So I have been promising, some would probably say “threatening,” for some time to post my own crime plan in light of my criticisms of the newest matriculants at the Shoot Poor People School of Crimefighting (“SPPSCF”). I will do that in my very next post as even the more sane and sober in Jamaica now exhibit signs of losing faith even as they assert the need to keep the faith.
Already matriculants at the SPPSCF include influential columnists like Ian Boyne and Mark Wignall, both of whom have called for increased state violence against poor people as the solution to the carnage and mayhem plaguing Jamaica. Both gentlemen were kind enough to use flowery language and euphemisms, but if we know di runnings we should be left with little doubt as to what they meant. Then there are the advanced students in the SPPSCF, like Kevin O’Brien Chang who are not necessarily in favor of merely shooting poor people, but have fewer qualms about studying at the Lock-Up-Poor-People-Without-Charges Graduate Institute. Recently the Graduate Institute has a new prospective student in Jean Lowrie-Chin, who in her Observer column on July 28 (cross posted at her blog) joined the Observer’s critique of human rights organizations. Again, I have an overabundance of empathy for people like Jean Lowrie-Chin who are exasperated at specific crimes, but I cannot join her support for the PM’s crime plan which is designed to increase state abuse of poor people. So let’s examine her ideas a little bit, before she actually enrolls in the Graduate Institute.
Dwayne ‘Chris’ Maitland is murdered in Grant’s Pen; by Lowrie-Chin’s account and the account of others, he was a law-binding, lovely, young man who had earnest plans on how to better himself. As a result of his murder Jean Lowrie-Chin (“JLC”) wonder’s what about his rights? Further she criticizes human rights organizations saying “It cannot be that human rights groups care only for people on the wrong side of the law. ”
This is a wrong-headed notion that we have seen in recent times in a Jamaica Observer editorial, and in JLC’s Observer column; that human rights groups only care about and seek to coddle criminals.
“And so I want to ask our goodly friends who are using human rights concerns to batter Bruce Golding’s reasonable, rational crime plan: What about Chris’ human rights? What about the rights of those cute babies on the way to the Edna Manley Clinic and those sweet-faced children on their way to school? Do they have to sacrifice their rights because known, feared criminals cannot be kept under lock and key, while the police research the evidence to bring them to book?”
Source: Jean Lowrie-Chin
I do not get the impression, reading this JLC column, that she would be more comfortable if Maitland had been summarily murdered by overzealous cops who claimed to be in Grant’s Pen pursuing some criminal. So should JLC too be consigned to the species of scurrilous Jamaicans who fancy themselves ‘human rights activists’? Would JLC have been any less upset if Maitland was murdered, by agents of state origin, and not presumably of civilian origin? If cops had entered Grant’s Pen investigating the murder of some other citizen (let us say one Kris Landmait) and had encountered Chris Maitland and shot him negligently in cross-fire with gunmen, or outright murdered him on a mere hunch that he was criminal — of course she would be just as upset. JLC asks in her column’s title “What about Chris’ rights?;” but I would turn the question on it’s head and ask JLC the same question, did Chris Maitland have the right to be protected against state abuse during his life even though he lived in the “inner city”? If he did, then we need to laud human rights groups for the valuable work they do. It is the valuable work of these groups that allows those cute babies on their way to the clinic to have a mother pushing their baby stroller, and certainly some of those school-bound children would be fatherless if it wasn’t for the important check that human rights groups provide on state power. These are organizations that care more that 1) there is a law, and 2) that such law has a right side, than they do that people on the wrong side of the law are coddled.
Like Wignall and Boyne, I read JLC closely — almost never missing a column. Except that I expect from her a more positive and upbeat column about some individual or group she perceives as being laudatory, I read JLC for sunshine and here I find her brooding under rain-clouds. Truly things in Jamaica have become bad when cool-headed, optimistic people are joining in the call for ‘hard policing’; if we don’t address the real disease now, the day will soon come when even stalwart defenders of human rights like Betty-Ann Blaine and John Maxwell will squeal for the Jamaican state to abridge and abuse the rights of the poor and poorly-connected.
