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Grief grips! Raging hostility against the police breaks inner-city silence

Published:Sunday | March 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Senior Superintendent of Police Terrence Bent. (left)
A woman comes to tears after 45-year-old Dianne Gordon was shot dead at her gate in Cassava Piece, St Andrew, recently. - File

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

They invariably scream 'bloody murder!' in the aftermath of shooting incidents involving the police, yet their silence is contrastingly thunderous even as rampaging hoodlums occupy their communities in the lead-up to face-off with law enforcers.

The deadly scenes are as predictable as night follows day.

On one side, the stoic silence of the people living in volatile communities erupts into cacophonies of protests and accusations as the barking guns die, along with human beings.

On the other side lurks the overpowering stench of anguish and grief that wracks the very fibre of these deprived inner-city communities - public protests and plaintive outcries targeting the police and fierce gun battles between supposed forces of good and evil.

But for Jamaicans, which side is good and which is evil - the lawmen or the gangsters? Residents seem uncertain, especially in the face of gun battles and killings.

JCF taking battering

The Owen Ellington-led Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is taking a battering for the deadly exchanges, but still the blood continues to flow and deaths spike in the aftermath of shootings.

In seeking to define the position to be adopted by crime-fighters, the high command suggests that among its strategic priorities is promoting respect for and protection of human rights and human dignity.

It is out of this that the Firearms and Use of Force Policy has been revised.

The High Command has promised that accompanying training and sensitisation efforts are the initiatives taken in pursuit of this priority.

The police claim that considerable progress has been made in the training and recertification of its frontline members in the safe use and care of firearms, but acknowledges that in recent weeks, the JCF has been forced to soak up much criticism for an abnormal increase in civilian fatalities arising from armed confrontation with criminal suspects in a very short period of time.

They also admit that tough questions are being raised about the adequacy of our Use of Force Policy and the extent to which our frontline members subject their thoughts and actions to said policy.

The Police High Command says it accepts that those who criticise and raise questions or concerns about the rate of police killings do so legitimately and identify with the growing number of citizens who have set higher standards of professionalism from their police service.

Giving as good as they get

Though targeted by the people of affected communities and human-rights groups, the police give as good as they get, as they aim scalding fury on detractors.

"There are still some concerns, but there have been some improvements," concedes Senior Superintendent of Police Terrence Bent.

"You can look at the number of persons who are coming forward as witnesses … the MIT has a good witness management programme, involving ID parades, among others things," he said.

Notwithstanding, the scenes remain bloody and brutal. Deaths have become all too commonplace. Jamaicans, angered in the past, now seem numb as grief grips.

Women, children and even the elderly are not spared in the blazing gun battles, allegedly between police and hoodlums.

Contrasting accounts

Naturally, the heart of a nation broke when 13-year-old Nikita Cameron was among six persons cut down in Denham Town less than a month ago, provoking screams of anguish and fury.

The accounts of the shrieking residents contrasted starkly with the howling defence of the police when it was brought to the nation's attention that more than 21 Jamaicans were killed during police operations within a month.

The howls of human-rights groups on one side, INDECOM in the middle, the police on another and an aghast public weighing in had hardly fizzled when an elderly woman died in Cassava Piece, allegedly at the hands of the police's blazing guns.

The killing of 16-year-old Vanessa Kirkland, student of Immaculate Conception High, of Greenwich Farm, and the injuring of a 14-year-old girl who attends Norman Manley High School, also in St Andrew, days later, left the nation speechless as people wondered just who are the protectors - the police or the gunmen?

  •  245 killed by gunmen in first 78 days of 2012
  • 47 killed in police-related incidents in first 78 days of 2012
  • 241 shot and injured by gunmen in first 78 days of 2012