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We have known for years that the police force is undisciplined. There are official

reports to prove it. Policemen do not wear uniforms unless it suits them s

o we don’t know gunmen from law officers


Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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A Nation in Disgrace

By John Maxwell

The National Security Minister, Peter Phillips, and his police chief, Francis Forbes, went to Flankers yesterday to tell the community sorry for last Saturday’s incident when two elderly residents ere shot dead by police. Jamaica Observer, Wednesday,  October 29, 2003

I am sorry as Jamaican …I am sorry as the minister responsible that this incident could have occurred”Peter Phillips 

I will not beat around the bush…I am sorry … I am sorry for the pain, the grief and loss you are feeling.Francis Forbes.


Both men, according to the Observer, were applauded for their acts of contrition. But the same community which applauded them told the Observer that they were afraid of the police. “We are very concerned about personal safety because we have seen what has happened … We have the gunmen on the one hand and now we have the police on the other hand.” As a young reporter I grew up with the police. I played billiards at the Waterpolice Station, drank rum at police canteens and  knew dozens, if not hundreds of policemen by name.

I still have friends in the police force but most of those I knew so long ago are dead or retired. They weren’t dead or retired in 1963 when I was assaulted, beaten up and arrested at a roadblock early one morning in Constant Spring. Many were still around when I had an M-16 jammed into my throat one night in 1980 as I was going home from the JBC with my wife and two small children. This was another roadblock and I was suspected of nothing. But I had to bear that gun in my throat for nearly ten minutes, wondering when the sweating, trembling policeman holding it would lose his nerve and blow my brains all over my family.

Mr. Phillips and Mr. Forbes are sorry. Very, very sorry.

I am sorry too. And Jamaica is a sorry mess.

…For whom the bell tolls

Two old men, both younger than I, were shot dead. One of them was reportedly shot more than 60 times. An old woman was shot and injured. They had done nothing wrong; they were suspected of nothing. They were going about their lawful business. No guns were found on them. No young men were in their car. There was no excuse, no reason. But they are dead and their relatives and friends and neighbours mourn.

So, we are told, do Dr Phillips and Mr Forbes. Well might they mourn. And well might we. Because we are all complicit. We are all part of this obscene problem.  We have known for years that the police force – the Jamaica Constabulary – is out of control.  We foster and promote  crime by our lack of compassion, by our refusal to act, by our total disrespect for the human rights of poor people, We have sneered and jeered at Jamaicans for Justice and anyone else who attempts to defend the rule of law and to seek respect for the  rights of poor people.

What we have known

We have known for years that the police force is undisciplined. There are official reports to prove it. Policemen do not wear uniforms unless it suits them so we don’t know gunmen from law officers.

We do not insist on inquests into violent deaths caused by the police; our governments in fact have explicitly given the police the right to decide whether there should be inquests  so licensing them to kill. We have known for years that a great many young men killed in “shootouts” with the police were unarmed and guilty of nothing except their poverty and friendlessness.

We have known for years that many of the so-called “crimefighters” are  murderous psychopaths who literally notch up their kills and compete with each other in compiling the biggest “bag.”  

In the 1970s when the rate of police killings was far lower than today, I suggested that we needed to control the use of deadly force, not least because the police were killing more people than the official hangman. One policeman, in the Police Mirror newspaper, suggested that it was I who deserved hanging.

We have known that many policemen live way above their police earnings. My cousin, Karl Cork, who was a barrister, told me of policemen paying for the defence of people charged with drug trafficking.

The police force has resisted every effort to raise the general level of policing whether by graduate entry schemes or by other means.  The police force has obstructed justice, perverted justice and denied justice to aggrieved people by all sorts of devices. They do not turn up in court and are excused by compliant judges; they lie transparently and their evidence is accepted because it “won’t do” to diminish confidence in the police.

I have news for all of you. Nobody to whom I have spoken recently, of high status or low, has any confidence in the police force. Two decades back, in 1984 Carl Stone found that 66% – two thirds of Jamaicans  – did not believe that the police respected citizens’  rights.

Deadliest in the world

When policemen walked the beat and knew their constituents, the rate of crimes “cleared up” was much higher than today. And today’s ‘cleared up’ rates have included at least one case where a murder, committed by one man, was cleared up by shooting three different ‘wanted’ men on three different occasions.

The Detroit Free Press in May 2000, deplored the fact that the Detroit Police force was the “deadliest in the United States,” with a kill rate more than twice as high as New York’s and 50% greater than Los Angeles, where the police were under severe pressure to stop killing so many people. The Jamaican police make these guys look like amateurs.

Four years ago I wrote: “Press releases from the Police Information Centre make it clear that those who provide the information to the PIC don’t really care whether their stories are believed. The report on the police murder in Kitson Town is a classic.  The police saw men scrapping a car. The men ran when challenged. Some time later, the police shot up a taxi killing the driver and wounding his passengers.