A fundamental requisite of civil law and order which many in Jamaica seem at the moment incapable of grasping is the presumption of innocence. That simple concept that a man is not a criminal at the outset of state allegations against him — instead he becomes a criminal as the outcome of due process after review by a jury of his peers. When human rights groups call for the rights of citizens to be upheld, all they are asking is that we maintain due process. Jamaican human-rights groups have not called for increased rights for criminals in any way that I have witnessed; instead they have always mediated against state abuse of the rights of innocent citizens — that is citizens whom the state has failed to successfully prosecute for suspected criminal action. JLC says that “known, feared criminals” should be “kept under lock and key, while the police research the evidence to bring them to book.” But it raises for me the question: if a citizen is already a “known, feared criminal” how can the state still be seeking “evidence to bring them to book?” By definition a known, feared criminal is a citizen against whom the state has already made a successful prosecution. If the state has not yet made a successful prosecution against that citizen then s/he is not a criminal. Further, the fact that the state has not yet made a successful prosecution of such an individual citizen brings into question the nature and certainty of the evidence by which it is so well known that s/he is criminal. What people in Jamaica seem to want is a short-cut, the presumption of guilt where long established orders prescribe the presumption of innocence. They wish to have judgment rendered by security forces which are incompetent to render such judgment, without the benefit and necessity of due process. But as old time people say in Jamaica, short-cut will draw blood.
“I realize that people who are poorly prepared to discuss this situation on merit will resort to dismissing me as someone sitting in a relatively calm America who wishes to lecture Jamaicans about how to solve the crime problem. When coupled with the almost reflexive rejection that some Jamaicans-ayard seem to have of suggestions from Jamaicans-abroad recently, it is an easy and ready gimmick to dismiss the truth of any observer’s comments. The sad news for Jamaicans-ayard is that the situation is not improved by ignoring the truth, regardless of the source of the truth. The gunshots will still continue to fly over and into our heads until we confront the real problems and not the symptoms.”
Source: Short cut draw blood
Letter writer O. Hilaire Sobers does a great deal to answer the fallacies that the Jamaica Observer used to defame human rights groups in its editorial. Also Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has a stinging rebuttal, which to the Observer’s credit appeared to have been published with little editing/modification.
The other interesting thing to note here related to the presumption of innocence is that it is the exact reason why human right’s groups should oppose the restrictions on bail the PM is setting forth in his crime-fighting plan. A reminder here that I-and-I am not a lawyer and won’t pretend to be one on the internet.
However, in a society that presumes innocence, the use of bail as a punitive measure is an injustice and quite frankly an abomination. What it says is that the mere allegations by the state against you are enough of a basis to deprive you of freedom indefinitely, even prior to a conviction by a jury of your peers. Bail is there to ensure that you show up to court, nothing more or less. Certainly if you’re a flight risk or there is a high likelihood that you are a danger to yourself or others the state should keep you in custody. Yet this is a determination that is best made by a judge, case by case, and should not be the result of executive or legislative fiat — which is exactly what the PM would like to see.
Also, the fact that people who make bail are almost never prosecuted for witness intimidation or witness tampering is an indictment of our laws and law enforcement agents — this is the real disease that needs to be treated. In fact, in a more efficient law enforcement framework, these crimes of witness tampering and witness intimidation are often easier to prove and facilitate greater incarceration of truly dangerous men more readily than if the original charges are proved.
The Jamaican people are impatient, I can see that. But what amazes me is how almost everybody in Jamaica knows someone doing something bandoolu, someone who is breaking the laws. But we don’t call the police on them because they are our friends and neighbors — plus we are not ‘informers.’ Yet we believe that the “they” who are terrorizing Jamaica are someone else’s “they.” if the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and indeed many commentators and civilians in Jamaica were serious about this get tough on crime mindset, they would begin with the criminals in their cell phone address books instead of targeting the “otherness” in the poor and poorly connected. I have to confess how amusing it is to me to see how politicians and members of the public in Jamaica, just like in the iconic scene from the movie Casa Blanca, are “shocked, shocked to discover there is gambling going on here.”
At the end of the day, how the Jamaican society treats the people accused by the state says much more about us all than it does about the suspects. It is a fallacy that state criminality will reduce civil criminality. When we advocate steps which will downpress and oppress the poor and poorly-connected we cede the legitimacy and rule of law. When we become down-pressers, we can expect to eat the bread of sorrow — but ask Bob if yu nuh believe I.