Orville Taylor, Contributor
There is no science to it, nor is there 'sciance', but one can't help but be petrified that almost five years to the date, the police in St Thomas have killed another pregnant woman. Perhaps it is misadventure, but as the Jamaican expression goes, 'Bad luck is worse than … .' You know the rest.
It is a tragedy of tragedies, and as with most such alarming incidents, truth and logic often die with the deceased. The loss of life is always regrettable. And for those who consider life to be sacred, the death penalty, even for someone like Osama bin Laden, or serial killer 'humanivore' Jeffrey Dahmer is not supported.
Nonetheless, there are indeed cases when homicide is justified. However, most times, the death of a citizen is something which a court orders. In Jamaica, it is such an awesome responsibility that lower judges do not have it, and it is the remit of a jury of 'peers' to conclude that an accused is guilty of the capital offence and thus should pay the ultimate penalty.
Still, the death of Kay-Ann Lamont, the shooting of her sister and the fugue of her other sibling speak volumes about the state of Jamaican society. Although I make part of my income from my activities in the court of public opinion, I will not attempt to try this delicate sub judice matter here. Nevertheless, one has to attempt to make sense of what is an incredible sequence of events.
First, there were women who reportedly were in an animated conversation, descending from a public transport. A very pregnant Lamont, carrying a grouse and psychological burden along with her pumpkin, used a series of colourful Jamaican words, which, under our archaic statutes, are illegal. Up steps Officer Dibble and accosts her, as is his duty under the law. Let me make this clear: It is the same debate about the appropriateness of Jamaican Creole versus the acceptability of English. After all, there are some choice Jamaican words which, if said in English, are simply laughable.
Imagine telling someone that he is as nasty as a used feminine napkin and more so he resembles one that covers a rather grandiose orifice. Then describe the tissue or piece of fabric that he uses to clean up his excreta and end with the mandate to have carnal knowledge of himself.
Such words would be gross, and the crass cloth reference might make one shun him. However, at best the constable could only marvel at the skilful use of his tongue and magniloquence. None of this is indictable unless the diatribe is directed at the police, in which case he cannot be criticised under a harass clause.
TURNING A BLIND EYE
Still, the law is the law is the law, and although ludicrous and unjust, it is enforceable. True, the police and State turn a blind eye to the thousands of Jamaican employers who breach the law which says that most women cannot work at nights or more than 10 hours in one day. Also, nobody seems to care that supermarkets breach the Shops and Offices Act, when they open on Sundays, and that stores, some run by contributors to political parties, also breach this statute.
And I bet that many nightclubs break the law as well. So, like many ordinary Jamaicans from the lower classes, I take issue with the selective designation of lower-class culture and behaviour as illegal, and the biased enforcement of the law.
Notwithstanding that, when my dark side threatens to take over and Taylor, the dressmaker's son, feels like cutting two cloths because somebody provokes me to wrath, I think thrice. Understanding that discretion is the better part of valour, I ignore the primordial barbaric urges to let loose, especially if the police are within earshot, then embrace my positive African royal ethics and entreat those who offend me to see my black side. Facing down an armed man, whether one is right or wrong, is a foolish thing to do - even if it's a calm, stately, squeaky-clean, peaceful, Christian, model constable who 'can't mash ants'.
In micro-sociology, we teach that people always show the face they want the public to see and not necessarily what they are. We thus hide our stress, insecurities, mental illnesses and other things which might trigger us. Oftentimes, the quiet, harmless little kitty is a big front and the real tigress is waiting to snap one's heads off. Until the psychologists and the court make a determination of the mental state of the corporal who allegedly murdered this woman, which is, of course, too late, we can only guess what his true mental state is.
In this specific case, there are arguments about the constabulary's use-of-force policy. Under these guidelines, one only uses a firearm when there is imminent danger. Doubtless, given the reported facts, there is nothing to suggest that there was the need for a firearm to be used. After all, with a harmless woman, you should almost never have to pull it out, and in the unlikely event that you do 'pop off', you should almost never discharge it.
From the apparent apathy of the other policemen on patrol, the situation was not out of control, because if so, they would logically have gone to his assistance. Apparently no one expected the firing of the weapon, but once it happened, he was grabbed and taken into custody by his colleagues. He was held without bail until the director of public prosecutions preferred charges of murder, illegal possession of a firearm, and wounding with intent.
For the usual 'defenders of the poor', this has become a circus, some commending the police for their cooperation and the speedy response in charges being lain against the corporal with a view of pursuing justice. Reportedly on 24-hour suicide watch, I wonder if anyone thinks that it is a violation of his right to privacy to keep him under surveillance and that he should be left alone.
However, as this matter goes to trial, what is it that they seek? Is there a conclusion that there is predetermined guilt and the courts must convict? What if the jurors, persuaded by lawyers, some of whom routinely speak of human rights and justice, make an acquittal? This is the same justice system and judicial process that they use and make their living from.
After all, the majority of murder cases taken by lawyers to court (whether the accused carried out the act or not) result in exoneration or not-guilty verdicts. In this country, most killers get away with murder.
Finally, my friend Junior Rose, president of the People's National Party Youth Organisation, has unfortunately jumped on the slippery bash-the-police bandwagon and has fallen off because his grip is not firm. In accusing the police of increasing the number of extrajudicial killings, he called for the resignation of the commissioner.
Well, I am not sure which data he is using, but the evidence is that fatal shootings by the police decreased from 272 in 2007 to 213 last year after the Tivoli-inflated increase in 2010. But statistics are an inconvenience when truth is not the objective. Furthermore, a killing is not 'extrajudicial' unless a court determines that it was so, and in any event, less than 20 per cent of police homicides are considered controversial.
This horrible incident is a test of just how lawful we are.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.