Right Steps & Poui Trees


Him Done Dead Already: Police Handling of Bodies After Fatal Shootings

It is clear from the video that the police think the man they are throwing into the back of their pickup is already dead. Their disregard is graphically captured, as are the distressed wails and shouts from some of the people witnessing what is happening. The police drive off quickly, once the back of the pickup is secured.

The Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) released the following statement by its Commissioner Terrence Williams on May 27, regarding recent incidents in which the police have shown a lack of respect in their treatment of bodies of people allegedly killed by the police:
INDECOM Press Release 29-5-16 pg1

State Agents’ failure to respect the dead

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) notes the recent circulation of a video within public media fora, which records members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) handling the apparent lifeless body of Mr. John Hibbert on May 17, 2016 following his alleged fatal shooting by JCF officers. The video shows police officers throwing Mr. Hibbert into the back of a JCF service vehicle.

What is both disturbing and unacceptable is the manner in which the body of Mr. Hibbert is ‘flung’ into the back of the vehicle with absolutely no regard or sense of ‘humanity’ for him. All citizens, irrespective of what they have allegedly done, or who they may be, are entitled to be treated with a measure of respect.

The removal of the deceased from any crime scene, whether by police officers, ambulance service or mortuary officials is deserving of a level of professionalism, dignity and respect, both for the dead and for those family members and friends who are often present.

State Agents are not qualified medical personnel and they cannot formally pronounce persons as dead. They are required to always treat a victim as injured until pronounced dead by a qualified person. Hence, in all cases, a measure of urgency is to be employed when treating with injured persons. The JCF has very clear guidelines within their own ‘Human Rights and Use of Force Policy’ which directs, ‘… that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment’. [Section 57(3)]. This video provides no evidence of this prescribed approach.

The Commission has observed a recent trend in which photographs and videos are circulated on social media platforms following security force-related fatal shootings. Photographs recently posted on the internet concerned two fatal shootings on the 12th and 13th of April 2016.

The photographs show the clearest evidence of a dead person, taken in circumstances in which it is more than reasonable to assume were recorded by State Agents or permitted by them, but in which it was reported that the injured persons were “rushed to hospital.” Such photographic evidence provides a contradictory account to there being any ‘injured’ person or any urgency in being ‘rushed to hospital’. Such photography eliminates the credibility of such statements.

The current video and recent uploading of pictures of people killed by the security forces is observed both nationally and internationally across the World Wide Web, and does little to enhance the reputation of the Jamaican police service. The Commission has received comments and complaints and we urge State Agents to ensure they act, at all times, with the utmost professionalism and demonstrate the due respect for citizens and the families of these dead or injured men.

As the Indian Union Home Minister Rajneth Singh recently commented, following a death in which paramilitary forces were involved, “…as a civilized society it is a common gesture that the dead body of a person be treated with utmost respect and dignity…”

Commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams

The INDECOM Commissioner raises concerns about

  • the way in which the body was thrown into the back of the police vehicle
  • the taking and posting online of photos of people killed by the police & the suggested involvement or complicity of police in the taking of such photos
  • a lack of urgency in taking people shot by police for medical treatment or to be pronounced dead by medical personnel.

Some of these are concerns that have been expressed over many years.

Williams points out that the police, not being medical personnel, are not able formally to pronounce someone dead. This is the reason the police routinely give for not leaving bodies in place at scenes of police killings to enable police photographers or forensic teams to examine bodies where they fell. They say they must take the person to a hospital, as they can’t presume that the person is dead.

In principle, this is a valid reason. Yet often the way the person is handled (as in the video referred to by INDECOM) or the lack of urgency in taking the person to the medical facility shows clearly that the police have already pronounced that him done dead already. If not, they would be handling an injured person in a way which would be a gross dereliction of their duty, according to their own “Human Rights and Use of Force Policy”.

There have been many accounts over decades of police throwing people – dead or still alive – into trunks of police cars or the back of other vehicles, for the journey to the hospital. And many accounts of delays in taking them to hospital.

Basil Brown – Killed February 17, 2003

map showing Kingsway Hope Rd corner

One such instance comes to mind, that of Basil Brown, shot by a policeman on February 17, 2003, across the road from Andrews Memorial Hospital, at the corner of Kingsway Avenue and Hope Road. Witnesses at the scene said that Mr Brown was alive when he was lifted into a van and that nurses who had observed the incident were calling for him to be brought into the hospital. That request was ignored and he was taken instead to the University Hospital some distance away. However, instead of taking the most direct route – straight up Hope Road towards Papine, they set off along Kingsway Avenue, and by the time they arrived at University Hospital, Mr Brown was dead.

