Orville Taylor | Tale of the twin cities: Jamaica and the USA
All lives matter, and that includes the police officer who killed George Floyd, kneeling into his neck as he cried, “I can’t breathe,” while the cop, still putting his full weight on him, seemed to be taunting him to get up. Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, justifiably angry and aggrieved, has called for the death penalty for the police officers. I disagree!
That is nothing but revenge and won’t bring Floyd back. All it will do is to further devalue the sanctity of life. Moreover, too many American citizens of all races on death row were later found, very likely, not to have been guilty, including persons who had been incarcerated for more than two decades then executed. Jamaica is ahead here.
Nonetheless, the issue is not so much the ‘blood for blood’ barbaric Mosaic law. Rather, it is simply a matter of accountability and the application of due process and treating all citizens in the country equally. Despite the confidence we have in the robustness of American democracy, we have to accept that it is an incomplete project, and the more its leaders - civic and civil - keep telling themselves that they have it fixed, the longer the problems will persist.
Life is too devalued for African Americans. Black men have a homicide rate four times the national average, and they comprise 52 per cent of all homicides. Around 90 per cent of them are killed by other black men. But here is a sobering fact: more than 80 per cent of white murder victims are killed by white men, too. Life is still too cheap in the world’s greatest democracy, and the death penalty helps to fuel the devaluation.
A country that freed its enslaved Africans 30 years after us and via a bloody civil war around the same time as our Morant Bay Rebellion and executed two Kennedys and Martin Luther King in the 1960s cannot possibly have resolved the race question in 2020. More than 30 per cent of Americans alive today were already in preschool and beyond when it took a court decision to give universal adult suffrage to all Americans with no preconditions except adulthood and citizenship. This was 21 years after Jamaica had its fully incorporative general election.
We are a black country with a black government, black judiciary, black police force, and black legal profession, and we still have not completely got the treatment of black people right. So how can we honestly expect a country with a longer history of human-rights violations of black people to have exorcised the demons of racism and lynching by the Ku Klux Klan and other surrogates today?
What America must do is look objectively at itself and call a spade a spade; yes I like the ‘black cards’. Using a short country-to-country comparison, it might be surprising that Jamaica is better than the USA in policing accountability and protection of human/civil rights than the narrative provoked by the Leahy Law suggests.
Amnesty International has noted for several years that the Use of Deadly Force Policy in all 50 states and DC is below the international/UN standard. Jamaica is fully compliant. Because data on American police killings are not compulsorily recorded, many fatal encounters at the hand of state agents go unreported. Yet at least 1,015 died at the hands of the police in 2019. Between 2000 and 2016 in both countries, for every 17 suspects killed by the police, one police officer is killed. An identical ratio.
However, most police killings in Jamaica are from planned operations, and there is recovery of firearms. In contrast, American encounters are routine policing, with unarmed persons being killed. Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and Ludacris is partially right. Jamaican police officers are three times more likely to be murdered than the average citizen. In the USA, the numbers are virtually the same. Thus, in real terms, Jamaican police officers have more statistical justification that they follow the UN’s use-of-force policy.
Jamaica has approximately 14,000 police officers compared to the US’s 800,000 to 1,000,000. Since 2005, only 98 American police officers have been charged, with 35 convicted of a lesser crime than murder and only three murder convictions. At last count, more than twice that number of Jamaican police were convicted of the capital offence in the same period.
The USA has no independent investigative (not arresting) entity that reports to Congress directly like our INDECOM.
Yet, protests and riots apart, what is extremely encouraging is that an increasing number of white Americans are being outraged over the mistreatment of minorities. So it was in the 1960s, when white Americans moved from the margins and marched with King because they believed in the full equality of all Americans.
We need America to be great.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The UWI, radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.