“Those are the bare outlines of a story which even the story-tellers must have considered ridiculous. It is not only that they don’t care if they are believed; clearly, there are elements of the police force who know that they can do whatever they want and get away with it.” (Common Sense, June 18,1999)

We know that the police force is unreliable. It is unreliable not because the majority are bad people, but because the toxic minority are able to depend on an institutional loyalty which coerces good people into protecting the bad. The result is a kind of Gresham’s Law of policing. Bad police drive out the good.

Which, I suspect, is exact what happened in 1997 when in their ineffable wisdom, the Prime Minister and the then Minister of National Security, K.D. Knight, decided to get rid of Commissioner Trevor Macmillan. MacMillan  had been trying to clean up the force His enemies  are still where they want to be, in possession of unlimited power to murder whoever they want and to get away with it. When  MacMillan was Commissioner of Police it was a known fact that there were several contracts out on his life, paid for by policemen.

The other problem

Our delinquent police force is not the major security problem. The most important problem we have is the almost total incompetence and cowardice of our political leadership. Because they are afraid to discipline the constabulary, they cannot bring themselves to bring aid and comfort to those the constabulary considers its enemies.

Who are these enemies”?

At the World Bank 1999 conference on Development Economics, a World Bank staffer, Mr. François Bourguignon examined all the relevant evidence and came to the conclusion that: 

an increase   in the degree of relative poverty or income inequality in a country generally leads to a rise in criminality. …   through crime and violence, the social cost of inequality, poverty and macroeconomic volatility may be large.

Mr. Bourguignon quoted a Latin American survey which strongly suggested that:

. . . a 1 percentage point increase in the poor population will produce an instantaneous  2.5% increase in the number of homicides.

The Jamaican Cabinet has many lawyers with experience in the criminal courts, among them the Prime Minister himself. The Minister of National Security has a doctoral degree in sociology and once edited a UWI Department of Government publication entitled “Crime & Violence, causes and solutions.” He chaired a 1984 conference on these issues. One contributor was Dr Carl Stone, whose researches had persuaded him that crime and violence were basically linked to certain social parameters : increased urbanisation; increased inequality; increased migration and family disorganisation; increased unemployment, declining living standards; the ideology of the ‘sufferer’ and an increased inflow of guns from the US.

Six years ago  sociologists at the UWI published the results of surveys in urban slums. The study – Urban Poverty and Violence in Jamaica –  was carried out by the Centre for Population, Community and Social Change in the UWI's Department of Sociology. It was written by Horace Levy. I spent a great deal of time in recommending that we should all try to read the little monograph. It is still on sale for about $200. The report is in effect, a self-analysis of the ‘ghetto’ by the ghetto:

The analysis

First of all, the people want the rest of us to know about their situation. They want us to know that they are imprisoned by fear – their movements and their human development  restricted by terror. They are surviving  in a state  bordering on civil war, locked behind party lines or community boundaries, unemployed, unable to raise their children as they would prefer, at the mercy of cruel men and powerful forces.

Violence: Framed by violence, ordinary social life is impossible. Unemployment is the norm, children often cannot go to school. Those who do are often harassed. Baby-fathers are shot or chased away, so real fathers are rare. Women depend on men for protection and food, and girls are thrown on the street by  their mothers who compete with them for the available men. Grandmothers 25 years old are not unknown. Parenting is a rare skill, beating is the main teaching method. Boys and girls are penned up in yards for fear that they will get raped, shot or will join gangs. The people are angry at the unfairness of it all, of their presumed guilt by association.

The climate of fear is crippling. People are given no warning – “there  is no reasoning”  – they are simply found dead in corners and empty lots.” Common Sense 30/10/98)

My point is simple.

We and our rulers have known for years what is wrong. We know that if the police could catch one quarter of the murderers there would be five murder trials going on in every week of the year. We know that the fear of being caught is the greatest deterrent.

We know that poverty promotes criminal behaviour. We know that police indiscipline promotes violent responses from the endangered youth. We know that we are siphoning our lifeblood away in debt repayment while our children grow up wild, our families disintegrate.

Flankers speaks: “We are very concerned about personal safety because we have seen what has happened … We have the gunmen on the one hand and now we have the police on the other hand.”

We know all that. And yet, we are satisfied when the Minister of National Security and the Commissioner of Police declare that they are sorry that a gang of policemen murdered two innocent old men last week Saturday.

Your struggle is our struggle, for if they come for you in the morning they will be coming for us at night. James Baldwin (in a letter to Angela Davis)

Copyright 2003 John Maxwell   Mrs. Glynn Manley  waits to have her books autographed by John Maxwell (above)

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Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

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Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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update 21 April 2012




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