Licensed to kill?
by Din Duggan
TWO WEEKS ago, children across Jamaica sat the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). I can imagine the simmering stress as they grappled with exam material that could determine their foreseeable futures. What is the air surrounding Earth called? C. The atmosphere. The first crop grown in Jamaica on a large scale was which of these? B. Sugar cane. Into how many parts is the body of an insect divided? A. The police pumped nine bullets into my mother, including one in her head, killing her instantly.
Can anyone fault Dianne Gordon's daughter if she failed to ace the GSAT? A week before facing the biggest academic challenge of her fledgling life, the courageous young lady encountered a different kind of test, one that could - and would - cripple the strongest among us. Her mother was killed in front of her home - shot nine times by law-enforcement officers whose sworn duty it was to protect and serve her and her fellow citizens.
The officers involved claim they were engaged in a shootout with gunmen. Residents dispute the claim. INDECOM - the Independent Commission of Investigations - the organisation that probes, but apparently never prosecutes, questionable police shootings, is investigating. But who cares? Who cares about Dianne or her daughter? After all, they're from Cassava Piece - 'ghetto people'. And in our unceasing war on crime, 'ghetto people's lives are merely collateral damage. Besides, the police only kill bad people. Only bad people live in the ghetto. Dianne must have been a bad person. She must have been one of 'them'. Right?
In my last column, 'Jamaica's most prolific murderer', I explored our tendency to nebulously label the mysterious murderers among us as 'they'. "'They' killed X". "'They' shot Y". Nameless, faceless 'theys' have made peace in our land of wood and water seem illusory. Understandably, we want the police to stop 'them' - by any means necessary. When we hear that another one of 'them' is killed we celebrate, proclaiming that justice has been exacted.
But this brand of justice seems eerily and unbelievably similar each time: a police party is on patrol. Shots fired by unknown aggressors. Fire returned by police. A ghetto youth dead. A .38 revolver recovered. A community protests. A mother bawls. Jamaicans for Justice cries foul. INDECOM investigates. And the battle-weary people of a war-torn nation ignore the doubts that linger deep within our souls.
What nonsense am I preaching? Doubt what? The police killed another of 'them'. After all, the police only kill bad people. Bad people live in the ghetto. The lifeless corpse in the blood-soaked Jamaican soil must have belonged to a bad person. Right?
There's one problem with that premise: it's completely fallacious. Bad people don't exclusively live in the ghetto. Ordinary people live in the ghetto. Cassava Piece and Flankers and Tawes Pen are filled with the same flawed souls that dwell in Ingleside and Ironshore and Cherry Gardens. The corruptive forces that instigate crime and violence aren't shaded in black and white. The bad guys don't wear black. The good guys don't wear white. Some of the vilest among us reside in the most esteemed communities. Some of the most virtuous live in the most ghastly areas.
Innocent face gun
Unfortunately, we've granted the police a licence to kill on the basis of a faulty supposition. Of the more than 2,000 Jamaicans killed by police in the past 10 years - mostly in poor communities - many were guilty of heinous crimes. But many were innocent. Of the 30 killed by police in March, at least one was unquestionably blameless. Her name was Dianne Gordon. Her daughter - as diligent and committed as her mother - sat the GSAT two weeks ago. Dianne worked for my uncle. She was honest and trustworthy. She was a good woman. She was a good mother, sister, and friend. She lived in the ghetto. The nine bullets that separated her body from her soul brought us no justice. They've brought us no peace.
Police in Jamaica have one of the most difficult jobs on earth - the workload is bruising, the conditions are treacherous, the pay is appalling. They need all the support we can lend. But we cannot and should never provide them with a wholesale licence to kill. Justice will never be served in that manner. Peace will never come at that price. As Mohandas Ghandi proclaimed: "The cause of liberty becomes a mockery if the price to be paid is the wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty."
Commissioner Ellington, get control of your forces.
Din Duggan is an attorney working as a consultant with a global legal search firm. Email him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or view his past columns at facebook.com/dinduggan and twitter.com/YoungDuggan.