The Jamaica Constabulary Force is out of control. It has been carrying out an unprecedented wave of extrajudicial killings. The question is: are these killings an attempt to achieve the policy directive from the Minister of National Security, Peter Bunting, to reduce the murder rate to one per day by 2017?
In the Jamaican context, where the police have the highest killing rate in the world, to issue such a directive without spelling out how this reduction in the murder rate is to be achieved is highly problematic.
After all, the minister is not running a business (as he used to do) where he can give orders to reduce losses by certain percentage points and expect them to be carried out. And if this directive is motivated by political ambition (or grandstanding) then it gives even more cause for concern in terms of whether Bunting is being reckless and has the proper judgement to hold such a position.
It is fair to say that what Jamaicans want most from the police is not for them to be judge, jury and executioner, but for them to be professional, courteous, efficient and to operate within the law in terms of apprehending criminals and protecting citizens. This is the policy directive that people want Bunting to insist on most.
The police cannot be held directly accountable for a high or low murder rate unless it is their own murder. How can they be expected to “reduce” the murder rate to a specific number by a specific date?
Even within the inner cities where people experience high rates of violence at the hands of criminals, people are quick to point out that what is needed to stem the violence is for there to be more jobs, education, recreational facilities, especially for the youth, less alienation and a sense of hope. No one wants jungle justice from the police.
The minister has not addressed these issues and cannot since his government is in the pocket of finance capitalists, local and foreign, who demand their pound of flesh, and the government is only too happy to comply. After satisfying this voracious appetite there is little resources left over to address the economic causes of crime -- though there is always enough left over to provide lethal and other weapons to the police and to keep the machine going.
Bunting is in effect continuing where his predecessor Dwight Nelson left off. Nelson famously told the police that collateral damage is acceptable as they carry out their duties. And when they are hauled before the courts, he would see to it that they got the best legal defence.
As for the 2010 Tivoli Gardens massacre, Nelson recommended it as a template for other inner cities.
And as for Bunting, he didn’t have anything critical about the atrocities committed during the Tivoli operations, giving it his implicit approval because, according to him, it was responsible for reducing the murder rate. And now in calling upon the police to further reduce the murder rate (which increased soon after he took office) he recommended the “Tivoli paradigm” as one of the options to be considered.
Can there be any doubt as to the message this sends to a trigger happy police force? This is the minister after all, acting on behalf of the government that is responsible for setting policy. If Bunting was concerned that there could be a misinterpretation of his words he has had plenty of time to make a public clarification. He hasn’t. He has only compounded the perception of the message he is sending.
During a period in 2012 when there was public outrage in response to a rash of police killings within the space of one week, Bunting waded in by appealing to the police, not to stop extrajudicial killings, but to reduce killings! In other words, he had his opportunity like so many other ministers before him to explicitly and unambiguously condemn the practice and like all of them he refused to do so. Instead he did the obligatory wink and nod at what is in effect state sponsored police killing of citizens.
To further underline the point Bunting went to St Elizabeth last week to assuage the outrage of firemen and women whose colleague had been killed by police in what citizens claim was cold-blooded murder. Once again, instead of expressing his abhorrence at this pattern of police killings, and to clearly and unambiguously condemn the practice, he muddied the water by telling them not to rush to judgement and wait on the ‘investigation’. After all, he told them, they themselves have been unfairly criticized in the past for tardy action in putting out fires. Clearly, this was an odd and bizarre mixture of apples and oranges. It speaks volumes about Bunting’s mentality.
In Bunting’s mind he doesn’t accept the residents’ claim of unwarranted killings and he will wait until five years time when the case is called up in court before he can be convinced that this was an extrajudicial killing. And if the courts refuse to convict the policeman as they didn’t in the case of a policeman who was caught on tape executing a man in St Ann, then there is nothing to get alarmed about.
And so the people keep crying out for justice but the state in the form of people like Bunting keep saying let’s wait on the investigation. Somehow they seem not to realize that this tactic of using a flawed due process as a cover to continue police killings is wearing thin on the population.
As for waiting on investigations, for example, INDECOM has driven no fear at all into the police. The killing rate continues unabated. The crime scene is routinely disturbed by the police and they ALWAYS drag away their victims. INDECOM remains silent about this practice because it too has become intimidated by the police, and even the minister. He wants the Act setting up INDECOM reviewed because he feels that it gives INDECOM the power to act unfairly towards the police!
So what is to be done? The people of Jamaica, including the media, must stop blaming rogue policemen or untrained policemen for these killings. These killings have the support of the highest command of the police. They are mostly planned, beginning at the station house, and a band of designated killers have been created within the JCF. The latest INDECOM report bears this out.
These killings have the support of the state and the government and whoever is the minister of national security. It is state policy for the police to fight crime, to reduce murder, or whatever else they must do, by having the discretion to execute those whom they feel should be executed.
The issue is therefore a political one. It is about confronting the government over this criminal policy rather than being fooled, confused and stalled by notions of waiting on due process or investigations.
Campaign for Social and Economic Justice is calling on people to come up with ways of showing outrage every Wednesday, beginning Wednesday March 27 when we:
Call upon the prime minister to either fire the minister of national security and the police commissioner as an example of how to hold officers of state accountable for their failures and/or make a categorical and credible policy statement about ending police extrajudicial killings.
Until that is done we are encouraging Wednesdays as a day of outrage against state-sponsored, government-approved police extrajudicial killings.
Campaign for Social and Economic Justice