Braeton Seven – Killed March 14, 2001

In March 2003, Amnesty International published a report titled “Jamaica: The killing of the Braeton Seven – A justice system on trial”. This was after the conclusion of the Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of the seven youths killed by police in a house in Braeton, St Catherine, on March 14, 2001.

AI photo from 3-2003 Braeton report

(Photo credit: Amnesty International)

A section in the report deals with the delay in removal of the bodies:

Removal of the bodies

The positioning of dead bodies, blood trails and other evidence can give vital information as to how an individual was killed. Yet the police moved the bodies of the seven before any officer independent of the killings had an opportunity to examine or record their positions. The police later justified their action on the grounds that they had taken the youths to receive medical attention. However, police evidence to the Coroner’s Court suggested that the bodies were left for some time before being taken to hospital. In his original statement to investigators, Senior Superintendent of Police Adams said that the “injured persons” were removed between 4.45 and 5.15am. All the statements made by police officers suggest that the incident was over by around 5am, with references to the “injured” men being “rushed” or “immediately taken” to hospital. One police driver said in his statement that he was instructed to take the men to hospital at approximately 5.30am.AI 2003 Braeton report quote

However, there is clearly a discrepancy of around 40 minutes or longer in the time of departure from Braeton and arrival at the hospital. The men were not documented as arriving at the hospital until approximately 6.20am. A statement by another police driver clearly suggested a delay before they were taken to hospital: “I heard loud explosions that sounded like gunshot, this lasted for some time. About an hour later I was instructed by SSP [Senior Superintendent of Police] Adams…to take them [three of the seven] to hospital.” Another police driver testified before the Coroner’s Court that a journey from Braeton to Spanish Town Public Hospital, in a police car with the sirens on, took 10 minutes at that time of day. Television journalist Michael Pryce told the Court that the police took some time to remove the bodies and that they were loaded into police jeeps “between 6.10 and 6.25/6.30am”.

It is clear from the statements given by various sources, including numerous police officers, that the dead men were not taken to hospital immediately following the incident. In the unlikely event that the men were not dead, the police would have been derelict in their duty for allowing them to die without prompt medical treatment. However, the more likely scenario is that the seven were obviously dead, given the severity of their wounds, and that the police therefore knew medical treatment was not required. In such an event, the appropriate action for the police would have been to leave the bodies wherever they fell, for the investigators to photograph and collect forensic information. (pp 11-12)

Amnesty International – March 2003 Report – Jamaica -The Killing of the Braeton 7

(Six policemen were later charged with murder in the Braeton Seven case, but were acquitted at trial in February 2005.)

In the INDECOM release, Commissioner Williams speaks about an erosion in credibility of police accounts of rushing injured people to hospital. He speaks about damage to the reputation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) locally and internationally. He speaks about the need for the police to act with professionalism and respect. He is correct.

Will Police Commissioner Carl Williams have anything to say on this matter?








Misremembering Tivoli

Reblogging Emma Lewis’ post six years on from the security force operation of May 2010. Some people don’t want to remember. Some people can’t forget.

Petchary's Blog

A blogger friend in Guyana, Mark Jacobs, used this word in the context of a tragic event in his own country: The unsolved murder of a human rights activist just before the general elections of May 11, 2015.

Mark starts his latest blog post thus:

because you have choose to misremember, don’t think everyone else has
to know is pain
and your ignorance will not suffocate me

In the last few days, it has become increasingly apparent to me that Jamaica (and in particular local media) has chosen to misremember the massacre at Tivoli Gardens of May, 2010, in which at least 74 Jamaicans died. It has been six years, and clearly Jamaicans have exhausted their remembering capabilities; and perhaps for many, their compassion. Are we so inured to violence? Is the media so preoccupied with the “here and now” that it cannot stop and look back?

"Marjorie Hinds was out buying food in Tivoli Gardens on the morning of May 24, 2010, when the security forces moved in." Illustration by Owen Smith, The New Yorker. This accompanied an article by December 11, 2011 article by Mattathias Schwartz, headlined "A Massacre in Jamaica." “Marjorie Hinds was…

View original post 642 more words

From Long Ago: “‘Dandy’, dengne, dengue – or was it really chikungunya?”

