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Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Las May Cartoon- The Jamaica Gleaner

I would like to posit that we have reached a sorry situation when the island's two most popular newspapers' editorial cartoons are lampooning Human Rights groups in Jamaica for what they are seemingly interpreting as these organizations sympathizing with or supporting criminals. Yes, it is true that Jamaica has a monolithic criminal problem and at the apex of this is the cataclysmic murder rates. Crime is neither the cause of nor the responsibility of Human Rights Groups to solve. Moreover, these problems did not begin yesterday, and it certainly will never be fixed with the proverbial flick of a switch or with the abrogation of the human rights of those charged with transgressions. A country that has no regards for human Rights opens its doors even wider to same violation of its citizens Rights when it adopts the stance being promoted by the editorial cartoons of its biggest newspapers.

Clovis Cartoon -Jamaica Observer Ltd. It must be remembered that Human rights are the rights a person has simply because he or she is a human being. These human rights are basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity and which provide a common standard by which people should treat each other. When one person violates another person’s human rights, they are in fact treating that person as though she or he were not a human being. In the circumstances one would expect that the national newspapers of a country would be advocates for human rights of all its citizens and to demand that that the human dignity of all Jamaicans are respected, even when they have transgressed.

Jamaica's crime, particularly its murder problem is as generational as it is systemic, and began its creep in the early 1970s, only to mushroom by the 1990s. But before we arrived at this position, one must look at the immediate post Emancipation period and the formation of what became the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Established in 1865, the Force was formed in response to the Morant Bay Rebellion and to prevent the recurrence of any such civil disobedience. It was primarily to offer protection to the island's wealthy and middle classes and to uphold the Laws on the books that would have kept the largely poor Black population in check. The Force's history is littered with its use of brute-force strategies, discriminate detention, and arrest tactics to suppress the population. The Labour Riots of the 1930s, The Pinnacle Incident, the Coral Gardens Rasta incident, and the Walter Rodney Riots of 1968 comes readily to mind.

Things would take a dramatic turn for the worst in 1974 when the tenuous Michael Manley administration introduced the Suppression of Crimes Act under the guise that outside forces were supporting the undermining of the Jamaican State. The hastily constructed legislation which resulted, created the dastardly Gun Court in 1974 while at the same time stripped away many of the taken-for-granted Rights of citizens, giving the police enhanced powers of arrest and detention even as it turned a blind eye to the organization’s brutalization of citizens. This situation continued without interruption for 18 years, with many career police officers who came up in the force at the time, having no yardstick with which to measure their job performance. Detention for indefinite periods without trial, concocted stories to support questionable police shootings/killings essayed a long history of police use of excessive force. Add to that, the anti-informer culture and growing mistrust of the police, created an active incubator for growing criminality within these communities. Naturally, as the communities grew (many without any kind of planning) oftentimes lacked certain basic infrastructure, devoid of supported public services, they became magnets for the development of criminal and other anti-social activities, and ripe targets for unrelenting police brutality. Jamaica’s history of its police abuse of citizens has a very long tail. As mentioned earlier, in the immediate post-independence period, there was the Coral Gardens Incident in 1963, the Rodney Riots of 1968, which ought to still haunt the country to this day. These though would pale into insignificance with the 1976 State of Emergency which saw security forces abuse of power on steroids. All the time, these excesses were being executed under the guise of attempting to reduce crime. One set of excess only appeared to be attempting to outdo the other. By July of 1999 when news of the Montego Bay Street People scandal had broken, the newly formed Jamaicans for Justice group which had come together over the April 1999 gas tax demonstration had found its calling with the Montego Bay “Street People” scandal, a conspired attempt by the St James Parish Council personnel and law enforcement to secretly transport groups of Homeless people in Montego Bay to a St Elizabeth parish to be dumped near a mud lake. It was this event as well as other cases of unrelenting mistreatment of citizens which gave foundation to Jamaicans for Justice and other Human Rights Groups. Amnesty International contends that the government of Jamaica continues to foster a “culture of fear” with the impunity that is afforded law enforcement. The case of Patrick Genus who was shot in the back 19 times in December of 1999, the case involving Michael Gayle (a youth of unsound mind) who was beaten and kicked until his stomach burst on Saturday August 21, 1999, by a group of soldiers and police at a barricade on Wint Road in Kingston, like so many previous others did not result in anyone being charged or convicted. Then on March 14, 2001, came the news that seven young men and boys, aged between 15 and 20 years old, were killed by members of the Police’s Crime Management Unit in Braeton, St. Catherine. The Braeton 7 deaths as it came to be known, simply marked a continuation of killings in suspicious circumstances by the Jamaican Constabulary Force and served to highlight runaway police excesses that went unpunished by Jamaica’s Justice system. To date, killings of civilians by police in Jamaica has remained an important topic in the discussion of human rights. According to Amnesty International, since the year 2000, out of an estimated 3000 police-related fatalities, only three or four police officers have been convicted of murder, a situation that is celebrated by members of the Jamaican public who have been fed the notion that the way to solve the country’s violence problem is to match the street violence with state sanctioned unrelenting violence. Of course, anyone who opposes this failed theory is deemed a “bleeding-heart” as captured and depicted by the Jamaica Observer cartoon. This undoubtedly begs the question of how does a country with such a mountain of Human Rights violations disconnect itself from the cycle of violence which is now causing its strangulation?

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