You must be Kentucky Kidding me!
Daniel Thwaites, Columnist
When a foul odour blanketed the Corporate Area and Bull Bay last week, I knew its origin immediately. Because this whole Kentucky Kid drama stinks.
It's not the public quarrel between INDECOM and the DPP that is the problem. Not at all. The problem is that for decades, corrupt police have abused their position to dispose of people they find inconvenient. We've all known it to be true, but leaders have been too paralysed, compromised, and bogged down in political machination and procedural gimmickry to do much about it.
In my view, the current spat is doing nothing to undermine faith in the judicial processes of the Jamaican state. Quite the reverse. It is exceedingly and overwhelmingly positive and long overdue. This is a minor and tiny little dust-up when considering the evil that is to be cured and that truly undermines faith in the authorities, which is when a man can be killed and 'nutten nuh come outa it'.
Of course, that happens all the time here. It is especially likely to happen where the police kill someone without economic power or of perceived low social status. INDECOM's mission is to stop that, and I think it's been doing a fantastic job. In fact, my own perception is that when Bruce Golding goes off to meet The Great Birdshooter in the sky and St Peter unfurls the long scroll, at the top of the positive side of that balance sheet will be INDECOM. It is not at all surprising to learn that police-related fatalities have more than halved - a 53.18% decline - over the last 10 months as compared to last year.
Jamaica is home to scores of criminal gangs and some of the most savage crime. It can only be tackled by a well-trained and well-armed police force that legitimately commands the respect and assistance of the citizenry. Nothing undermines that like corruption in the force.
Aggressive internal mechanisms
It is no small matter, and I have stated my view before that the criminal statistics of Jamaica would dip aggressively if the brakes were put on police involvement in, and facilitation of, crime. But that will never stop if there aren't aggressive internal mechanisms to monitor and suppress police malfeasance, and reasonably predictable external mechanisms to punish members who abuse their position and extraordinary power.
Now we're all very familiar with the story of a shootout resulting in a dead victim. We've heard it so often that it's something of a dark inside joke among Jamaicans, even abroad.
If you're confronted by a random imposter from one a dem small islands, or Crooklyn, here's a test to see if it's really a yardie yuh talking to. Just start off: "A group of officers was on patrol when some suspicious men were seen. The police approached and the men opened fire on them ... . The police returned fire ... ." Test: Complete that story. If it doesn't end with a man found suffering from gunshot wounds in the bushes from whom a firearm was recovered, that person doesn't know Jamaica. That, Sir, is a Jafaikan.
And yet with all that, the Robert 'Kentucky Kid' Hill killing is of a different order of magnitude. That's because Robert Hill complained to everyone who would listen that the police were out to kill him. He made his way to the Police Public Complaints Authority, the public defender, Jamaicans For Justice, The Gleaner, TVJ, and others. He set up video cameras in his house and recorded a home invasion by policemen. He posted it on YouTube, where you can watch the storm troopers invade his home and proceed to mishandle him and his pregnant wife.
His initial confrontations with members of the force seem to have been triggered by a motor vehicle accident where the police wanted him to accept fault and he refused. The INDECOM report on the matter mentions a stormy extra-marital affair with a policeman's family member. So I'm not sure.
The DPP will hasten to add that those of us who feel that something is very wrong here don't have all the facts. And the truth is, we don't. But we have enough. And one of the reasons we don't have more is because officialdom operates with arrogance and a smug certainty that there's next to nothing that can be done to call them to order.
A private quarrel with a policeman, whether about a motor car accident or puny, ought not to mean that you're in the cross hairs for a bullet or two courtesy of the Government and people of Jamaica. Who believes that anything other than that is what happened to Hill? And when 'nutten nuh come outa it', the law and legal system are brought into disrepute, because it appears (and is) either impotent or corrupt.
I think the DPP must be Kentucky kidding that it is INDECOM that's in need of oversight. It gets everything quite in reverse. It is the DPP that needs to be brought under some mechanism of oversight and review. The DPP's complete insulation courtesy of the Jamaican Constitution is inimical to accountability. It needs to change.
The Gleaner headline that the 'DPP could face Parliament over Kentucky Kid case' is no good because 'could' is not good enough. I'm partial to voting for officials who wield such enormous power, so that they face a vested and interested constituency prior to appointment, and, after a limited term, if they want to go back, must face that constituency again.
The current DPP has promised that she won't be intimidated. For the record, I don't think anyone anywhere could intimidate the DPP about anything, and I don't think anyone is attempting to. So her protestations are beside the point. Nor is this a test of her 'courage', as she seems to think.
Parliament needn't test her the way I'm telling you to test for Jafaikans. What it needs to do is set up a transparent mechanism where a non-performer can find the exit.
Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.