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A Man's Fatal Beating Puts Police Brutality Back on the Front Burner in Jamaica

Police in Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica, during the 2010 State of Emergency; photo taken from the BBC World Service flickr page, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Police in Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica, during the 2010 State of Emergency. Photo taken from the BBC World Service Flickr page, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

The death of a young man from injuries he allegedly sustained at the hands of the police is causing an uproar in Jamaica, an island nation where police brutality, security force abuses and extrajudicial killings are nothing new.

According to reports, Mario Deane, a resident of the coastal resort town of Montego Bay, was arrested for marijuana possession. He was beaten while in police custody and eventually succumbed to his injuries after being sent to the hospital.

Mackie Conscious-Reggae Artist, who knew Deane personally, brought attention to this latest incident via his Facebook page:

THIS IS [...] MARIO DEANE A YOUNG MAN I KNOW FROM MONTEGO BAY. I was told he was on his way to work [...] when he [was] arrested and locked up at the Montego Bay police [...] for a SPLIFF (small portion of ganja). He called his mother after 10am, someone went to bail him [out], he told the person he did not like this police woman for what ever reason [...] she overheard, took back [Deane into custody] and the papers and after a few minutes, he was severely beaten until he was unconscious and taken to the hospital in this condition by 11 am, with a report from the police to the hospital that he fell off the bed. Come on how many of us fall off bed many times in life.

Between the media coverage and the social media outcry, the police went into damage control mode. The Ministry of National Security released a statement indicating its concern about the incident and offering condolences to the family, but its version of events was very different:

According to the police, Deane, who was charged for possession of a small quantity of marijuana, was attacked by fellow inmates on August 3, 2014 and succumbed to his injuries at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, Wednesday, August 6, 2014.

Minister Bunting has [...] instructed a review of the approach which sees the police arresting citizens for small quantities of marijuana. [...]

The Minister has also expressed condolences to the family and friends of Mario Deane for this tragic and unnecessary loss.

The Jamaica Observer, one of the country's daily newspapers, reported that the police, via its Corporate Communications Unit, had denied beating Deane. Their official position is that they were alerted to a row in the lock-up; when they arrived, they found Deane “suffering from multiple injuries to his head and upper body.” The police say they then took him to the hospital for treatment, but he later died. The incident has since been referred to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), who are looking into the matter.

This type of violence has plagued the country's political culture from as far back as the 1970s, when Norman Manley‘s People's National Party and Edward Seaga‘s Jamaica Labour Party were locked in a bitter, bloody fight for power.

In the 1980s, reggae artist Lovindeer had a hit on his hands with a satirical take on police brutality titled “Babylon Boops (What Police Can Do).” More recently, in 2010, the government of the day declared a national state of emergency after it went public with its decision to extradite alleged drug don Christopher “Dudus” Coke to the United States. Coke's supporters in the Tivoli Gardens garrison community clashed with state security forces; when the dust settled, at least 73 civilians were dead, scores more were wounded and over 500 had been arrested.

Back in the 70s, Bob Marley tried to effect change by agreeing to be part of the One Love Peace Concert, where he famously brought the two political enemies on stage and joined their hands during his rendition of “Jammin'.” These days, citizens themselves have been using the power of social media to jump start a national discussion; last year, the country's Blog Action Day topic was police and security force abuse, but not much appears to be changing.

The Mario Deane incident has raised the spectre of police brutality in the country and was a major topic of discussion in the Facebook forum Real Change For Jamaica. Trevor Dawes was astounded that something like this could happen:

There should be no questioning or waffling about it. The mere fact that this young man was physically/violently beaten up inside a police station cannot be justified in any manner. That he later died from his injuries means a murder charge needs to be levied and that should be just the first of a number of charges that should be levied against the perps who did this, including any police personnel who allowed this to happen.

The reaction on Twitter was swift. Former police commissioner and security consultant Mark Shields said:

This Twitter user found it a disturbing indictment of the state of the country that the incident happened on Independence Day weekend:

Another contributor compared the reasons for police brutality in the United States and Jamaica:

The death of Mario Deane has placed great pressure on Jamaica's internal affairs department, INDECOM, to thoroughly investigate the police actions in this case. There are also renewed calls to decriminalize marijuana, a process the government authorities claim to be working on right now. Meanwhile, residents in Deane's hometown, Rosemount, have started protests by blocking several sections of the road with debris.

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