25 December 2005

The Divine Right of Certain 'Ginnigogs'

Common Sense
John Maxwell

About 35 years ago, having returned to Jamaica after my five-year exile in Britain, I was struck by a particularly poignant story. It had happened on the other side of the block of buildings where I used to work for the BBC, at India House, in Holborn behind Bush House in the Strand.

The high commission had been taken over by militants, Sikhs, if I remember correctly, and everyone inside the embassy was a hostage. The siege was broken when a sharpshooter from Scotland Yard killed one of the terrorists.

The sharpshooter had to be taken to hospital to be treated for shock. He had done the job he was trained to do. But he was a civilised human being, and the idea of killing another person was too much for him. I have always wondered what became of him.

It was Goethe apparently, who warned us to "beware of those in whom the urge to punish is powerful". That English policeman was not one of those, and though I may never meet him, he is a friend.

There are others, nearer home, who I could not consider friends and of whom I beware, because they have a lust for punishment. They know better than anyone else who is a sinner, a criminal, who deserves punishment, and they are ready to mete out that punishment.

Immediately after having been acquitted of murder in the Kingston Circuit Court on Tuesday, Senior Superintendent of Police Mr Reneto deCordova (etc) Adams delivered himself of a few choice words, among them:
"Those [criminals] who returned from England, Canada, America and the Caribbean, or, from everywhere, since we have left the streets - talking about they have returned to take over the streets, I am imploring them, beseeching them to return whence they came, because so it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end.

"My men and I will continue where we left off: and that is in the protection of the Jamaican people against criminal elements. The only difference now is our resolve will be multiplied tenfold."
I don't know if Mr Adams frightens the criminals. He certainly frightens me.

Especially since his large and vociferous regiment of supporters are calling the talk shows, baying for blood. Adams must be let loose they say, to 'deal with the criminals', as if Mr Adams is a one man war against crime whose mere presence on the streets renders the Commissioner of Police and the rest of the police force, as well as the Minister of National Security, redundant and surplus to requirements.

Clearly, Mr Adams believes that he is entitled to make policy on behalf of the 'forces of law and order'.

There is just one small difficulty. There is a man named Lucius Thomas who seems to be under the impression that he is the Commissioner of Police. He doesn't seem to heed Mr Adams and insisted on Wednesday that Mr Adams and his co-accused would not be reinstated into the Jamaica Constabulary Force until they had undergone a period of counselling and psychological testing, mandated by JCF policy.

Mr Adams and his men have in just two incidents, killed nearly a dozen people, none of whom the police would say were 'known' to them. In the latest incident four people were killed in the course of a shootout with the police.

Two of them were women, and a little girl who was in the house when the police first arrived, testified that the women were alive when the police got there and that she, the little girl, was ripped from the arms of one of them and taken outside while the 'shoot-out' proceeded.

No gunpowder residue was found on the hands of the dead people which suggests that they had not fired at the police or at anyone else. Another witness, a policeman told a story of being directed by Supt Adams to go to a certain address in Kingston and pick up something for him. This turned out to be a firearm which was, according to the police witness, then planted at the scene of the 'shootout'.

I do not intend to go into the details of the case, or to discuss the Chief Justice's summation of the evidence and his directions to the jury, nor even to question his apparent displeasure at Dr Carolyn Gomes, head of Jamaicans For Justice. The CJ accused her of gesturing, indicating disagreement with something he had said. Dr Gomes claims she was simply taking notes.

I cannot say the Chief Justice was wrong; I was not there; for all I know Dr Gomes was making 'monkey faces' in court. Except that anyone who knows her (and her husband is one of my doctors) would find it hard to believe that she could have been foolish enough to signal her disapproval of the Chief Justice in any way in his court. His outburst, and it was an outburst, seemed peevish and personal and has probably given even more licence to those who believe that human rights activists are on the side of criminals.

"And these criminal rights organisations are trying to stop me from doing my job while these hoodlums continue to destroy the only livelihood that we have. I will not allow criminals to take over our island, Jamaica."

