The police as judge, jury and executioner
Dennie Quill, Columnist
Police accost man, man fires at police, police fire back, man dies, loaded gun found. These remarkably familiar circumstances have come to characterise deadly shootings, especially in inner-city communities. Usually citizens' accounts of these incidents present a stark contradiction to the police version.
From time to time, these killings have sparked community outrage and sometimes have erupted into fiery demonstrations across the island. But they continue.
Saturday morning, the familiar scenario played out in another inner-city community. This time it was Jarrett Lane, a poor community in proximity of the often volatile Mountain View Avenue. The victim, 21-year-old Kavorn Schue, a Jamaica College past student and, from all accounts, a model young man who was active in his community. More significantly, he was sports coordinator of the Mountain View Police Youth Club. Citizens are hurt about this killing and are demanding that the police withdraw allegations of a shoot-out.
When police and citizens contradict each other, who should one believe? If the public rejects the police version of events, it means the police are lying to cover up their actions, and this can only serve to undermine public confidence in the police. If the citizens lose trust in the police, we can resign ourselves to a lifetime of chaos and lawlessness.
Night after night we see distressed citizens in the news and we hear a chorus of cries for justice. And even with investigations by multiple agencies, it is always difficult to identify who pulled the trigger. Admittedly, policing is a tough job in this country of 2.7 million people.
Each violent death is a tragedy. The police ought not to be judge, jury and executioner. However, if the police kill a dangerous criminal who is armed with an illegal weapon, I believe they will get some support from the public who recognise the difficult job they have been assigned to serve and protect the population. But killing an unarmed person and then lying about the circumstances will surely have a great impact on public trust and confidence.
Revising the protocol
Promises to revise the protocol governing the use of deadly force by the constabulary have apparently not borne fruit, for there have been some 56 police killings this year. Last year, police killed 211 persons, many of them in similar circumstances as Schue.
In the past, there have been many conversations about the ways of reducing the use of deadly force by police officers. Is it possible for the constabulary to design a shift in policing that dictates that when it is necessary, the police should shoot to wound instead of shoot to kill? There also needs to be a serious push to introduce non-lethal weapons, especially since National Security Minister Peter Bunting appears to be in favour of them. Modern forces all over the world are now adopting the use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, tasers and electrified shields and batons.
One can only imagine how betrayed members of the Mountain View Police Youth Club must feel. It will take a great deal of counselling and fence mending to restore the relationship between the police and that community.