AFRICANGLOBE – Can you imagine a young Jamaican youth walking along a street in Savanna-la-Mar who is accosted by police driving in a marked patrol car? Then one of the policemen attempts to collar him through the window. He breaks free and, while some distance away, the policeman, looking at the youth with his arms up, discharges his weapon so many times that even if none was by itself lethal, he would have died from lead poisoning.
Then, the policeman remains on front-line duty despite massive protest, and eventually goes on voluntary vacation. Finally, after months of national and international outcry and indignation, the decision is made to send the matter to a private sitting of a coroner’s court, where no one from the public can be privy to the evidence or reasons behind the decision this ‘jury’ takes.
Finally, after some deliberation, it is determined that there is nothing in the sequence of events that point to any culpability on the part of the killing officer. What would be the likely reaction?
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the local watchdogs, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), would do little massaging, very little forethought and jump on to us and ride us mercilessly. If the police shooter is known, it would not be unlikely for him to have all his visas to England, Canada and the United States (US) cancelled before he could say, “Superintendent” or “reinstatement”.
In recent times, I have been trying to get a sense of the difference in the treatment of the lives of Black men in America and Jamaica, respectively. After all, when Mario Deane died in police custody a few months ago, an American human-rights lawyer came to this country and berated the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). This well-meaning individual remarked that the Deane case, which was promptly given full attention by the minister of national security, and the police earlier, was “bigger than INDECOM”. But that is what happens when irresponsible Jamaicans broad-brush all the killings by the Jamaican security forces as ‘extrajudicial’.
Grand Jury Approval
It is a pet peeve for me, because, despite the fact that we do have criminal cops, some of whom will murder innocents, not innocents and guilty alike, for malicious and other reasons, there are doubtless cases in which the victim was an active participant in the process that led to his death. Despite the tug of war between INDECOM, which has taken at least one senior police officer as a casualty, the majority of killings by Jamaican cops is not seen by INDECOM as ‘controversial’. And for those whom it believes are worthy of criminal pursuit, nothing, not even the recalcitrance of the police and their supervisors themselves, prevents INDECOM from doing its job.
INDECOM does not need a grand jury or the approval of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to proceed. Never mind the chagrin of the DPP, when the commissioner of INDECOM puts his head down, nothing raises it unless he wants to.
American police seem to have awesome powers when it comes to Black males. They can arbitrarily stop and frisk them. When they pull them over in cars, they can smash and drag them through the windows if they take too long to disembark, and make them lie face down on the dirty sidewalk or street if they deem it necessary. All this in an open democracy, which constantly watchdogs Jamaica’s allegations of state human rights violations, and passed a Leahy legislation to prevent military-type aid to countries, whose armed units violate human rights with impunity.
Now, defenders of the Grand Jury’s ‘in camera’ decision to not indict the American shooter of Michael Brown, will argue that the court acted according to the procedures available under the law. Yet, when Jamaican courts and juries refuse to convict accused Jamaican killer cops, our own human-rights groups criticise the system or verdict, almost hinting to some alternative judicial procedure. Similarly, punitive measures such as the above-mentioned visa sanction would be applied despite the lawful, though unpopular verdict. Where do we draw the line in respecting the decisions of courts in parliamentary democracies?
Moreover, it might surprise you, but the American police are not under the same degree of scrutiny as their Jamaican counterparts. There is no true equivalent of INDECOM in the US. Indeed, police departments are not under any obligation to statistically record the killing of citizens by their members. In fact, the few departments that record only report ‘justifiable homicides’. Therefore, the more than 400 persons that they investigate annually are those who, in their opinion, were consistent with their use-of-force policy.
Simply put, the American Officer Dibble is not likely to report that he and his colleagues or subordinates killed some of his fellow Americans, unless he can literally defend it or get away with it. Not being compelled to report all police killings is like a bank hiding the amount of money its staffers steal each year, only reporting those where they catch the crooks.
Thus, it could therefore mean that hundreds of police killings go unrecorded. Not surprisingly, the Washington Post recently estimated that the figure related to police-perpetrated homicides could be as high as 1,000. We simply do not know the depth of the problem in the US, and anecdotal evidence suggests an even greater figure.
This is no way an attempt to support any ‘extrajudicial’ action by any cop anywhere, but sauce for the goose must be sauce for the drake, too. Until we have a level playing field, where American police are held to the same standard of scrutiny as the ‘Third World Cops’ that they police, it is sheer dishonesty and a case of ‘duppy knowing who to frighten’.
By: Dr. Orville Taylor