My mother is a historian, Dr Joy Lumsden, and she has always shared that passion and perspective with her family throughout her life. Her interest is wide-ranging, though she has a focus on a particular period of Jamaican history. Joy Lumsden from websiteAs she said in her profile on one of her websites:

I finally retired in 2004 after nearly 50 years of teaching, 1956-91 at high school, and 1980-2004 at university level. During all that time, and still today, I have been researching Jamaican history, especially in the period between the Morant Bay ‘Rebellion’ and the 1938 riots. My doctoral thesis, which I worked on from 1975 to 1988, was on the life and political career of Dr J Robert Love, the Black Bahamian who played a significant role in politics and journalism in Jamaica between 1890 and 1914. My work on Robert Love introduced me to a highly significant but little researched period of Jamaican history, when 2-3 generations of tough, courageous and self-confident Jamaicans laid the foundations of the modern nation.

Last week I mentioned to her an article I had seen on a CDC webpage, in which the writer posited that chikungunya (ChikV) had been present in the Americas 200 years ago. Scott B Halstead: Reappearance of Chikungunya, Formerly Called Dengue, in the Americas Soon after, she posted on her Jamaica History website some information she had found about dengue and/or ChikV in the region during that time. I found it fascinating to read, given the heightened focus at the moment on the zika virus. And it was particularly interesting to read these excerpts, remembering that at the time it was still not known that these diseases were vector borne viral diseases, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The full post can be read on the website at:

‘Dandy’, dengne, dengue – or was it really chikungunya?

Below I have copied one excerpt from a 1828 document:

Jamaican History website 2

Jamaican History website 3


350 Words or Less: Auctioning the Gun Used to Kill Trayvon Martin

When I saw the news this morning, my reaction was “How obscene!” BBC report

BBC tweet re gun - 12-5-16

If a man quietly sells a gun that he legally owns, that’s one thing. But to market it at auction as the gun that killed teenager Trayvon Martin, as an “opportunity to own a piece of American History” is quite another. NPR report

NPR tweet re gun - 12-5-16

But this seems to be quite in keeping with the character of the man who killed the unarmed teenager, feels entirely justified in having done so and was cleared by the courts of the charges against him. Why not make as much money as you can out of the one thing you will probably be remembered for? And he will probably find a willing buyer for the gun.

After all, there used to be a good market for souvenirs of lynchings too….

Lynching of Laura Nelson and her son - Image 38 Without Sanctuary

Photo postcard of The lynching of Laura Nelson and her son, several dozen onlookers. May 25, 1911, Okemah, Oklahoma. Taken by photographer G. H. Farnum. Image 34 in Without Sanctuary online gallery of photographs. (If you go to the site, which documents lynching in America through photographs and postcards, you need to be aware beforehand that much of the material is graphic and extremely disturbing.)


The advertisement, which was visible on one site this morning, has since been removed to another site.



350 Words Or Less: Where Are We With #Zika Outbreak in #Jamaica?

Last night I was very puzzled when I took a look at PAHO/WHO’s Zika – Epidemiological Update  for April 28, 2016. These updates are posted weekly on their website.

paho who zika alerts page with border

PAHO/WHO Epidemiological Alerts and Updates

In the section on Incidence and Trends, the April 28 Update had the following about Jamaica:

paho who update 28-4-16 jamaica border

paho who update 28-4-16 jamaica A with border

Where exactly do we stand in terms of the Zika outbreak in Jamaica? This report seems to be saying that the outbreak here began in October 2015 (EW 39), when there was one reported suspected case. The highest number of suspected cases (162) was reported in the first week of February 2016 (EW5), with decreasing numbers of suspected cases susequently. Is this pattern agreed by the Ministry of Health (MOH)? If so, what does this mean in terms of expected incidence of zika? And if not, what does the MOH say about where we are in terms of the outbreak?

The number of suspected cases I have mentioned are taken from an interactive graph on the PAHO/WHO site. Pointing to each bar in the graph  gives the number of confirmed and suspected cases reported for that week.  PAHO/WHO interactive chart of suspected & confirmed Zika cases 



paho who interactive chart 28-4-16 update with borders

Unfortunately the MOH website doesn’t provide any such data. In a situation as rapidly changing as the zika outbreak is, it isn’t acceptable that the Ministry’s website isn’t being updated regularly in respect of this and other viruses (dengue and H1N1 influenza in particular) now circulating in Jamaica.

