Ian Boyne, Gleaner Writer
THE BRIEF flirtation with consensus is unravelling. A society as distinguished for its contentiousness as it is for its music and sports basked in a rare moment of unison in late May as it demanded that the Government ‘tear down that wall’ in Tivoli to get the fugitive Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke – and the United States (US) off our backs.
The erection of the barricades to the inner-city state of Tivoli; the refusal of the generals of that ‘republic’ to allow access into their territory, despite pleadings; and the attack on the Jamaican state on Sunday, May 23, and the killing of two policemen on that night, only deepened the revulsion and sense of siege of all strata of Jamaicans. In the week preceding all, the important civil society and business groups read the same riot act to the State that enough was enough.
Jamaicans for Justice and the Jamaican Bar Association could be mistaken for garden-variety tough-policing advocates in their pronouncements. The threat level was indeed high in the society, so fear proved an effective mobiliser. But if the gangsters had brains, they should know they had no reason to share that fear. At least not for long. They should know, if they had functioning brains, that even if the Jamaican state were to make an incursion into the republic, it would not be very long before those united against them resumed their internecine battles.
They should have known ours was an iron-and-clay union, destined for dismantling their mother of all garrisons. For no operation like that in Tivoli could have occurred without casualties, knowing the kind of resistance that the security forces would have experienced and the animus with which those officers would have entered that infamous battlefield. They know that citizens would be bawling for human-rights abuses and making allegations of atrocities, which would be sure to capture the attention of media salivating for such sound bites and headlines.
Soon the human-rights groups, with the State no longer under direct threat, would be out in their force and usual forcefulness, condemning the alleged human-rights abuses, calling on the Government to protect the interests of poor, innocent ghetto people and recounting past human-rights abuses and atrocities. The usual suspects in the media would not be outdone in their own righteous indignation and Jeremiads, all leading to a cascade against the anti-gang initiative.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not that the human-rights groups are consciously and strategically supporting criminal groups, or that they are any less desirous of seeing the gangs and garrisons crushed, as the tough-policing advocates. No, that is slander against the human-rights groups and plain nonsense.
Human-rights activists are genuinely incensed by criminal acts like the rest of us. It is just that they are more sensitive and vigilant than most of us in empathising with those in the underclass, particularly those who are routinely victimised and abused by agents of the State. One is not talking about the intentions of the human-rights lobby, one is talking about unintended consequences.
If I were a thinking criminal, I would not be too worried by all the prime minister’s big talk about going after gangs, about making this a ‘decisive moment’ in Jamaica’s thrust against gangs. I would leave him to the human-rights lobby, which has a most powerful presence in media and which frames people’s perceptions of the issues.
I would know, as a thinking criminal, that reporters almost genetically gravitate towards sensational stories of abuse and atrocities; that wailing, screaming women, regaling stories of security force abuse, murder and torture, would not go unreported. I would know that it would not be hard for the media to find inner-city people with enough hair-raising stories of abuse and oppression, and that these tear-jerkers would soon turn the conversation in the offices, social gatherings and verandahs from fear of criminals to “the wickedness and brutality of the police dem”.
And if you add to that the killing of a middle-class person in the hills of Kirkland Heights, under most questionable circumstances, what with 15 shots to his back. As a bright criminal, I would know that would seal it. There was sure to follow a groundswell that “we can’t go into any other community if this is how these security forces are going to behave! Tivoli can’t be a template. Let’s clean up the security forces before we go any further.”
It is hard not to be pessimistic about our prospects of fighting crime in Jamaica. So many things are stacked against us, and we are so expert at shooting ourselves in the heart. Police forces globally seem to have a certain psychopathology anyway; it is as if they are wired for abuse of power. This is especially so in developing countries.
In an interesting essay in the May-June issue of the respected foreign affairs journal, Enforcing Human Rights for the Poor, two University of Chicago lecturers in the law School, Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros, say: “The average poor person in the developing world has probably never met a police officer, who is not, at best, corrupt, or worse, gratuitously brutal. In fact, the most pervasive criminal presence for the global poor is frequently their own police forces.”
A 1999 World Bank study noted that poor people in developing countries view the police as a group of “vigilantes and criminals”, who oppress and brutalise them. Say the law professors: “When faced with a danger or a crisis, the poor do not run to the police, they run away from them.”
But here is our dilemma: We will need to take tough measures against the criminal underworld. We will need to move into their hallowed space in Spanish Town and other areas of St Catherine, in Mountain View, Red Hills Road, in St James, May Pen and other areas where they wield their deadly power. We have to move into their heavy civilian populations where they are not distinguished by combatant uniforms and where they can be firing high-power weapons this hour and the next, be sitting in their living rooms watching blue movies, or watching Al Miller’s television programme.
If the police break into those houses to haul them out, how do they escape the glare of television cameras with the cries for justice and against police brutality? When criminals find ingenious ways of hiding their weapons, how do the police avoid causing some damage to some homes in search of guns? The society is crying out for them to get the guns, which the criminals are not foolish to be displaying when they knew police have swooped down on their communities. But if the police don’t disturb mama’s arrangement of her house to find these guns, how can they heed the cry to find guns?
With all the intelligence gathering in the world, in some of these garrisons, non-targeted operations have to be engaged. The same media commentators and civil-society groups, which are crying out for the police to smash the One Order and Clansmen gangs, and to go after the Stinger gang, will have bleeding hearts once the security forces go into those strongholds and half-naked women and bare-chested youth flock the streets to make the day of TVJ and CVM reporters. If so many charges are coming from one operation in Tivoli, suppose the security forces were to go into three garrisons at a time? Then CVM would have to follow TVJ and extend its news hour, even at World Cup time!
You see our dilemma. The Observer understands fully well what is unfolding. In another of its sharply worded, no-holds-barred editorials on Tuesday, titled ‘Those Naïve, Unthinking Voices Against Security’, The Observer said: “Opposition to the push by the security forces against gangs and criminal enterprises has been coming fast and thick. Among the concerns raised are alleged abuses of human rights.”
The Observer urged the security forces not to listen to certain detractors: “Neither should they lose focus of their mission to rid the country of the scourge of criminal gangsters.” But The Observer is one of only a few influential media voices urging the security forces to go on, while taking on board legitimate human-rights concerns.
The media need to be less credulous and more sceptical of the testimonies of residents. They should exhibit the same scepticism they exhibit towards official police reports towards supposed eyewitnesses. Do residents and family members have a truth gene which makes them invulnerable to lying? Are police officers congenital liars while inner-city residents are compulsive truth-tellers?
Scepticism, postponement of judgement, until cross-checking, fact-finding and rigorous controlling of a priori assumptions are all part of the time-honoured traditions of journalism. We must not be parsimonious with them. That the security forces have abused people and engaged in extrajudicial killings does not mean that every charge against them is true. In philosophy, we learn ‘liars don’t always lie’. Reporters need to be trained in evidence-gathering and evidence-assessment. All reporters should do a philosophy, a course in epistemology and logical thinking.
When I watch television, read news reports and commentaries, I am increasingly seized of that need. The security forces have corrupt, oppressive elements. But we don’t have the time now to disband them while our criminal gangs reorganise and exploit our vacuum. We have to use this same force to go after the criminals. Or are our human-rights lobbies saying we should abandon the anti-gang thrust until we have a new security force? Should an incursion into other garrisons await findings from a commission of inquiry into Tivoli? Tell us clearly!