Mon | Jul 26, 2021

Leave it to us, not US

Published:Sunday | August 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Mario Deane, of Rosemount in Montego Bay, who succumbed to injuries from a beating at the Barnett Street Police Station.-Contributed

Mario is not Trayvon or Mike

Orville Taylor

What makes persons not resident in Jamaica believe that we can't police ourselves and run a justice system that guarantees the protection of the rights of the average poor black man at least as well as, if not better than, in the United States? A storm in a teacup has arisen over the rejection of experienced FBI officer, Waterhouse-born Wilfred Rattigan, from the list of candidates for the job of commissioner of police.

This comes on the tail of the revelation that two American lawyers, Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand, have joined the legal team representing the family of Mario Deane, the young man who was killed while in Jamaican police custody earlier this month. These two successfully represented the interests of the family of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by community 'police' George Zimmerman.

Joining them is pathologist Dr Michael Baden, who conducted the autopsy on Mike Brown, the teenager killed by a Missouri cop, who, to date has not been suspended or charged. Now, Baden is a scientist, thus any additional insight he might bring will help in interrogating the matter and increasing the veracity of the findings. This is so because the human body is the same across nationality and race.

However, the law and policing vary among American states, more so between our two nations. Thus, for all their triumph in bringing closure and justice to the Martin family, the advocates are simply educated laymen in this country and not attorneys in our judicial system. This is an important point because even if they are as bright as LED bulbs and as experienced as Methuselah, t

they cannot practise here as their knowledge about Jamaican law has not been ratified.

It's not a mere formality. Without graduating from our system, one can only be recognised as a lawyer here after passing the exams of our law schools. And be not mistaken: They are not walkovers because brilliant individuals have crashed into the exam wall. Similarly, unless our chief justice goes to the United States and gets admitted to the Bar, she can't even judge a beauty contest there.

When seeking solutions to Jamaican problems, all things equal, Jamaica needs Jamaican-oriented candidates and attorneys (JOCA), not foreign-oriented cops and attorneys (FOCA).

false impression

It is also more than a trifle annoying that some 100,000 signatures have been collected and a protest organised outside of our consulate in New York on Wednesday last. What for, except to give the false impression that this is a lawless state, where justice is impossible? Indeed, this very flawed justice system reinstated Deane's attorney, Miguel Lorne, after he had been unjustly convicted some years ago.

Nothing in the response of the Jamaican authorities can be seen as condoning the killing of Deane. Police have been suspended, the high command has launched investigations, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) jumped on the case as quickly as a lizard on a pregnant woman's spouse, and the minister of national security has, along with the top cops, issued clear guidelines as to the direction forward.

Tell me: Where in the American cases such as Martin's and Brown's was the response so swift? Despite poster cases like that of the 1992 death of Agana Barrett in police custody, Jamaica is not like most countries with black racial majorities. Nor, interestingly, is it like the United States where the average black man lives in mortal fear of the police.

True, Jamaicans fear rogue cops, who are suspected of carrying out clandestine activities and killing 'innocents' in their sleep or after being attacked inside a house with a toothpick. However, the typical Jamaican resident is not petrified of the police who stop and frisk random citizens. Ask 'Cabbie', who routinely girths 'Corpie' and struggles with him as if he were his babymadda trying to prevent him from going out. Jamaican taxi drivers know that it is unlikely that the officer will fire at them as they flee, even if they have more tickets than the scalpers outside the capacity-packed stadium.

I hold no brief for any Jamaican policeman and will not go to the bank of any river to support any errant policewoman. However, I am a bit tired of people from outside of Jamaica latching on to exaggerated minority reports and making them represent the majority or system.

Now, we know that the constabulary has criminals, and my suspicion is that they and their associates range from the khaki suited down to the district constable. Moreover, an entire generation grew up under the Suppression of Crimes Act and were socialised into treating other poor black people, like themselves, as dogs, and I don't mean like their best friends.

Over the past decades, police have murdered, robbed, raped and beaten other Jamaicans. Some 'licky-licky' ones have become very adept at balancing the pen in one hand while extending the palm in a Salvation Army salute. Nevertheless, equally true is that scores of them have been brought to justice or been purged from the force.

In the past few years, several gazetted officers have been convicted for not complying with the Corruption Prevention Act as they refused to supply information in a timely fashion. Similarly, scores of rank-and-file policemen were convicted for not cooperating with INDECOM. One cannot forget that (retired) Senior Superintendent (SSP) Reneto DeCordova Valentino 'Reinstatement' Adam, along with others, was brought to trial although ultimately found not guilty by a jury. A jury convicted Superintendent Harry 'Bungles' Daley, who was later exonerated on appeal. Also, former Commissioner Owen Ellington was himself dragged before the courts as a superintendent in 1996. More recently, poster cop SSP James Forbes was found guilty of an offence that most Jamaicans feel could have been overlooked.

The point is, it is a misconception that is being pushed by external and internal forces that this is a lawless land where our armed forces can act with impunity. When credible evidence is brought by willing witnesses or forensics, police are charged. INDECOM was established in 2010, and despite the testy relationship between its commissioner and the police, nothing from the Government impedes the process. Furthermore, the police's own Anti-Corruption Branch has jettisoned more than 300 cops since it was established in 2007.

And as for Rattigan, he is an expert in anti-terrorism policing. This Israeli-type approach led to Tivoli Gardens looking like Gaza and 70-plus civilians killed in 2010 and caused international outcry from America, among others. American policing has been building up an increasing dossier of complaints over the stop-and-frisk policies and the aggressive way that cops quickly spread legs of suspects and have them kissing the asphalt even when resistance is negligible. Jamaica can do without that type of policing now.

So, let the wheels of justice turn and trust our JOCAs; the FOCAs have their own mountains to climb.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email:feedback to and