MOH representatives, including Minister Tufton, CMO Dr De La Haye and Director of Health Promotion and Protection Dr Copeland, seem to be readily available to the media, and are often heard giving updates. They share data about samples for testing and confirmed cases, etc. But this data is not posted to the website, where it can be accessed in more permanent form. The MOH website should be the go-to source for this kind of information.

NB As of today, there are still only 8 confirmed zika cases for Jamaica. But how many suspected cases are there? You can find a news report on Irie FM, for example, but not on the MOH website.

irie fm zika 5-5-16 copeland

Enter a caption





Did he really have to die? – Questions when the police kill people living with mental illness

Only a madman would grab a gun from a policeman’s lap as he slept in a car outside a police station.

Odane Bennett – Killed April 20, 2016

The death of 23-year-old Odane Bennett on April 20, 2016 has again raised questions for the society about police responses to people living with mental illness, which has been a long-standing issue in Jamaica, as in many other countries around the world. It is not an issue, though, that has really received the attention and action that it deserves.

The press release sent out by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) gives an outline of the fatal shooting, which they are now investigating.


INDECOM probing fatal shooting at the Olympic Gardens Police Station

April 20, 2016 – The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has launched an investigation into the fatal shooting of a civilian in the vicinity of the Olympic Gardens Police Station at approximately 6 a.m. on April 20, 2016.

indecom release 21-4-16 borderThe deceased man has been identified as 23 year old Odane Bennett of Hill Avenue, Kingston 11. Initial information received by investigators confirmed that Bennett was of unsound mind and had been treated at the University Hospital and the Kingston Public Hospital for mental health problems in the past.

Police Report
The report received by INDECOM from the police is that a police officer was in a service vehicle parked outside the police station when a man (Bennett) allegedly relieved him of an M16 rifle and ran into a public passenger vehicle. It was reported that after he boarded the vehicle he was confronted by the same police officer and was shot and injured. He was later taken to the Kingston Public Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A team from INDECOM attended and processed the incident scene and the body of the deceased. Civilian and security force witnesses were interviewed. The concerned officers were served with Notices to furnish INDECOM with an account of the incident. The firearm of the concerned officer was taken out of circulation and packaged and will be transported to the Government Forensic Laboratory.

Seeking Public Cooperation
The Commission is asking anyone who may have witnessed or can provide any information about the incident to call its Kingston officer at 1.876.968.1932, or call our mobile number at 1.876.878.0167. Persons are also encouraged to call our new Toll Free Lines: 1.888.991.5555 1.888.991.5555 FREE or 1.888.935.5550 1.888.935.5550 FREE.


Kahmile Reid
Snr. Public Relations Officer
Email: kahmile.reid@indecom.gov.jm

CVM TV report

A report by Joel Crosskill on CVM TV News had interviews with a policeman and with members of the community, with differing accounts. The video is available at the following link:  CVM TV News report


ASP Johnson said ” From what I was told, I do not know, the man had the firearm and pointed it and prepared to use it. I do not know what else could have been done…I got to understand that he was mentally challenged, and so because of this, he may not have been in full control of his actions. Nevertheless, the police had to act because it could have been a worse situation than we have. We could have had that man firing off the gun. Several persons who were traversing at the time on the road and were in the bus going about their business could have been in serious danger.”

A woman at the scene gave a different account, saying that the passengers had already come out of the bus, and were telling the police that the man was of unsound mind and saying to give him a chance.

Do we discount the comments of another woman interviewed at the scene, or do we take her words as a genuine, rational and valid call for a different approach?

“If I was the person that in that vehicle and ‘im tek that gun off mi and ‘im go into a van wid it, an I see dat the gun is on the ground, what I would do, the first thing,  if I have a gun in my hand to kill him, I would stick him up with that gun, yes, and tell him not to touch that gun. And I would tek him out of that vehicle and I would handcuff him and I would tek him to Bellevue den and seh check out if something wrong with this young man. And if nothing dont wrong wid him,  what I  would do then is lock him up for the act. But I wuddn just give him eleven shot on di ground.”

INDECOM’s investigation is in progress and we wait to hear the outcome.


