Events of note in our societies warrant at least a second look to see if we may learn from them. If they are not what we want them to be, we may see whether we can remediate them.
The actions of 42-year-old Stephen Witter, a Stony Hill resident, when approached by Police on Hellshire Public beach is one such event that offers all stakeholders a teachable moment.
The police, the Public, the Government& Opposition Legislators, and even our children.
Stephen Witter was among a group of men approached by the police for alleged breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act,(gathering close together, without social distancing or wearing masks).
Stephen Witter’s actions were so hostile; they resulted in the group of heavily armed police officers walking away, choosing, supposedly to de-escalate, out of fear of crowd intervention.
The incident, from the mask, mandates, the police approach to enforcement, Witter and his cronies response, the police own response all bears a really closer look.
Inherent in all of those events, we see the societal rot that continues to plague Jamaica, resulting in the voluminous violent crime statistics the Island continues to experience.
The Disaster Risk Management Act
The police are reported to have approached the group of men because they were not adhering to the Disaster Risk Management Act.
I commend the officers for also paying attention to the small things. When the small things are attended to, it sends a message that big things will not be tolerated.
From what we have learned, the Act is not as plain as it could be in giving the police clear and unequivocal sight on how the law is to be enforced. Credit the Jamaican Parliament for its inability to write a good piece of legislation that is unambiguous.
Witter is from Stony Hills; we don’t know whether he or his cronies were on the beach legitimately or not; that is something it seemed that the police did not bother to investigate.
It seems that a breach of the above-mentioned act, was the least of which Witter could legitimately be charged with.
The Police Approach
One of the most absurd propositions I see being advanced today about policing in Jamaica, is that cops should retreat and come back later to arrest offenders, much like how they went back and arrested Stephen Witter.
There are scenarios in which the police are forced to suspend actions to get better outcomes, for various reasons.
What cannot become the norm is for the police to be forced to suspend making arrests for a future date, even in situations where several officers are present, as in the Witter case.
At that rate, Jamaica will never be able to hire enough police officers to make arrests in a country that is already a high crime, volatile and lawless country.
The alternative cannot become the norm; police must not step back from making arrests out of fear that bystanders will intervene.
We need penalties that dissuade, and officers who are unafraid. We must ensure that those who would interfere in an arrest, justified or not, will think long and hard about the length of time they will spend in prison for their actions.
The Police have demonstrated that they are not up to the task. People respond based on the actions of the police. If the police are hesitant and tentative, the crowd is emboldened. If the police are unified and methodical in carrying out their purpose, the voices in opposition become a lot less bellicose.
We see the evidence of the police’s inability to make simple arrests, even when they have numbers; the training’s inadequacy is embarrassing in its glaring obviousness.
The once treasured concept of esprit de corps that once guided how officers converged quickly to effectuate arrests have been replaced by fecklessness and hesitancy, giving rise to more lawlessness.
The public’s approach
Policing Jamaica’s streets has always been a challenge; people ganging up on cops they believe to be weak and feckless is nothing new.
In fact, people go out of their way to test police officer’s mettle, we can question the legitimacy of their ways, but we may not deny that they do.
They will get in a new officer’s face ad they will even assault officers to see what they are made of. The challenge for young cops in that Serengeti of chaos and criminality, is that they are expected to absorb the assaults to their persons, without any attendant punitive law to punish offenders.
By that measure, officers are being asked to sacrifice their bodies and lives to maintain order in a hostile environment created and helped by politicians.
The options open to the Jamaican police officer in Andrew Holness’s Jamaica are binary, (a) go hard against offenders backed up by their powers enshrined in the JCF Act, or (b) Ignore it all and go home to their families.
The Andrew Holness, Horace Chang, Delroy Chuck, Antony Anderson, UWI idea of policing, has been a nightmare for law-abiding Jamaicans and their families.
The murder rate continues to spiral out of control because the police cannot do their jobs.
What we witnessed on that Hellshire beach must be laid squarely at the feet of Andrew Holness, a Spanish Town protégée’ who grew up resenting the police.
We witness these events playing out across the country because of his continuing interference in policing and the policies he has been putting in place to hamstring the police’s efforts to do their jobs effectively.
We know they are dumb, even to the point of being moronic. We know they cannot write a piece of Legislation that stipulates clear intent. We even know that some of them have conflicts of interest, and some are even mixed up in criminality.
But the legislators, too, have a job to do here; if the laws aren’t working, change the damn laws.
At what point will it dawn on those morons that the country is going to hell in a handbasket, because the laws are too criminal-friendly?
The Jamaicans who stridently break laws do so because they know that they will not be punished in any meaningful way, even if they are caught. They also know that even when caught breaking the laws, they can fight or intimidate the police, a force that is so feckless, several officers will retreat because they are afraid of a few loudmouth punks.
Even though this pattern has been a staple for decades, what passes for legislators in the people’s house have failed to enact legislation making it a felony to interfere in arrests, making it a felony to assault a police officer.
That is the reason this writer has zero respect for that body of malcontents who are merely cheap hustlers looking to make a buck.
It is tough to watch them effectuate even the simplest arrest. I have no more energy to waste; these guys are what they are. They are themselves, victims of the environment they grew up in, and are now forced to police.
If this is the new and improved policing that Andrew Holness unleashed on Jamaica in his grand restructuring plan, headed by a medical doctor, and executed by a soldier, God helps our country.
The cartoonish idea of a police commissioner begging offenders not to resist arrest, is the personification of the Barney-Fyffe caricature the JCF has become under the assault of this bunch of losers.
Mike Beckles is a former Police Detective, businessman, freelance writer, black achiever honoree, and creator of the blog mikebeckles.com.