Can't we do right without foreign fright?
By Peter Espeut
For more than 20 years in this column, I have railed against police brutality and extrajudicial killings by agents of the State, but I can't honestly say that I have ever been taken seriously by those in authority. Others make the same protests and receive the same treatment.
Over decades, I have accused the Jamaica Constabulary Force of having death squads, which execute persons with impunity, claiming shoot-outs (the others always fired first, of course!). I have pointed out that when the police give 'mistaken identity' as the excuse for killing an innocent (and sometimes disinterested) bystander, that is a declaration that they had a target they intended to execute, but got the wrong man. Keith Clarke, and dozens of others, are examples.
No prime minister, no Cabinet minister and no commissioner of police have seen it fit to get excited about the fact that Jamaica has had one of the highest rates of police killings in the world. No Jamaican official (elected or otherwise) has taken responsibility for these crimes against the Jamaican people - or shown sufficient remorse - by resigning.
Imagine this: Before dawn, more than 80 heavily armed policemen surround a house in Braeton, St Catherine, where seven boys and young men aged 14-20 are sleeping. Instead of cutting off all utilities and starving them out, the policemen turn sustained fire on to the house and kill all seven young men. I remember the morning well! It was my wife's birthday in 2001. Jamaica's political and judicial system failed to hold anyone accountable.
Years before the Braeton Massacre was the 1978 Green Bay Massacre, a covert operation carried out by special forces of the Jamaican Government, in which five persons were shot dead. The men were lured into an ambush at the Green Bay Firing Range by members of the Jamaica Defence Force, who opened fire on them with machine guns. The then minister of national security stated that "no angels died at Green Bay". I suppose only angels have human rights, including the right to life. No one at the political level or at any level of command was ever held responsible.
During one of the early Tivoli operations, footage was shown of Jamaican security forces behind a wall, firing high-powered weapons blindly over the wall above their heads. The rules of engagement clearly state that security officers must not fire randomly, but must aim and shoot. No one was ever held accountable for those breaches. Are those who sell guns and ammunition to the Jamaican Government accountable when agents of the Jamaican State use them irresponsibly?
During the 2010 Tivoli operation, at least 76 civilians were killed by agents of the State, the highest death toll in one incident since the Morant Bay Rebellion. The mistake the Jamaican Government made was to drag the United States government into its operations, making them complicit in the killings. Now it seems that the US government is drawing a line in the sand, forcing accountability from Jamaican officials. Responsibility for death squads and the like can hardly end with the commissioner of police, and more heads - higher and lower - must roll.
The Government seems intent on ignoring both the travesties of justice here, and the pressure from overseas to bring them to an end. If we are to believe the de facto minister of information, Cabinet has not discussed the matter, and the security minister is shrouding the affair in secrecy.
Jamaica has been a politically independent nation for more than half a century, but seems to be ethically challenged. When the contractor general finds that procurement guidelines have been breached, the Government ignores him; and it takes the Inter-American Development Bank to step in to demand respect for those findings.
When it was clear to all that Jamaica was on an unsustainable borrow-and-spend road to destruction, as well as giving away revenue by granting waivers to its political donors, it took the International Monetary Fund to step in and limit the borrowing and cap the waivers.
In the past, we felt we had to hire British policemen in quite senior positions within the Jamaican High Command. Now, there are calls for a foreigner to become commissioner. While we are at it, do we also need a foreign director of public prosecutions?
And while they are at it, I hope the American and the British and others step in and prevent the travesty of the destruction of the Goat Islands and the Portland Bight Protected Area.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to email@example.com.