Only a madman would try to cross a police barricade at night during a curfew, and tell the police and soldiers that he was going to get ganja, when they asked where he thought he was going.

Michael Gayle – Beaten August 21, 1999; Died August 23,1999

There have been many other instances where people living with mental illness have been killed by the police. A number of them have been monitored by human rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) over the years. The first case of death at the hands of the security forces that was brought to JFJ was that of Michael Gayle, a 26-year-old man with a mental illness. On the night of August 21, 1999, while there was a curfew in Olympic Gardens where he lived, he attempted to cross a barricade at which police and soldiers were posted. When they told him he couldn’t pass, he told them he was going to get some ganja. The police and soldiers ended up beating, kicking and gun-butting this unarmed man so brutally, that his stomach ruptured. Eventually, at the behest of his mother, Jennie Cameron, he was taken to the Kingston Public Hospital, where his condition was misdiagnosed and he was sent home with instructions to take pain killers and to return days later for  an appointment at the psychiatric clinic. He died there, while waiting to be seen.

For more details, read this account by JFJ in 2005 at the time of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ findings and recommendations regarding Michael Gayle’s death: Seeking an End to The Abuse.

IACHR Gayle 2 IACHR Report on Michael Gayle case



Only a madman would throw a stone, shatter a police car windscreen and keep walking towards the car.

Glenford Williams – Killed January 9, 2001

Another case that was monitored by JFJ was that of Glenford Williams, who was killed in January 2001; a coroner’s inquest was held in May 2002. I actually attended that inquest in May Pen on behalf of JFJ, which published the following in its Justice Writes column in the Gleaner, on May 22, 2002.

Justice Writes: Stones vs an M16

The main facts concerning this incident were not in dispute at the coroner’s inquest. Twenty-six-year-old Glenford Williams was killed by Sergeant Payne on January 9, 2001 in the Sandy Bay area of Clarendon.

On that day, Williams was on the main roadside near his home throwing stones at passing cars. Williams suffered from a mental illness, his mother and sister told the court, and had been receiving treatment at Bellvue Hospital for approximately seven years. Sometimes he became violent, and on occasions the family went to the May Pen police for help in dealing with him.

Gleaner Justice Writes M16 with borderPolice Action

Sgt Payne and constables Blackwood and Clair, responding to a radio transmission and report from another policeman, drove to the area in search of the man reported to be throwing stones. Both Blackwood and Clair testified that when Payne stopped the police jeep in an open lot at the top of a lane leading off the main road Williams ran towards the vehicle and threw at least two stones, one of which hit and shattered the front windscreen. Williams continued to advance towards the police as they alighted from the car, throwing more stones at them. It was reported that Sgt Payne fired one warning shot from his M16 rifle and then, when Williams was still 20-22 feet away, fired again, hitting him in the chest; the bullet ruptured his heart.

Coroner’s Questions

On Monday, 13th May, 2002, the Coroner’s Inquest took place in May Pen. In his summing up and instructions to the jury before they retired, Coroner Mr H. Wells raised a number of issues and questions for the jury to consider in arriving at a decision as to whether someone should be held criminally responsible for the death of Glenford Williams.

Was Sgt Payne, given all the circumstances, justified in shooting Williams, or was his action reckless or grossly negligent? Did Payne act reasonably given the distance, the level of threat and the extremity of force of the response? Williams, armed only with stones, was 20-22 feet away and none of the stones thrown had caused any injuries; Payne was not trapped within the vehicle, facing an advancing assailant.Was Payne’s response of shooting him in the chest with an M16 rifle justified? What other action might reasonably have been taken by the officer? Given his level of experience and rank in the Police Force, was he capable of shooting the victim in some other part of his body so as to disable him? Was this the best the policeman could have done to protect himself, his colleagues and the public from any harm that might have been caused by a stone? If the jury believed that Payne was in imminent danger and feared for his life and the life of his colleagues, then his actions could be found reasonable. If not, the question of whether his action was reckless and grossly negligent must be considered.

Perverse Verdict

After hearing all the evidence, and the coroner’s summation, the jury retired for approximately twenty minutes and returned with a verdict that no one was to be held criminally responsible for the death of Glenford Williams. The Coroner, having thanked the jury for performing their duty, then remarked that he did not agree with their verdict, and considered it to be a ‘perverse’ verdict.

The outcome of this inquest poses a number of questions the Jamaican society needs to consider.

