When fighting crime threatens human rights

In 1978, Jamaica became embroiled in a controversy, the memory still vivid to those who were caught in the middle of a political intrigue. It came about as a result of the killing of five men by members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) at Green Bay, in the southern Kingston harbour, on January 5, of that year. According to published reports 14 men from the depressed politically volatile Southside comunity in Kingston, were lured with the promise of jobs, to a JDF seaside shooting range where an attempt was made to eliminate them. Five were shot dead firing squad style whilst the others escaped by crawling through the dark, over rough terrain to safety.

The suspected perpetrators of this horrendous crime were freed by the courts from the resulting murder charges. The Minister of National Security at the time, Dudley Thompson, had said, “No angels died at Green Bay”.

This incident, along with others, stained the PNP government of then Prime Minister Michael Manley. The “Green Bay Affair” as killings came to be dubbed, happened at a time when the state used its resources to quell intense political violence and rumors were rife of attempts by internal and external forces to undermine the socialist leaning regime of Michael Manley with his affectionate affair with Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro.

Jamaica was then experiencing unprecedented levels of political violence mainly concentrated in garrison communities, so called for their allegiances to political parties and personalities that for decades have protected these turfs against outsiders and specifically political opponents and the security forces. In return, politicians from these communities could continue to depend on the constituents to reliably vote in their favor. One such community is Tivoli Gardens the JLP stronghold in the Western Kingston constituency, a place feared by most outsiders and where the Jamaican security forces enter with extreme caution – or permission.

While it is not surprising to hear of police operations in Tivoli or that persons were killed as a result, the recent incident leading up to and culminating in the death of the five are reminiscence of the killings in 1978. In 2008 it is most unfortunate that Jamaica is faced with another allegation against the security forces as gruesome and brutal as Green Bay and a slew of other incidents over the 30-year span.

What became know as the Braeton Seven and Kraal killings are just two that readily comes to mind, but there have been many others including several incidents at Tivoli, the location of the present tragedy. The reports are that a joint operation involving police and soldiers entered the political stronghold of the member of parliament, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in search of a wanted men. The end result is that five young men (not including the target of the hunt) were killed under unclear circumstances.

The members of the security force, according to the reports, came under attack and returned fire killing the alleged perpetrators and retrieved numerous weapons and ammunition. Members of the community have contradicted that account and are alleging the victims were murdered and that there was no exchange of gunfire.

The councilor for the area and mayor of Kingston, Desmond McKenzie, in the reports have given credit to the security operation for professionalism, while Golding has opted to take a pass at criticizing or praising the action. This after waiting four days to visit the restive residents who could be seen as clearly annoyed at their political representatives’ apparent lack of outrage.

Herein lies the dilemma. What are the facts precipitating the police operation into Tivoli? Was it as the police said to apprehend a known criminal? Was the government involved in approving the operation? Were the five persons who were killed, targeted? These questions and many others are important for several reasons in trying to unveil what is the truth in another of the many mysterious and controversial killings.

What makes this killing by security forces problematic and confusing is that Tivoli is well known for its allegiance to the ruling Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) which won the general election of September 2007. Golding subsequently appointed the former head of the JDF, Rear admiral Hardley Lewin, as Commissioner for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), after the resignation of Lucius Thomas.

Many in the media speculated that his choice of Lewin was a clear indication of his intent to clean up the force, which has been plagued with numerous allegations of corruption and extrajudicial killings. This appointment came even though the Lewis was quoted in October 2005, as describing Tivoli as “the mother of all garrisons”. His remarks came after a controversial security operation that ended with the death of several residents.

It is against this backgrounmd that some people question whether there was some tacit agreement between the political representatives and the security forces to conduct the operation that resulted in the controversial deaths. This issue should be clearly clarified by the prime minister and commissioner. The PNP had always been severely criticized when similar operations were out under their watch. Former political strongman for the area, Edward Seaga and others contend that Tivoli is a peaceful community with its residents were being victimized.

The answers to these questions would end the speculations and restore some creditability to both the JLP leadership and the new commissioner. is this the beginning of a new type of political leadership where political garrisons will be dismantled? If this is so and the government and security forces are being tight lipped, then it would be understandable, but the rights of citizens cannot be discarded.

The evidence supporting the need for deadly force must be presented and justified. It is not in the interest of the government to allow for broad and wild speculations when security operations end with multiple killings.

The security forces for their part are challenged to effectively fight crime in a society that is regarded as corrupt through the highest levels of government. Successive administrations have attempted to politicize the force’s operation and management. The result is the emasculation the JCF, and the demoralization of its members. They are now the target of criminals and civil society with equal disdain.

The high rate of fatal shootings by the police and police by criminals is a testament of a force carrying out their duty under severe pressure and personal fear. Garrisons that have been protected for many decades are still off limits to them and so are many other individuals in the Jamaican society. The inconsistencies are what now fuelling much of the concern surrounking the latest killings.

Apart from the routine coroner’s inquest into deaths, there should be a special investigation into this incident and the facts publicized. Anything less will be a disservice to the families of the deceased, the political administration, the security forces and the public at large.

     

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