The case of Mario Deane represents a very human and tragic story — a story that should make us all angry. As the cliche goes, he should not be reduced to a statistic. And yet, those statistics tell an important story, one that shouldn’t lessen our anger but should focus it. Here are those statistics:
In the last 20 years in Jamaica, at least 200 people have been killed each year by police. This is not an average. 200 is the lowest number killed in any given year. In some years the figure is actually much higher than that.
To put this into another statistical context, let us consider the UK – a country with a population 23 times higher than Jamaica’s. The UK does not report police killings 23 times more than Jamaica’s. Over the last 20 years a total of 1433 people have died after having had some manner of contact with British police. That’s 71 a year. But in fact, only 55 of the 1433 have been police shootings. The others died while in police custody or sometimes as the result of a high speed chase. 2.5 people shot and killed each year by police in Britain. Stop to consider that for a while.
The police in Jamaica will insist that their killings have all been in the line of duty, protecting themselves. We all know this to be absolute hogwash. There might well be legitimate cases, but there are highly suspect ones as well.
In the 20 years I’m asking us to consider, police killings have included the famous Braeton 7 in Portmore – 7 youths who were sleeping in their beds in a house that was surrounded by police. The police opened machine gun fire on that house and killed all 7.
In the 20 years I’m asking us to consider, police killings have included this man who allegedly beat his wife. If you can stomach watching it, see how in his murder captured on film he is absolutely unarmed, shivering on the floor, while the police, egged on by the community, takes out his revolver to end the man’s life.
In the 20 years I’m asking us to consider, police killings also include the 81 men killed in Tivoli Gardens two years ago. The published interim report from the public defender shares some harrowing stories from that incident. Here is one of them:
from the Interim Tivoli Gardens Report
A seventeen-year-old graduate of Denham Town High School resided in Tivoli
Gardens, at the time of the ‘incursion’. He was the president of his school’s
Inter-School Christian Fellowship group.
On Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at about 6:00 a.m., the teenager was at home with
his father and six other family members, including his brother Orlando, aged
thirty-one. Members of the Security Forces stormed into their four-bedroom
concrete house by breaking down the back door. They wore dark blue denim
uniforms. The faces of soldiers and policemen were painted in black, green
and brown camouflage colours. He heard them “cursing several bad words.”
On the instructions of the security forces, all occupants came out of the house
which was thereafter searched. He himself was searched. A policeman told him
‘mek mi smell you han’. He placed my left hand beneath his nose while
squeezing tightly on my right hand. It hurt me badly and it became red and
swollen.” The witness alleges that all except Orlando were then ordered back
inside. The youngster went to a window of his father’s room from where he
could see and hear what was taking place across the street where Orlando was
being kept guarded by the police.
Orlando Brown was questioned and searched by the security forces. A
policeman made a cell phone call and was heard asking: “How far the truck
that collect the dead bodies deh ?” Orlando was then instructed by a
policeman to “kneel down and place both hands behind (his) head”. After
Orlando did as he was instructed, the witness says that he “heard three or four
gunshots and then . . . saw Orlando fall…”
The policeman then turned to the direction of two brothers, Fabian (“Pucksie”)
and Fernando Grant (“Christopher”) and instructed them – “uno two guh ova
deh suh, an duh di same ting”. Both men meekly obeyed the instruction of the
officer and knelt facing the building where Orlando was killed. The policeman
aimed his “long gun”. According to the witness, he then “heard four gunshots
and Fabian fell sideway into a garden and Fernando fell face-down”. In a
state of shock, the witness moved away from the window and so cannot say how
and by whom the bodies of the three were taken up. But later he saw “a lot of
blood in the garden and on the walkway” where the brothers had lain.
In the 20 years I’m asking us to consider, police killings also include that of Kamoza Clark – not many months ago. When Kamoza, a mentally ill man, was rushed to the hospital, police claimed he had fallen off of a bench. That must have been a very, very high bench, and the floor must have been a very, very rough one, because Kamoza succumbed to the injuries he sustained from this supposed fall. For weeks police insisted it was only a fall, though the doctors said that what they were treating was repeated trauma to the head. I guess the police wanted us to believe that Clark fell from that bench, and climbed back up, and fell again, and climbed back up, fell again. CCTV footage eventually proved that police had indeed beaten him.
The case of Kamoza Clark reaches to the past – for his 2013 death reminded many of us of another death many years ago – that of Michael Gayle, another mentally ill man who was beaten to death by police. Kamoza’s death also reaches to the future, effectively prefiguring the case of Mario Deane whose injuries were initially explained – you guessed it – as a case of him falling of the bed! Perhaps police knew now that such an excuse was not sustainable so they have since shifted the blame from unprosecutable furniture to Deane’s fellow prisoners – hardened criminals they hope we will have no sympathy fo. They have promptly arrested two men. I am skeptical, but who knows – this might all be true. Still, that Mario Deane died while in police care means the police have effectively admitted to being at least partly responsible for his death.
But here is the killer statistic– the one that should really trouble us. In this long history of extrajudicial killings on the island very, very few (I don’t know the exact number) police have ever gone to trial for these shootings, beatings or acts of negligence. Of that very few, only two officers – yes, TWO – have ever been convicted. Of these two, one ruling has already been overturned on appeal.
Over 200 police killings a year for 20 years – well over 4000 killings – and some of them captured on phone cameras or CCTV, and only one police officer is now spending time in jail. Mario Deane joins some rather horrible statistics – for here is island mathematics for you: divide the number of victims killed at the hands of police against the number of police who are in jail for such a crime and the answer is simple. Injustice.
It is not enough to merely blog, or tweet, or express our outrage in facebook status updates. There are organizations in Jamaica who’ve made it their mission to campaign against this kind of injustice. Seek them out. Pay the membership fee if you can. Support their work. Join them in the streets. Be part of the change.