The culture of death
By Peter Espeut
If it is true that former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington was forced to leave the police force over police abuse of human rights on his watch, who will now be forced to go over the death of Mario Deane in police custody?
I do not believe that one or two forced resignations will bring the change we need to our broken national security and justice system.
Those who pull the strings in the background need to look at the big picture and realise that young Mario's death was not an isolated event. The death of black Jamaicans at the hands of black Jamaican policemen and soldiers is endemic, with the complicity of civil society - especially the higher echelons - through their consistent lack of outrage.
I certainly have been writing about it for more than 20 years in this column - through the tenure of many national security ministers, including K.D. Knight and Peter Phillips - under whose watch police killings were of world-beating standards. Maybe soon we will offer Mr Ellington an OJ and call him 'Honourable'.
The Jamaican public is now quite a bit more insightful. It is becoming harder to fool the people with political spin. The fundamental issue behind the death of Mario Deane is not the offence for which he was arrested (as the spinners have been quick to claim), but the culture of death that pervades the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Decriminalising ganja possession and use will not prevent police killings, any more than decriminalising buggery will lead to public acceptance of homosexuality.
DIED IN VAIN
Today, more than ever, I miss Wilmot Harold Nash Perkins (1931-2012), still without any national honours, despite spending his life fighting to uplift the moral standards of Jamaica and Jamaicans. He would always challenge us: "Remember Agana Barrett!" "Remember Michael Gayle!"
Do you remember?
Michael Gayle was a retarded young man who was taken off his bicycle and beaten by policemen on the street during a cordon-and-search operation; he vomited blood in the police station and later died of the wounds he received from the police beating while he was in custody.
Agana Barrett and two others died of suffocation in the Constant Spring lock-up after having been scooped up in a police 'operation' and thrown with many others into an overcrowded cell. It was the very police custody that directly caused his death.
It would seem that both these Jamaicans died in vain, and Motty's life was in vain, for in 2014, we have Mario Deane.
In Negril in 2010, numerous eyewitnesses reported that Fredrick 'Mickey' Hill was confronted by a group of seven or eight policemen, some wearing masks or with kerchiefs tied over their faces. They demanded that he tell them what was in a 'scandal' bag that he had. In the process of showing them the contents — cornmeal and condensed milk — the police opened fire, and Mr Hill was shot at least three times at point blank range. He died on the spot. Another load of policemen came and removed Mr Hill's body in the back of a police jeep while the original police party got back in the police bus and drove away.
Soldiers entered the home of Keith Clarke in East Kirkland Heights, St Andrew, and pumped more than 20 bullets into him. Later, they apologised, saying that it was a case of mistaken identity. The implication is that if it had been the right person, it would have been perfectly OK for the death squad to execute him.
Maybe we get the treatment we deserve because of our silence, and because we continue to play musical chairs with the gangs of Gordon House.
I remain against the death penalty in all its forms, but Jamaica stood by and allowed the gangs of Gordon House to pass a law exempting from the death penalty members of the security forces who commit murder while on duty. Was this not a licence to kill issued by those in and out of Parliament who approved of the legislation?
We stood by and allowed the gangs of Gordon House to pass a law exempting from the death penalty political thugs who commit political murder. Why give comfort to political thugs and murderous policemen if we want an end to political violence and police killings?
I am not sure it is possible to easily reform the JCF to dramatically reduce police brutality and police killings without reforming our political system based on the distribution of scarce benefits and spoils to party faithful, including dispensing favours to their private-sector backers. The culture of death which we need to exorcise is pervasive.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.