The Case of Judge Loya

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Gleaner column, Nov 30, 2017

In India, a case with potentially sinister undertones has divided media. The death of High Court Judge BH Loya in December 2014 is raising questions about the integrity of the judiciary and the political machinery of the country. If what is suspected is found to be true it implicates the Chief of the ruling party, BJP President, Amit Shah.

On November 26, 2005, a man in his thirties named Sohrabuddin Sheikh was gunned down by a team of police in Gujarat in what is known in India as an ‘encounter’ killing. Essentially a form of extra-judicial killing of people in their custody, Indian police are known to eliminate suspected criminals and gangsters in fake encounters, where they claim the suspect was shooting at the police while attempting to escape and “the gunfire is returned” killing them. Sound familiar?

It later emerged that contrary to the police version of events, Sheikh was travelling in a luxury bus with his wife, along with a friend when all three were abducted from the bus by Gujarat Police, who killed Sheikh on November 26, and his wife on November 29. According to an article in Scroll.In the police would later claim, as they are wont to do, that the individuals killed were dreaded terrorists, with plans to assassinate Modi and other senior leaders, or launch terror strikes, but rarely would there be any convincing evidence to confirm such allegations. No postmortem or statutory magisterial inquiry followed the killings.

The truth was much simpler. After pressure from Sheikh’s brother prompted a court case and a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry it emerged that Sohrabuddin Sheikh was a member of a criminal gang that had been in cahoots with some Gujarat police officers and political leaders, operating an extortion racket in neighbouring Rajasthan. After Sheikh’s gang threatened highly-connected marble businessmen in Udaipur his political and police bosses felt that Sheikh was getting beyond their control, and needed to be eliminated. They could not, however, risk charging him formally, for fear he would expose his powerful partners in crime.

The investigation that followed allegedly pointed at none other than Amit Shah, then Home Minister of Gujarat, as having given the orders to eliminate Sheikh. “According to the CBI charge-sheet, the killing was orchestrated by senior police officers on the orders of Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah and former Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, who was also a senior BJP leader.” A supplementary charge-sheet filed by CBI on May 6, 2013, alleged that the owner of RK Marbles and the Rajasthan Home Minister conspired to kill Sheikh as he was allegedly trying to extort money from RK Marbles. According to the article “The CBI further charged that the killing was outsourced to the Gujarat Police in consultation with Amit Shah, the Minister of State for Home of Gujarat.”

In May 2013 Amit Shah along with 10 or more other police officers was charged and jailed for the extra-judicial murders and involvement in criminal extortion activities. A year later, however, there was a change of government with Narendra Modi’s party, the BJP, sweeping to power. Suddenly everything changed. The trial continued but Amit Shah now refused to appear in court. The trial judge, JT Utpat, reprimanded Amit Shah on June 6, 2014, for failing to appear in person, ordering him to present himself in court on June 26, 2014.

Mysteriously on June 25, 2014, only a day before this scheduled hearing, Judge Utpat was transferred to a different court, and replaced by Judge BH Loya. When Amit Shah again failed to appear in person at the trial Judge Loya also expressed disapproval, ordering him to appear in court on December 15. In the early hours of December 1, 2014, in circumstances that his family claims were suspicious, Judge Loya, with no history of cardiac problems, suffered a sudden heart attack and died. Among other things, his sister claimed that Mohit Shah, then chief justice of the Bombay high court, had offered her brother Rs 100 crore (approx. US$15 million) to give a “favourable” judgment in the case.

“Within weeks of Judge Loya’s death, on December 30, 2014, the third judge to hear the case, MB Gosavi, discharged Amit Shah from the Sohrabudin Sheikh fake encounter case. Gosavi said he saw no evidence against Shah, and instead said he “found substance” in his main defence that the CBI had framed him “for political reasons”. In so doing, Gosavi ignored crucial pieces of evidence such as police officer Raiger’s categorical statement that Amit Shah had instructed obstruction of the investigation, and his phone records.”

Amit Shah was soon elevated to the post of President of the BJP. Perhaps because of this, despite the sensational nature of these events and their importance to the nation, mainstream media in India steered clear of reporting on or investigating Judge Loya’s untimely passing until a magazine called Caravan undertook to do so two weeks ago. Since then the Indian Express and certain key newspapers have published articles insisting there was nothing suspicious about Judge Loya’s death.

Influential journalists such as Arun Shourie, a former member of the BJP, disagree. “Every media house should have been running to develop that story,” he said a few days after the Caravan story emerged. “It is the end for conventional media—not only because it is being overtaken as a source of news by the new media, but because of its cowardice and greed…There is a Zulu proverb—a dog with a bone in its mouth can’t bark. That is the condition of the mainstream media today.”

Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston

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Gleaner column, Nov 23, 2017

How to “make life in and through violence” in Jamaica is the problem an exhibition at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia ponders. Titled “Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston” the exhibition is constructed around a film called Four Days in May by Deborah Thomas, musician Junior Wedderburn and Deanne Bell, a Jamaican psychologist based at University of East London. Thomas who is a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania initiated research for the film in 2012. The Penn Museum exhibition, unveiled on November 17th, 2017, marked the formal launch of the completed project.

Thomas is known for her books Modern Blackness and Exceptional Violence as well as her first film, Bad Friday, which chronicles the state-sponsored repression and victimization of Rastafari in the wake of events at Coral Gardens in 1963. Both films are examples of the thrust of anthropology in the digital age, visual practices attempting “to witness and to archive state violence, and to give some sense of how the practices and performances of state sovereignty have changed over time.”

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Beautifully designed story boards provide details of the timeline of the 2010 Tivoli incursion mounted by heavily armed security forces in Jamaica to restore law and order in the garrison community and to arrest its leader, Dudus, wanted in the United States for drug running and other crimes. A (Very) Brief History of Jamaica provides historical background while below, a series of numbers are provided, amplifying what took place during the dramatic period of the incursion.

The series starts by presenting an interesting connection to Jamaica. 1682: The year Pennsylvania was founded after William Penn was given a land grant from the British Crown due to his father’s role in winning Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Then it shifts to Tivoli in West Kingston. 75: The number of civilians the state acknowledged were killed. 200: Roughly the number of people the community says were killed 4: The number of days citizens were locked down in their homes unable to leave. 18: The total number of guns found in Tivoli Gardens by security forces. 36: The number of spent casings that were recovered and presented for analysis. 1,516: The number of rounds of ammunition expended by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. 4000: The approximate number of people detained of whom only 148 were not released. 6.5: The number of years it took to produce an official report on the incursion.

The project is intended as a platform for inhabitants of Tivoli Gardens and surrounding communities to talk about what they experienced during the incursion and to publicly name and memorialize the loved ones they lost. 30 oral histories were collected and portraits created which are displayed in the exhibition. Each life size portrait, expertly and empathetically shot by photographer Varun Baker, is accompanied by a recording of the person portrayed speaking, which visitors can listen to through headphones. The direct, unembellished testimony is moving, sometimes shocking. Many who listened were moved to tears.

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One such portrait is that of Marjorie Williams and her daughters, Diane and Diana Barnes. The text  accompanying it says: Marjorie was born in KIngston, on November 14, 1961, her twins were born at Jubilee Hospital in 1997. Marjorie moved to the area that is now Tivoli Gardens at age three. She attended St. Alban’s Primary School, and then graduated from Tivoli Gardens High School. When her kids were younger she worked seasonally in Cayman doing housekeeping work in hotels. Her two sons were killed, execution-style, outside her house on the second day of the incursion. Since that time, the twins have been living in central Jamaica, as they didn’t feel they could stay in Tivoli Gardens.

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Similar texts accompany the other portraits. Also featured is a life-sized model of a Revival Table, and a display of different kinds of drums used in Revival, Kumina and Nyabinghi, “three musical traditions integral to the formation of West Kingston.” At the launch Jamaican musicians and exemplars of each tradition drummed and danced bringing the still, silent museum to life. We joked that the old African skulls and bones displayed in vitrines in a neighboring exhibition “Is There Such a Thing Called Race in Humans?” must have felt invigorated by the rousing African-inspired rhythms and songs filling the air.

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Also on display is a copy of the Report of the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry. An innovative part of the exhibition posed different outcomes depending on what actions were or were not  taken. What would have happened if the security forces had never gone into Tivoli? What if the Government had not signed the extradition order? What if Dudus had turned himself in?

Bearing Witness culminates in a screening of an eight-minute excerpt from the documentary Four Days in May projected onto three screens. The excerpt starts with footage from the American ‘spy plane’ showing aerial images of the community, with what appear to be gunmen staking out rooftops. The exhibition will remain at the Penn Museum till July 2018.

Say YES to INDECOM if you want to be taken seriously Mr Crawford–

A Jamaican Minister inexplicably asks for a police oversight body to be shut down. what does this mean??

