His killing did something to me; it tore me apart, for I was a part of this unwarranted and brutal abuse. I represented the group the soldier came from and I felt shame, anger and confusion all in one. The victim was mentally challenged, he was ill, he was helpless and he was murdered for it. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.
These are the words of a former policeman who has penned a tell-all book, soon to be published, which tells the inside story of police brutality in Jamaica. Extra judicial killings like these are the topic that Jamaican bloggers chose to discuss on their installment of this year's Blog Action Day, dubbed JA Blog Day. The date they chose to mark the occasion was, quite fittingly, the third anniversary of the invasion of Tivoli Gardens, which has the reputation of being “the mother of all garrisons”. Security forces were in search of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was wanted for extradition by the United States on ammunition and drug trafficking charges, but by the end of the state of emergency in Kingston, the death toll was steep, Coke was not in custody until nearly a month later and the loss of life helped turn public opinion against state forces.
In an announcement post for the event, Cucumber Juice referred to several such incidents, saying:
It’s fair to say that ‘police’ here means ‘security forces.’ This is a touchy topic. Many people may be resistant to speaking up and out about this issue because they’re afraid but the plain fact is that in Jamaica there are far too many and frequent questionable incidents involving the security forces and civilians…the DPP doesn’t seem interested or committed to addressing this problem…or even willing to acknowledge that there is a problem. These incidents are now so frequent. Troubling. Scary for some, angering for others. Worrisome for most.
From Bob Marley’s famous line about waking up in a curfew, surrounded by police all ‘dressed in uniforms of brutality’ to Lovindeer’s comical Babylon Boops…the police (often referred to as ‘Babylon’ in Jamaica) have been a popular subject for commentary and satire in Jamaica.
On May 23, the commentary kept coming. Cucumber Juice wrote:
Those of us who are content…for too many in the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force] and JDF [Jamaica Defense Force] to get away with extrajudicial behaviour that often amounts to murder…we too are guilty; we are complicit in the murders of our fellow citizens. Another way of putting it: it is as if you had your finger on the trigger too.
A generous young middle class boy, who gave two less fortunate friends a ride one day. The police descended on them as they drove through an affluent community…and after the usual controversial ‘encounter’ all three were shot dead in broad daylight.
I deliberately cite the case of Matthew Lee because he was not a ghetto youth, the perennial victims of encounters with the police. He was a young middle class youth, a former junior hockey champion, a citizen in good standing, yet the police didn’t bat an eyelid in killing him. This suggests that a new frontier has been reached and those of us who think our elite status will give us immunity from the violence that stalks the land please take note. They came for Keith Clarke in the wee hours of the morning, they came for Matthew Lee in broad daylight and they will come for you and me whenever they please. Welcome to a reality the poor in Jamaica have always known–the Police/Armed forces are not in control–they are completely OUT of control. ‘Wi a pay uuno fi murder wi,’ as one such hapless citizen remarked.
Cucumber Juice said that she “watched an interesting thing unfold on [her] Twitter timeline”:
Initially quite a few people tweeted their agreement with the police officer’s actions; the police had, in their eyes, succeeded in getting rid of yet another criminal (it is ironic that Mr. Dyer — the one who was wanted — was apparently on his way to a police station for his daily check in) and the other two who were caught in the crossfire simply should not have been there; too bad, so sad. Funny thing was that initial news reports were uniform that Matthew Lee was simply caught up, wrong place wrong time. Then some tweeters realized that Matthew Lee was the brother of someone they knew. O! Matthew Lee was that Matthew Lee; he was no longer an unknown. Suddenly the tweets of police support ceased or the views changed. Suddenly there was a personal connection to a killing caused by the police…and suddenly it wasn’t OK.
She went on to explain:
To my mind police officers pulled the trigger and should be held accountable but I am convinced that they are not the only ones to be blamed for Matthew’s and others’ deaths. The police and army only continue to act this way because they are allowed; their actions are buoyed by the continuing approval that they get from too many Jamaican citizens. The persistence of police and security force abuses is possible because too many in society do not see it as a problem. That is, of course, until it affects them…
When Ian Lloyd was killed by a police officer – who was later acquitted of murder — a haunting part of the video that captured his death was the cheers of support for the police from the crowd. That ardent support was echoed when the police officer was acquitted; residents of Mr. Lloyd’s community thought him guilty of many things and of terrorizing the community so his death was seen as his justice. I wonder if residents will feel the same when a police officer comes for them, thinking them guilty of many things and a pariah to the community.
The post also addressed the “massacre” that inspired the blog action day in the first place:
As many struggle to come to terms with the 73+ who were killed in Tivoli in May 2010, I am increasingly troubled by those who hold the view that those who died in Tivoli in May 2010 deserved to die; after all they had barricaded themselves in their community, they didn’t leave when urged to do so, they had supported Mr. Coke and his misdeeds, they had acted against the State. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this position is, to think that it’s OK for the police or army to mete out justice as either entity sees fit. Is that really justice? I’m not naive enough to think that when the police and army went into Tivoli in May 2010 that they met no resistance…but I cannot accept that the loss of 73+ lives should so easily be dismissed as mere inevitable consequence or collateral damage. Seventy-three lives wiped from our consciousness so easily? It cannot be. It cannot be we are so willing to thoughtlessly cede our freedom and the health of our society.
Here’s the thing: the problem of police and security force abuse did not begin with either the police or the army. The problem began with US. We have created and continue to nurture a society in which it is OK to devalue human life because of home address, community or other associations, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have created and continue to nurture a society of gross and glaring but ignored inequity. That there are so many police and security force abuses is but a manifestation of how little we regard our fellow citizens, of — unknowingly it seems — how little regard we have for our own lives.
The day was filled with lots of other interesting posts: this one, which gave a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to speak anonymously about the issue; this one, which reminded Jamaicans about “what led us to this state of affairs” and this plea, which called for balance, saying:
I submit that most of our security officers are not the evil beasts some would want us to believe. Likewise, majority of the persons in the inner-city communities are not criminals as some would have us believe. I can talk because I have benefited from personal experiences of both sides.
The deviant behaviour of some of our security personnel must be looked on more holistically. I humbly offer that each of us as law abiding citizens need to start with ourselves. Let’s begin by respecting the rule of law, by being disciplined, by stop supporting wrong doing when it suits us. Note I said us because I am as guilty as well.
Some used the opportunity to applaud the “excessive dedication and courage…in our police officers”, while this video blog examined why abuses by armed forces was such a problem in Jamaican society. Another stirring post was this one by Charmaine, who is fearful, even though she knows good police officers exist – her uncle was one of them:
When I think of the police I think of my uncle who served for over 30 years and was by all accounts a good and true officer. The second thing that comes to my mind is Matthew Lee. A young man that does the same foolish things as me – is willing to help people whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people.
While the Jamaican police & army are so busy echoing the NYPD’s code of silence, I dont think that they are aware that without the messages and highlighting of good cops all that is highlighted are the actions of the rogues.
And so hard working voters like myself are as afraid of the police as the bad men.