Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Peter Espeut | Do Black lives matter in Jamaica?

Published:Friday | May 29, 2020 | 12:19 AM
Soldiers engage in a tête-à-tête  in the wake of a fatal shooting in August Town on Wednesday. Residents allege that 44-year-old Susan Bogle was killed by a soldier.
Soldiers engage in a tête-à-tête in the wake of a fatal shooting in August Town on Wednesday. Residents allege that 44-year-old Susan Bogle was killed by a soldier.

Well-thinking people across the world are stunned and outraged by the killing of an unarmed black man – George Floyd – in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, on Monday by a white policeman during the course of an arrest. The 46-year-old Floyd was suspected of committing a forgery, and allegedly resisted arrest. He was held down by a white policeman with a knee on his neck, while three others watched. Video footage shows that despite cries that he couldn’t breathe, pressure continued to be applied to his throat, resulting in Floyd’s death.

In response, all four white police officers have been fired (not just sent on leave pending investigation). The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, offered an apology to Lloyd’s family and the black community as a whole, and called for the officer seen to be kneeling on Floyd’s neck to be arrested and charged. “Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey asked; “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are investigating the incident.

At about 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Susan Bogle, a 44-year-old mentally challenged black woman in August Town, St Andrew, was shot dead inside her home by black Jamaican soldiers performing policing functions.

According to the Corporate Communications Unit (CCU) of the Jamaican police force, members of the security forces who were in the area were attacked by heavily armed men at about 2:20 p.m. In an all-too-familiar statement, the CCU said: “The security forces came under heavy gunfire in the area and when the shooting subsided, a woman was seen suffering from gunshot wounds. She was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead”.

MISTAKEN

The Gleaner yesterday stated: “Residents reported that soldiers had chased someone into the building”. Grace Freckleton, mother of the deceased, said that she was bewildered at the thought that the security forces could have mistaken her daughter, who was alone in the “one-way-in, one-way-out” dwelling, for an attacker. “Yuh see man a run and yuh buss her door and go in, and yuh see somebody in there. If yuh even shoot the person one time, dem nuh have no gun, dem nuh have nothing. So yuh fire two more shot?” Freckleton asked.

“A soldier shoot her, ‘cause the soldier man a bawl … Di soldier man a bawl say a di wrong somebody dem shoot …”, Freckleton told The Gleaner.

A resident said: “When she get the first shot, we hear she bawl out, and the soldier still fire two more shot.”

The Gleaner reports that the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has begun a probe into Bogle’s death. In 2020, up to May 15, INDECOM launched investigations into 361 incidents involving Jamaican policemen, and up to May 28, at least 18 incidents involving Jamaican soldiers.

Every time I hear the excuse of mistaken identity, I ask: “Would it have been OK to kill if it were the right person? If Keith Clarke was really Dudus, would it have been OK for soldiers to pump 21 shots into him?” Six years after the incident, the Government granted the soldiers involved “good faith certificates” intended to give them immunity from prosecution; therefore, the answer must be ‘yes’! It seems the security forces kill in the name of the Government.

Jamaican politicians created INDECOM, but have given them no powers of arrest or prosecution.

In 1999, Michael Gayle, a handicapped young man, was beaten to death in a Jamaican police station. Even though the names of the policemen are known, no one was held to account for his death, as Jamaican authorities claimed they could not determine who struck the fatal blow.

In Minneapolis, all four policemen present were held accountable and fired, because none made any effort to stop George Floyd’s killing, and therefore were accessories.

Jamaica has one of the highest rates of police killings in the world – all of Black people. Can it be that in Trump’s America, Black lives mean more than in Jamaica? Or is there really a difference?

Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.