What a disappointment Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Entertainment & Tourism, Damion Crawford, is turning out to be. Check out his tweet, pictured above, about closing down INDECOM, before its had a real chance to show what it can do. Why such  unseemly haste Mr. Crawford? Why aid and abet police men and women who may be abusing their powers, by shutting down the one agency empowered to investigate police killings and other crimes?

Clovis Toon
Clovis. Jamaica Observer. Nov. 12, 2013

Earlier this year, on May 23 to be precise (the third anniversary of the Tivoli Massacre), a group of us decided to make extra-judicial killings by the police and security forces  the subject of Jamaica’s first  Blogging Day. We did this because the police seemed out of control, there is no accountability for such killings, and no police personnel are ever held responsible, emboldening the police to kill more wantonly, more frequently, more brazenly.

The only ray of hope recently has been the creation 3 years ago of a unit called INDECOM, an independent commission to investigate cases of police abuse, and prosecute officers guilty of corruption and murder. Although their success rate has been less than stellar there has been so much pushback recently from within the police, now escalating all the way to the level of a state minister that it makes you wonder if they may not be on the verge of making an example of some bad cops.

In fact I’m beginning to wonder in the wake of MP Crawford’s astonishing tweet whether what my Labourite friend has been telling me for years isn’t true. He claims that police killings go up astronomically once the PNP are in power, because the police feel licensed to terrorize the population under the guise of hard policing. If this is true then its up to us the citizenry to muzzle those who represent us in Parliament, to let them know in no uncertain terms that we will NOT put up with the casual murder of so many citizens by those the state has hired to protect us.

Some months ago Baroness O’Loan, a former police ombudsman of Northern Ireland spoke in Montego Bay during an Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Open Day held at the Old Hospital Park. Her speech was reported in the Jamaica Observer and is well worth noting:

“There is an unparalleled level of police shootings in Jamaica,” she said, citing figures in a 2002 paper presented by the local human rights group Jamaican for Justice, which showed that “police killings of civilians were running at around 150 a year.”

“In the 10 years since then that number has almost doubled. In 2011 there were about 210 shootings, in 2012, 219 police fatal shootings and between January and June this year there were 147 fatal shootings by police,” lamented Baroness O’Loan.

Baroness O’Loan said she has worked across the world, even in places like Liberia and in Timor Leste when there was an attempt to assassinate the president, yet she has not seen police fatal shootings in the numbers as she has seen them here.

She underscored the need for a thrust by INDECOM, to not only identify the cops involved in shootings, but also their commanders.

“They will need to see the intelligence or information which the police had before and after the shootings. My experience was that once the police concentrated on proper planning of operations; once they risk-assessed each planned operation and send police officers out — briefed to use minimum force to carry out the arrests or searches — the level of police violence dropped dramatically,” Baroness O’Loan argued.

She noted also that proper proactive police management, modern intelligence-led policing, human rights compliant policing — rather than just sending squads of heavily armed police officers out to do a job — can save lives, and make people more trusting of the police.

“When that happens people support the police more and are prepared to come forward as witnesses, and then the police can do their job better,” she said.

Among other measures she recommended was for Government to increase the staff at INDECOM.

“INDECOM needs more resources. They don’t have enough investigators to do this work. They have only 37. I had 91 in a country with fewer fatal police shootings and a smaller geographical territory and I did not have enough,” Baroness O’Loan argued, adding that civilians and members of the JCF should also report police officers involved in wrongdoing.

Also check out Think Jamaica’s blogpost on INDECOM for more statistics on police killings.

Ja Blog Day 2013: Police & Security Force Abuse–“wi a pay unno fi murder wi!”

Poster by Michael Thompson, Freestylee
Poster by Michael Thompson, Freestylee

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Mark Shields @marxshields
So NYPD, Boston PD and London Met Police, plus 1,000s more police depts ALL use Twitter. Come on #JCF – keep up. No cost, just results.

Mark Shields @marxshields
#JCF seethis “@NYPDnews: Male wanted for armed robbery, demanded cash, W 26 St & 9 Ave 5/19 1:20pm #10Pct #800577TIPS ”

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Mark Shields @marxshields
#JCF and this: Officers investigating disorder during FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley Stadium have released 16images flickr.com/photos/metropo…”

Michael Mitchell @MichaelAssured
@marxshields @MizDurie As long as they focus on crime-fighting instead of crime-solving, #JCF will NOT see [or] appreciate benefits of Twitter.

