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Editorial: The impunity of lock-ups

Published:Monday | August 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM

In Jamaica, a police lock-up is a dangerous place. People die in them quite often, while, presumably, under the protection of the constabulary. And these deaths mostly fall between the cracks, becoming, the cynics will insist, mostly passing, quickly forgotten statistics. Or, so it seems.

This newspaper wishes to be convinced otherwise. We call especially on Peter Bunting, the national security minister, and Mark Golding, who is responsible for justice, to do so. Carl Williams, the police chief, might wish to weigh in on the matter.

We place this burden on Messrs Bunting and Golding, principally, for two reasons.

First, their jobs in the Government make them primarily responsible for two critical bits of the foundation upon which Jamaica's democracy rests: the rule of law and the administration of justice. Citizens have a right to an environment of relative safety. When that safety is threatened, there is the presumption of protection by the State, through its law-enforcement agencies. And if that safety, or any other right guaranteed by the State, is breached, there is an expectation of the opportunity for redress under the law, via the courts.

There is no more fundamental right than that to life. And there can be no proscription of that right, no matter who you are and what you may be accused of, except in the limited circumstance where it is abrogated after due process, of which dying after a lock-up beating is not a part.

We look further to Messrs Bunting and Golding for explanations because they were, a year ago, charged with providing them. Specifically, they were assigned to lead a committee, whose others members were not named, to review the state of police lock-ups and to outline policies for their future management. That was in wake of public anger over the death of Mario Deane, a young man who died after a beating sustained in a Montego Bay police jail after his arrest for possessing a marijuana cigarette. It has not been ascertained whether police or fellow inmates were responsible for Mr Deane's death. His murder accelerated legislation decriminalising the use and possession of small amounts of marijuna.

The obligations and responsibilities of Messrs Bunting and Golding are accentuated after last weekend's murder, prompted by abuse in police custody, of Marlon Cherrington, who was implicated in the recent brutal killing, on a hijacked bus, of a police constable, Crystal Thomas.


a nasty piece of work

Marlon Cherrington may very well have been a nasty piece of work. He, nonetheless, deserved his day in court and, as Police Commissioner Williams conceded, protection from the law and its agents.

Unfortunately, it is not only Mario Dean or Marlon Cherrington who the police have failed to protect, even while in their custody. Nor is the failure recent.

Twenty-three years ago, for instance, Agana Barrett, Ian Forbes and Vassel Brown suffocated in an overcrowded lock-up at Constant Spring, St Andrew. Last December, in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, Mosiah Morgan and Romario Reid were stabbed to death.

This past February, Kamoza Clarke died after a beating by persons unknown in a Falmouth Trelawny lock-up. In June, Omar Nelson was beaten and stabbed to death in a cell at the Half-Way Tree Police Station, presumably by other prisoners. In September 2013, a male detainee was beaten to within a hair's breath of his life in Mandeville. And there have been others.

This seeming impunity must stop.