JA Blog Day 2013: Police and Security Force Abuses
“On Monday, May 24, 2010, Mr. Errol Spence was at home in Tivoli Gardens along with his mother and other family members. A number of other residents (totalling seventeen persons) were inside their home when members of the security forces entered. When asked, the deceased gave his age as twenty-two (22) and his occupation as barber. His mother says that she assured the police that he was her son and that he lived at the said residence. The police requested and were shown photos of him “from baby stage”. His hands were swabbed after which he was told — “We si yu a run up and down from morning and man mus’ dead fi man live”. Mr. Spence’s sister was asked how many brothers she had and she said two, a policeman is alleged to have replied “yu a go have one lef’” The deceased was then ordered over to “the kitchen wall to sit down”. A policeman then “fired four shots in his upper body and head killing him on the spot”. When family members and neighbours cried out in shock and horror, the policeman is reported to have said – “Wey uno a mek noise in ya fa . . . stop uno noise or else a kill all a uno in ya”. The young man’s body was then “hauled away” from the house.” – Interim Report on The Tivoli Incursion
There are many more Errol Spences who will never have their stories laid out before the Parliament. There are many other mothers, sisters and friends who level the same charge, cold blooded murder. This is an allegation increasingly hurled at members of the security forces. Undoubtedly, there is truth to some of these allegations. In some instances, there is a wanton disregard by some members of the security forces for the rights of civilians in this country. JA Blog Day reflects the combined effort of Jamaican bloggers to focus on the very serious issue of police abuse. As I reflected on JA Blog Day, it occurred to me that we all talk about the issues and very rarely do we allow the members of the constabulary to speak. How do they feel about being vilified, distrusted and in some cases, hated by those they are sworn to serve and protect? How do they feel about children being taught to distrust the police? And what are their views on some of the most frequently leveled allegations against the force? VERITAS sought an answer. I have decided to give a member of the constabulary a chance to be heard. I phoned him and he consented to the interview by phone. As you can imagine, it took fast typing for me to ensure I got everything he was saying. We will call him Officer X, he is stationed in the eastern section of Jamaica. For obvious reasons, we cannot disclose his name or exactly where he is stationed. Here is the very candid exchange between us.
Q: How long have you been a member of the constabulary?
Ans: Umm, 6 years and change.
Q: Why did you decide to become a police officer?
Ans: Growing up, it’s something that I have always admired. I see where the security forces serve and protect the people of Jamaica; I am a person like that. I believe in serving people. Just ask mi di direct questions man.
Q: Okay. Do you profile inner city men?
Ans: If they are dressed in a certain way, we are going to treat them as a threat. In today’s society, based on someone’s dress, you can use their dress code to determine how you treat them. Many times they are hiding weapons. You have to mek sure.
Q: How can you change the inner city perception that police officers are murderers?
Ans: It will be a long road, but we have to continue try. Police just have to make sure the youth don’t respect criminals, and we gain their respect.
Q: How do you feel when people saying “police a wicked”?
Ans: I feel a way, because is not all a we stay suh. We come under certain circumstances and have to act to protect ourselves. These criminals are unscrupulous.
Q: Do police men plant guns?
Ans: The truth about it is, for me personally, I have not done that before. My colleagues have said they have done it, and I have heard other stories about it.
Q: Do men police men pick up spent shells after so called “shoot outs”?
Ans: Umm, what you mean so call? (hiss teeth) I cannot say. I have never seen it.
Q: Have you ever heard of it from any member of the force?
Ans: No, I have never heard that.
Q: Many say police shoot first and ask questions later, do you agree with that? Why, or why not?
Ans: No, not at all. We go about our duties professionally. On many occasions, we engage by appropriate protocol. Sometimes you just find a situation where the criminals will not be taken easily. Dem decide fi give the police a run for their money.
Q: The frequent cry from citizens is “cold blooded murda!”. Have you ever encountered a situation where you have heard police personnel decide to kill someone instead of arresting them?
Ans: Based on how some elements in a community terrorize the community and create mayhem, there are times where we have to eradicate them totally, get them out of the community totally. We have to do this to ensure there is a peaceful and orderly society.
Q: So your answer is yes?
Ans: My answer is we restore law and order at all cost.
Q: That seems to me to be overstepping the powers of the police. Shouldn’t those elements be allowed a day in court?
Ans: I wouldn’t say this is overstepping the powers, I think is more a situation of wanting a peaceful society and these elements are adamant that they won’t allow that to happen, so they do anything to disrupt law and order. Those persons who don’t intend to change or abide by the laws of Jamaica, you just have no choice but to get them out. They are not going to allow demself to be arrested.
Q: How do you determine if someone is guilty or not? How do you determine who to “take out”?
Ans: Based on information received, and investigations carried out and based interactions with these persons, we know who are the perpetrators. At times, they can’t be arrested. Yuh just have to take them out.
Q: To people looking on saying me don’t trust police and police a wicked, what would you say to them?
Ans: Get to know the police. There are really good policemen who want to serve, protect and reassure the people of this country, and so they just need to do their part by working with the police.
Q: Would you consider policemen to be legal gunmen? Many Jamaicans say that.
Ans: No. Based on the people we are dealing with in certain communities, we are required to use the firearm to protect ourselves, other persons and property also. We need to have guns. If we don’t, who is going to protect us?
Q: Let’s discuss Tivoli quickly. Do you believe all 76 casualties in Tivoli were criminals?
Ans: Some may have been killed innocently. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q: Do you think any guns were planted in Tivoli Gardens?
Ans: No. Not one. They (the criminals) were planning, and waiting to go into combat with the security forces.
Q: If you could say anything to the people in Tivoli Gardens who suffered so terribly, what would you say to them?
Ans: I would say it is an unfortunate situation, but it was two side to the situation. They have to hold Dudus accountable. He should have done the right and honourable thing and surrendered himself. They also have to take responsibility for barricading the community and stopping the police from doing their lawful duties. Many attempts were made to rectify the situation, they did not comply. The police had to do what they had to do.
At his point, he has gone silent, perhaps second guessing his consent to speak with me. He says he now has to leave, something is muttered about having to do some work. He falls silent for another second and then says, “people just nuh know how dem criminal yah stay, sometime police have no choice. Jamaicans need fi get to know di police. A just wi job we a do…” The line goes dead. The interview is at an end.
“…the youngster went to a window of his father’s room from where he could see and hear what was taking place across the street where Orlando was being kept guarded by the police. Orlando Brown was questioned and searched by the security forces. A policeman made a cell phone call and was heard asking: “How far the truck that collect the dead bodies deh ?” Orlando was then instructed by a policeman to “kneel down and place both hands behind (his) head”. After Orlando did as he was instructed, the witness says that he “heard three or four gunshots and then . . . saw Orlando fall…” The policeman then turned to the direction of two brothers, Fabian (“Pucksie”) and Fernando Grant (“Christopher”) and instructed them – “uno two guh ova deh suh, an duh di same ting”. Both men meekly obeyed the instruction of the officer and knelt facing the building where Orlando was killed. The policeman aimed his “long gun”. According to the witness, he then “heard four gunshots and Fabian fell sideway into a garden and Fernando fell face-down”. In a state of shock, the witness moved away from the window and so cannot say how and by whom the bodies of the three were taken up. But later he saw “a lot of blood in the garden and on the walkway” where the brothers had lain.” – Interim Report on The Tivoli Incursion – presented to Parliament by the Public Defender