I open this post by quoting Mark Shields, the colourful English policeman who was loaned to the Jamaican police force some years ago, along with several of his colleagues, in a vain effort to combat the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s chronic problems with corruption, rogue cops and inefficacy to the point of stultification. Let’s get a sense of the depth of the problem by looking at this quote from the British policeman:

“When I first got here, there was a very inward-looking, nepotistic culture. They were hated by most of the public in Jamaica, because fatal shootings were running at a ridiculously high rate, corruption was out of control, from top to bottom. Anything from allowing drugs to be brought on to the island, and turning a blind eye for a cut, to police officers contracted to kill other criminals, anything you can think of, they did.”

Even the officers trying their best were struggling in a system that would have looked old-fashioned a century ago. “It was appalling. An exhibit such as a bullet fragment would be put into a paper brown envelope, and then they would get a red wax seal and stamp it on the back like something out of the Napoleonic war. I’m serious. So you would have this old envelope with a Napoleonic seal on the back, and that’s your exhibit.” Fingerprints were stored on cards, with no digital database; crimes were laboriously recorded by hand in big old dusty ledgers. “They would just say, that’s how we do it…”

As you can imagine there was a lot of resistance to the British imports into the JCF. Most of them have served their time and moved on but Shields, known as @marxshields on Twitter, is still here working privately as a security consultant. Ever one for upgrading to new technologies, in recent times he has been urging the JCF to start using DNA testing and Twitter, the detective’s tool par excellence, one i myself have been recommending to both my academic colleagues and the journalistic community in Jamaica for years. The reason? It’s the latest, most innovative means of news and information-gathering, like tapping into a vast reservoir, a virtual motherlode of data waiting to be mined; at the same time it offers conduits to reach multiple networks, to crowdsource whatever it is you need or just to transmit your message far and wide.

Has anyone seen this ‘Male wanted for armed robbery’? Here’s the picture we have of him. or Does anyone know where this place is? with a photo attached to it will bring in valuable responses that may very well help solve your research problem if you’re an academic or the crime if you happen to be a member of the Police Force. If you wanted to know for instance how many police forces around the world are already using Twitter you would post a tweet like this: Are the #police in YOUR country using Twitter yet? Please use #smartpolicing when replying. The hashtag ‘smartpolicing’ would collect answers from all around the world which could then be separately verified for accuracy.

But as @MichaelAssured pointed out the JCF will only realize the value of Twitter if they accept that their mandate is crime-‘solving’ rather than crime-‘fighting’.

With crime as rampant as it is in Jamaica and the Jamaican police specializing in crime-fighting you would think that they’d be experts at it now, neatly taking out criminals as they encounter them but no! Unfortunate citizens who happen to be in the vicinity of suspects will be taken out too; when questions are raised ‘collateral damage’ will be mentioned as in Tivoli Gardens three years ago to the day, when local security forces (army and police with benign technical assistance from the US) breached the barricaded community in search of the most wanted Don in the history of Jamaica–Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

In the days that followed 73 plus civilians were killed, no Don was found and despite claims by the armed forces that they were fighting heavily armed gangs loyal to Dudus only 6 guns were recovered. But let’s not rehash history. We are using the unfortunate events of May 23rd to catapult this first Ja Blog Day and to focus collectively on the problem of policing here and the wanton slaughter of Jamaican citizens.

The extra-judicial killings are too numerous to itemize here. I will pick just one to focus on because it illustrates the problem really well. It’s the case of Matthew John Lee, a generous young middle class boy, who gave two less fortunate friends a ride one day. The police descended on them as they drove through an affluent community many of us traverse daily and after the usual controversial ‘encounter’ all three were shot dead in broad daylight. I won’t repeat the details here because they were very well captured in this video footage of a show called Impact in which journalist Cliff Hughes explored the case with family members and the President of Jamaicans for Justice, Carolyn Gomes.

I deliberately cite the case of Matthew Lee because he was not a ghetto youth, the perennial victims of encounters with the police. He was a young middle class youth, a former junior hockey champion, a citizen in good standing, yet the police didn’t bat an eyelid in killing him. This suggests that a new frontier has been reached and those of us who think our elite status will give us immunity from the violence that stalks the land please take note. They came for Keith Clarke in the wee hours of the morning, they came for Matthew Lee in broad daylight and they will come for you and me whenever they please. Welcome to a reality the poor in Jamaica have always known–the Police/Armed forces are not in control–they are completely OUT of control. “Wi a pay uuno fi murder wi,” as one such hapless citizen remarked.

I close with an extended quote from a former policeman who has penned a tell-all book, soon to be published, which tells it like it is from the inside. I won’t disclose his name right now but do read the excerpt below. The incident described happened in the 90s. I warn you that it contains material that may not be suitable for children or the squeamish. It’s a measure of the problem we now face.

