By Peter Espeut
I'm torn between writing about the death (really the life) of my friend and church brother, Frank Gordon, OD, a Garveyite, political activist and committed Roman Catholic Christian; and our ramshackle, failing justice system. I have decided to write on the latter; Frank would have wanted it so.
Why is it so difficult for agents of the State (like the DPP) to convict agents of the State (like policemen and soldiers) for murder ... or anything?
Video evidence shows a uniformed policeman beating with a baton an unarmed man lying on the ground; then another policeman shoots the victim in plain view after the powerless man's feeble attempts to throw something at him. A charge of murder is laid, and the policeman claims self-defence! But the policeman gets off for lack of evidence.
In 1999, a mentally retarded youth named Michael Gayle riding his bicycle did not give the right answer to the verbal challenge of the security forces, and received the beating of his life from agents of the Jamaican Government. He who posed no physical threat was beaten mercilessly by cowardly men well-armed with high-powered weapons, schooled in the law regarding the arrest of citizens, trained in the science of restraining persons who resist arrest, and drilled in the art of self-defence.
At the coroner's inquest, the police blamed the army, and the army blamed the police; and the stories from those sworn to protect us were so convincing that the coroner's verdict was manslaughter, not murder. And not one name was called. And 14 years later, no one has been held responsible.
Do you remember the case of the policeman who shot a man dead because he would not come out of a telephone booth to allow the policeman to make a phone call? If an ordinary Jamaican had done that, he would have been immediately arrested and jailed, but because he was a policeman - no ordinary citizen, you understand - he was not arrested.
The practice is (is it a rule?) that policemen are not arrested until after investigations are complete, and after the file is sent to the DPP, and after the DPP rules that he should be arrested. Then, if it is convenient for the policeman, he is arrested, and immediately taken to court, while bail is immediately offered so the policeman doesn't have to spend even a day in jail.
STATE PRIVILEGES ITS OWN
Afterwards, the police hire the best lawyers to defend him. In the case of the telephone booth murder, by the time the file came back from the DPP ruling that the policeman should be arrested for murder, he had skipped the island.
And this is the fundamental problem: The State gives privileges to its own - a fundamental and profound conflict of interest. I am not a supporter of the death penalty under any circumstances; but if a policeman (an agent of the State) or a party political activist (an agent of the party) is found guilty of murder in the course of doing his work, the law of the State enacted by political activists exempts them from the death penalty. Ordinary citizens could, of course, be put to death.
Lord Chief Justice Hewart famously said: "It is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done."
I submit that in Jamaica right now - nearly 51 years after political Independence was bestowed upon us - justice is not being done, nor does it appear to be done. Justice must be rooted in confidence: and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking: "The DPP was biased."
Why do cases involving policemen and politicians and soldiers take years to be tried? Why are policemen and politicians and soldiers tried for complex offences where conviction is difficult, rather than for lesser offences where conviction is more likely?
Why was the videoed police shooter not charged with use of excessive force while defending himself against the man lying on the ground? Why were the killers of Michael Gayle not charged for torture, or felonious wounding, or being accessories after the fact (all were there, and no one tried to stop the beating)? And why was the phone-booth police killer not immediately arrested, and his travel documents taken away?
Does the State want its agents to be found guilty of crimes against the people? Does the State want its agents to commit crimes against the people?
Frank Gordon was not happy at what his country had become. Nor am I.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.