabulary will not change the mindset of the men and women who must face vicious criminals every day. We need a social renaissance to defeat crime.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. He may be reached at or