  1. Did the circumstances require shots to be fired at all?
  2. How should an obviously and known mentally ill citizen be handled by officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force?
  3. How much training in this area do members of the police force receive?
  4. What non-lethal equipment do the police have access to for use in such situations?
  5. What is our response as a society to the culture existing in sections of our Police Force, political directorate, and wider society that views the lethal use of force as a legitimate first rather than [last] resort?
  6. When there are no sanctions, what prevents such an incident from happening again?

Maybe the question that needs to be asked most of all is, “Who was at the end of the barrel?” It shouldn’t matter, but too often it does. Who is going to care about one less “mad man” on the street in Sandy Bay? We can just turn a blind eye and forget about the whole thing, no matter how ‘perverse’. Or we can stand up, and speak out and work for change.”

Unfortunately some of these questions remain as relevant today, as they were in 2002.


Is it only a madman who would ask “Did he really have to die? Couldn’t they have responded in some other way?” in each of these, and many other instances, where the police kill people living with mental illness?



Resumption of the Death Penalty?

Calls for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica are made periodically, often at a time when there is an increase in the number of murders or in a period when there have been particularly vicious or high profile murders. People are understandably angry, afraid and frustrated and want to see something done to curb violent crimes and  punish those who commit murder. The death penalty seems like an uncomplicated action to call for, a finite action with seeming immediacy to it. And so the call: reintroduce the death penalty; start hanging again.

JIS Robert MontagueThe call  has over time been made by people in various spheres across the society and the latest call has come from Minister of National Security Robert Montague, in a speech at a Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Passing Out Parade and Awards Ceremony  at the National Police College of Jamaica, at Twickenham Park, on  April 29. (Click here for JIS release: Govt. to Wage Relentless War against Criminals)


Mr. Montague said the Ministry’s overall approach to creating safer communities is based on five key pillars –  crime prevention through social development; situational prevention; effective policing; swift and sure justice processes; and reducing re-offending. (JIS – April 30, 2016)

It was while speaking about justice processes that Minister Montague made his comments about the resumption of hanging:

These first two pillars will be further buffeted (sic) by having an effective system in place that increases the risk to criminals of getting caught, to bringing more of them to justice and delivering sure, swift yet just punishment. It cannot be that persons feel comfortable to exact criminality but do not expect to be severely punished. Persons who intend to break the law must know that the punishment will be sure, swift and just. In that regard I have asked the Minister of State, Senator Pearnel Charles, Jr to consult with a number of agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice to determine if there are any legal impediments for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica.

Minister Montague

(Click for transcript of Excerpt from Speech by Minister of Security Robert Montague – April 29, 2016 dealing with the five key pillars mentioned above.)

Last week, when I first heard an audio clip from the Minister’s speech during a newscast, his phrase “sure, swift and just” struck me. This is certainly something that is needed as part of the strategy to deal with violent crime.

Sure: What is the likelihood that someone who commits murder in Jamaica will be apprehended, tried and convicted for their crime?

The JCF’s Corporate Plan for 2015-2018 states that for the period 2009- 2014, “The combination of improved investigative capabilities and the application of technology have paid rich dividends, which resulted in a 41 percent cleared-up rate for murder; 72 percent for aggravated assault; 41 percent for shooting and just below 50 percent for rape.” In a 2013 article in the Jamaica Observer, then DCP in charge of crime (now Commissioner of Police) Carl Williams explained the meaning of “cleared-up” in the Jamaican policing context:

Commissioner-of-Police-Carl-McKay-Williams“Clear-up rate of murders are a little below 50 per cent right now, but my mission is to ensure that we get it above 50 per cent for murders, so we may ensure that a person is less likely to get away with murder than to be out there walking free to commit other murders,” Williams said.

Noting that the clear-up of crimes is the clearest measure of effectiveness of investigators or detectives, Williams — in clarifying what is meant by the term — noted that in some countries a crime is cleared up when the police identify the suspect. However, this is different for Jamaica as Williams explained that clearing-up of a crime not only occurs when the suspect is identified but when he/she is arrested and charged following a process of investigation.

“A crime may also be cleared up if the person responsible for the crime is unavailable for arrest and prosecution by virtue of the fact that he is dead or in custody in another jurisdiction,” Williams further explained. (Jamaica Observer – Dec 4, 2013)

According to the JCF, the cleared-up rate for 2015 was 55%, which indicates an improvement in their figures, but still means there is a great likelihood that someone who commits murder will not even face prosecution for the crime.

