Last week, I was sitting in a little country restaurant with a few colleagues. Our police force, their tactics and “police brutality” came up. As is often the case when the topic of the JCF comes up, there was soon a loud and rousing argument. This time it was centered on the following incident…
One Sunday, a young man, let’s call him Sam, set out on the road in his vehicle. Sam was travelling alone. While driving along, some policemen drove up behind Sam. They beckoned to him to stop his vehicle. Sam however sped up and sped away. The policemen chased after him. Eventually, Sam’s car overturned.
Sam climbed from the overturned vehicle and ran down an embankment, the police in hot pursuit. The policemen soon started firing at him. In total, six shots were fired at Sam. This story is starting to sound familiar, I know. We after all read the papers and watch the nightly news. Thankfully, the ending is not the usual. None of the shots hit Sam. But they came close enough for him to figure out that he better stop before one did. He was cornered and arrested. Sam was brought to the station and eventually charged for operating a robot taxi.
Yes. That is why Sam was chased and shot after. The police suspected him of “running a robot taxi”.
Now all of us at the table concluded that what Sam did was not very smart. In fact, we all agreed on one thing, Sam was lucky to even be alive. We nervously joked that this could have ended with the too familiar report on the nightly news:
“The police were today engaged in a running gun battle by two gun men who were travelling in a stolen vehicle. The police attempted to intercept the vehicle, whereupon the men alighted from the vehicle and fired several shots at the police. The police returned the fire and the men escaped into nearby bushes, where one was later found suffering from gunshot wounds. He was later pronounced dead at hospital. A gun was recovered from the scene.”
It is every kind of sad that even a child could probably have narrated that “police report”. How many times have we narrated such a story in jest? The line “escaped into nearby bushes” is as Jamaican as jerk pork ackee and saltfish.
Interestingly, while most of us at the table reacted to the story with some amount of cynicism and a certain world weariness, the lone policeman at the table was visibly incensed at the action of the police. According to him, the JCF’s use of force policy is clear; policemen are only supposed to shoot at a suspect in defence of life. In this case, there are no allegations that the policemen or any member of the public were ever in fear for their life. There are no allegations that there was any fear that Sam had a weapon. There are no allegations that Sam was suspected of being involved in any serious crime. The allegations are that Sam was suspected of operating a “robot taxi”. This alleged “robot taxi” was overturned and sitting there in the road. The police could have seized it. Instead they chose to shoot, six times, at a fleeing person.
The Member of Parliament for the community where Sam is from was also at the table. He had spoken to Sam after the incident. He said he was surprised when he heard about what had happened because Sam is not known to anyone in the community as a “troublemaker”. The story struck him as so strange that he had sought out Sam to find out exactly what had transpired. This was Sam’s account…
Sam is from a “rough community”. The type of neighbourhood with lots of crime. Many of the “youths/yutes” in the area are involved in illegal activities. Young men just like Sam. Sam recounted that often times these youths are taken from the community by “cowboy police” and executed when the police become fed up with their antics. According to Sam, when the police flagged him down he was scared they would judge him wrongly because of his community and the actions of some of the other young men there. He said he feared he would be executed too because “him a nuh nobody pickney”. He said he was scared his fate would be the same as some of the other young men from the community, some guilty of various crimes, others only guilty of being poor, black and from a “bad area”. Sam said instinct and adrenaline took over. He ran. Ran by car and then by foot. When the bullets started coming he figured he was dead anyway and stopped.
I don’t know Sam. I cannot vouch for Sam’s character. I cannot say if Sam’s reason for running from the police is factual. Only Sam really knows his own story. But I’ve heard stories like Sam’s before. I’ve heard stories like Sam’s from grieving mothers, girlfriends, aunts, community members wailing on the evening news. Protesting the slain one’s innocence. Disputing the police’s account of the incident. Claiming that there was no shoot out and that the dead person(s) was executed by the police in cold blood. We sit and watch this unfold on our television sets ever so often.
Let’s not pretend we don’t often roll our eyes and comment: “everybody dead dem come out come block road and seh him was ah angel”.
We would probably have said the same for Sam, if one of those six shots had hit their target. He came very close to being a statistic, a reason for a roadblock, a news report.
I’m glad Sam’s story didn’t end up on the nightly news. I’m glad news cameras weren’t thrust into the face of Sam’s family. I’m glad Sam survived.
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Note from Karee: Jamaican Bloggers will join forces in tackling police brutality on the first Jamaica Blog Day, May 23, 2013. This date was chosen because the state of emergency that preceded the advance into Tivoli Gardens was announced on Sunday, May 23, 2010 by then-Prime Minister Bruce Golding, a week after announcing that the Jamaican Government was taking action on the months-old extradition request for Christopher Coke. Please follow @JaBlogDay for further updates.