According to an item in Friday's Gleaner, from which the above is taken, those are the words of Superintendent Adams, who is apparently about to launch himself on a musical career on the dancehall circuit. He has, according to the Gleaner, made a song, entitled "To Protect and Serve", "on the Carbine Rhythm" appropriately enough, recorded two days before his murder trial began. "And SSP Adams takes no prisoners in his lyrical onslaught on crime".

The problem is that criminal intelligence depends on prisoners and informers.

Dead men tell no tales. But, Mr Adams proposes, and Mr Adams disposes. Stand clear, the rest of you vagabonds and lowlifes!!!

I believe that any competent lawyer could find a serious case of libel and criminal libel against the SSP. He is clearly alleging that Dr Gomes and her fellow human rights campaigners are accomplices of criminals, who attempt to obstruct him in the execution of his duty.

People like me are no doubt included in SSP's rhetorical gunsights. I would be most grateful were he to vouchsafe his opinion of me and others of my ilk.

As one who has been writing for more than 40 years about Jamaican police brutality and the impunity which they enjoy, I commend and support Jamaicans For Justice in everything they do, because were it not for them, there are odious crimes which would otherwise have gone unexamined in this country. Even if they are not punished, ventilating them is important.

The case of Michael Gayle, beaten to death by a state security cordon, is one such.

We are inhabitants of a country which still has an umbilical connection to slavery and its mores, when the proper punishment for anything was a flogging, or for more serious offences, death. We still believe in brutalising offenders, thereby guaranteeing that they will become even worse offenders. We neglect our children, and betray our working class who are all potential criminals.

And, as the people of the ghetto told a university investigating team 10 years ago, they know how they are seen. In a column I wrote in May 1996, discussing what the people told the UWI investigators, I reported:
"The police are universally seen as brutalising the youth, provoking more violence, the people say.

To the youth in one area it seems the police are 'trained' to think that everyone in the community is bad. Regardless of your age or sex they diss you everyday. Even if you show your work ID they tell you that you work in the days to buy bullet to kill at night.

'Dey handle we like we a prisoner.'

The police are suspected to be in cahoots with criminals, selling them guns, giving away 'nformers' and 'living on' those they know sell ganja. Some police are described as lazy, ineffectual and unpredictable. In some areas they do little about many crimes and/or instances of domestic violence.

One community reported that the police tied a youth to a tree for 'target practice' and only the screams of his mother saved him. The police, 'hooligans with legal power', refer to one area as 'bird bush', where they go hunting. To chat on a 'corner' is to invite violent attention from the cops, even if you are shirtless and clearly unarmed."
Mr Adams needs to read that report. It is called: "They Cry Respect'! Urban Violence and Poverty in Jamaica" and if I had the money, I would buy 10,000 of them to distribute to every policeman and woman in Jamaica.

Justice, Where?

If justice is done, it should be manifestly be seen to be done. It may have been justice which freed the policemen, but justice is not satisfied by that verdict. The civil rights of four dead people would appear to have been abrogated by the police, whether by accident or design.

I personally do not believe the police story, given in unsworn testimony which meant that they could not be cross-examined. The jury believed them, and the jury were far better placed than I, to judge. The jury however, did not have the opportunity of hearing from Mr Danhai Williams, from whose premises the allegedly planted gun was sourced. His absence from court seems to have passed without any censure from the Chief Justice or any other officer of the law.

Curious. Especially since his statements outside of court appeared to back up the story of the policeman who said the gun was planted.

I would not allow this matter to rest where it is. I would expect the Attorney-General to order an inquiry, even at this stage, to determine whether, even if the police did not murder these people, they may have unlawfully deprived them of their constitutional rights as human beings and citizens of Jamaica.

I would also advise the relatives of the deceased to launch some suits in the Constitutional Court, to get justice for the dead, even if it won't do them any good.

This case, like the case of the Braeton Seven, leaves a stink in the nostrils of a great many Jamaicans, and it will not be banished by the loudest protestations and flagwaving of Mr Adams and his claque (correct) .


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