There is an even more remote likelihood that a person who commits murder will be convicted, as the conviction rate for murder in Jamaica is cited as 5%.

So we do not have a sure system. If there is a 95% chance that you will never be convicted, it doesn’t much matter whether the sentence is hanging or life imprisonment. In fact, what has been shown to have the greatest deterrent effect is the likelihood of being apprehended and convicted for the crime, not whether the punishment will be the death penalty.

Swift: How quickly is a person who has been charged with murder likely to be tried?

Long delays are the norm in our justice system and this has been so for decades. A March 31, 2016 Gleaner article contained this information:

paulaLlewellynThere were 522 cases on the court list at the start of the Hilary term in January, and, according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, 127 of them are five years or older – all murder cases.

Llewellyn, who was speaking at the start of the Easter term yesterday, said 96 of these cases are down for trial during this term and that her office is ready to proceed with 51….

According to Llewellyn, 526 cases are on the Circuit Court list for this Easter term. That number includes the 504 cases that were rolled over from the previous term, 328 of which were for murder. (Daily Gleaner – March 31, 2016) 

There have been cases which have not come to trial until 7, 8, 9 or 10 years after the murder was committed. In recent discussions about the perennial delays in the justice system, many causes were given, as they have been in the past. There is a great deal of work to be done to make our systems deliver justice swiftly, or even in a timely manner, as envisaged by the Mission Statement of Jamaica’s Courts.

Just: How do you guarantee a just outcome in a flawed and corrupt system?

Beyond the fundamental issue of whether the death penalty can be classified as a  just punishment, lies the question of the dangers posed to justice by a flawed and corrupt system. On page 26 of the 2008 JCF Strategic Review Report, a number of corrupt practices said to be endemic in the police force are listed, some of them having the potential to impact directly on the outcome of an investigation, prosecution and conviction.

Strategic review of JCF pg 26 with border

There have been instances in which physical violence and threats have been used to obtain confessions; statements have been forged by policemen to support a case; evidence has disappeared (eaten by rats or burned up in mysterious fires); files have gone missing; etc.

Long delays have also given rise to the death, migration or other unavailability of witnesses,  or the fading of memories with time. Issues of inadequate legal representation or access to resources to support a case also have the potential to impact a just outcome. Cases in other jurisdictions have seen DNA evidence exonerating people who have been serving long sentences for crimes they were wrongly convicted of. Do we believe that our justice system is free of such cases?

All these problems also affect cases which carry sentences other than capital punishment, and can result in unjust outcomes too. But where the sentence is death, should the State take the risk of executing a person for a crime they did not commit?

Opposition Spokesperson Responds

Opposition Spokesperson on Justice & Governance, Senator Mark Golding gave a useful response the next day, in a press release which included the following:

The Opposition Spokesperson on Justice & Governance stated – “I do not regard Minister Montague’s announcement that the Government is seeking ‘to determine if there are any legal impediments for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica’ as a serious policy initiative that will be implemented. The Government can’t hang more people; nor, as a practical matter, can Parliament.  Only the Courts can make that happen, and the Courts are governed by the rule of law and, in particular, the human rights guarantees in our Constitution.

mark goldingIt should also be borne in mind that the reactivation of the death penalty, after a de facto moratorium over the 28 years since 1988, will bring condemnation on Jamaica, and possibly even adverse action, by those of our most important international development partners that are most hostile to the death penalty (e.g. the European Union and Canada), and trigger strongly adverse criticism from the international human rights community.  The Government must decide if it wants to inflict that on Jamaica at this time, and we as a society must also be very clear that we are doing the correct thing and for the correct reasons. 

Full release: Opposition responds to Minister Montague’s comments on the Death Penalty 30-4-16

There is a great deal to be done to prevent and deal with violent crime in Jamaica. Both Minister Montague and Senator Golding refer to some of these other measures. People may think that in calling for the resumption of the death penalty, they are calling for something straightforward and effective, that can be implemented quickly, with immediate results on the murder rate. This is not so. And part of my concern whenever this call comes up is that it diverts attention and energy from the measures which will in fact have a real impact. A sure, swift and just system will impact the levels of crime, without the resumption of the death penalty, which I do not support for a number of reasons.