Police Brutality in Jamaica
I suspect it is common for all of us to have heard about police brutality in the United States, especially against black males. The powerful Black Lives Matter movement has pushed most news outlets to report these crimes and this has a strong effect on society. When unwarranted police brutality is made public and discussed, it exposes offenders and forces society to question the apparent systemic racism present in the law enforcement institution. When the entire country and many other parts of the world hear this news, it forces the law enforcement institution as a whole to become more accountable for its actions.
So, what happens in places where police brutality goes unreported and is unknown to the rest of the world? This is currently the situation in Jamaica.
Since 2000, approximately 3,000 people have been killed by police in Jamaica. Most of the victims have been young and poor males. To put that into perspective, approximately 20 people are killed by police per year in Canada. That would be around 340 people killed by police since 2000. The population of Canada is over 12 times the population of Jamaica. Three thousand people killed by police since 2000 in Jamaica is an outrageous number.
It’s difficult for us as human beings to relate to numbers and abstract figures as opposed to real people. The real person story that initially piqued my interest in this specific topic is the story of Nakiea Jackson. His story is told by his sister Shackelia Jackson.
Nakiea was cooking in his restaurant when the police fatally shot him twice. Both shots were deemed “kill shots” by the coroner. The police were searching for a suspect with dreadlocks who had a “Rastafarian” look, and Nakiea fit their profile. This was their justification for murdering a young man.
Shackelia is looking for justice but she is impeded by the slow, underfunded court system in Jamaica. She is also impeded by a lack of resources. If her brother had been killed by a private civilian, she would get access to public resources to fight her case, but because her brother was killed by police, those public resources are being used against her. In her battle for justice, she has met dozens of other families who were similarly affected by police brutality.
In her fight, she has also met some strong opposition from the police, who have raided her community in hopes of using intimidation to silence her claims. They have threatened her family and friends. But, Shackelia is not backing down. She says these attempts at intimidation only reinforce her belief that she is doing something right.
Shackelia is just one of many people who face this kind of injustice in Jamaica, and she is certainly not alone in the rest of the world. Yet, traditional news outlets have not published her story, and I imagine countless other stories remain untold. It’s up to us to be cognizant of these stories and to share them with others so that we do not lose sight of the fact that police brutality is all too prevalent in the international sphere.
Let’s say for a moment that Nakiea was actually the suspect the police sought. Even in that case, it is not up to the police officers to decide his guilt and punishment. Police officers should not be able to act in a judicial capacity, as that is not their role to play. There is a reason matters are decided in court.
Shackelia also spreads an important message about biases that exist in the minds of police officers and the general public. There is this notion that murderers and criminals fit some sort of profile, that they are from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. This idea is also apparent in the United States, with many victims of police shootings coming from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Shackelia emphasizes that if we, as the general public, continue to hold these biases, then more stories like Nakiea’s will exist as police continue to target certain people who meet the profile of a criminal, instead of targeting actual criminals.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report titled “Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police” in 2004. In the report, there is a section regarding “human rights standards” for police force. It is clear that non-violent means are always to be attempted first, and a proportionate amount of force is only to be used when strictly necessary. Police killing and brutality are clearly unjustified under this report and offend human rights and we, especially as law students, cannot let the stories of victims go unheard.