Most cops see the ghetto man as wicked, murderous, and criminal. And so he greets him with that mindset. He doesn’t see conditions; he sees an obstruction to peace and quiet. He sees the ghetto man as an animal that should be slaughtered as soon as possible. I was one of those cops. I was especially resentful of ghetto dwellers when I had had a few drinks. I abused them, kicked them, punched them and made them crawl in the gutters. I was indoctrinated not just by other police officers but by society at large. I did not like these youths who dressed outrageously and smoked weed and bleached and twisted their hair and wore earrings and nose rings. I was programmed to see them as nonentities, but the intelligence and wit of the ghetto man, his will to survive, his courage to face the bullets, baton and jailhouse was enough to open my eyes.

Sometimes it takes the death of another to open your eyes. I witnessed the killing of a ghetto man by one of my patrol member and it changed my perception of people from ghettos forever. That martyr’s death was the beginning of the end for me as a police officer. It wasn’t going to be the last of such incidents I would see but it remains the most senseless act of wanton cruelty I have ever experienced. The incident keeps replaying in my mind year after year and up to this day I feel motivated to speak out against it, to bring closure to this tragedy, to have that murderer in uniform face the Courts, to have the family of that young man compensated and consoled for what I consider a calculated, pre- meditated, cold blooded murder.

It was about midday when I received a call on my portable radio to assist another patrol in my vicinity. Along with my three army personnel, we covered ground quickly. On reaching we saw a young man with a broken machete in his waist trying to elude the grasp of some angry soldiers. It was in the Coronation Market area and the higglers were shouting to the cops and soldiers that the man was mentally challenged. The man seemed to be in his early twenties and was dressed in a pair of dirty short pants. The only weapon he had was the machete in his pants waist.

The soldiers from the other patrol tried surrounding him, but every time one grabbed at him he would step into the running sewage by the side of the road. Suddenly I saw a soldier take aim at him with his SLR rifle and open fire. The man fell into the sewage with half his face blown away. I saw one of the soldiers in my team holding his neck. The bullet had gone on to graze him. I watched the sewage turned red. As the bloody liquid passed me I saw the front teeth of the dead youth along with gum and top lip drifting along. I watched in shock as the young man’s body quivered and he clawed the ground trying desperately to hold onto a life that had long left him. Some people were shouting, “murder” and others were just screaming. Market stalls were overturned as people ran in all directions, some running towards the scene and others running away from it. I remembered just standing there staring, immobilized by this display of wanton cruelty. I looked at the soldier who had fired and I could see the fear in his eyes. He was swinging the rifle from left to right as if he expected the crowd to storm him. I crouched and walked away, but looked again at the body of the young man in his half pants, the machete still in his waist.

His killing did something to me; it tore me apart, for I was a part of this unwarranted and brutal abuse. I represented the group the soldier came from and I felt shame, anger and confusion all in one. The victim was mentally challenged, he was ill, he was helpless and he was murdered for it. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. The soldier with the grazed neck was beside me and he was still touching the spot where the bullet had grazed him. He too was muttering his disapproval of the killing.

When I returned to our base in downtown Kingston I saw the soldier who had pulled the trigger. I walked straight up to him, looked him in the eye and asked him why. He never answered. I don’t even know if he heard me. But the real shocker came when I discovered that I was perhaps the only one there who didn’t think he was a hero. Everyone else was congratulating and cheering him on. I was told later that this was not his first killing or murder, as one officer audaciously put it. By now rioting had started and we were summoned to the streets again, this time to quell the rioting.

I looked at the killer once more but he didn’t look at me. He pretended to be distracted by the noise outside. He was sweating, and there was fright in his eyes. This was the first time I was looking in the eyes of a murderer, and he didn’t have twisted hair or earrings, he wasn’t dressed outrageously, or have bleached skin. He was a soldier, not the usual demonic ghetto inhabitant.

It was painful to use physical force to disperse the mob that had gathered outside our command post but I had to do it. It was painful because I understood their hurt, their anger. They cursed me too, they called me ‘dutty murdering police bwoy’; some accused us of having strength only for ‘mad’ people and I will never forget the female voice that shouted above the rest “wi a pay unno fi murder wi,” That was the statement of the day, for it was true, it was shamefully true.

I left the scene that evening with my team, found a bar and drank for the rest of the afternoon. Later that night there was a news report that a man of ‘unsound mind’ was killed when he attacked members of the security forces with a machete. That was the moment it dawned on me that something was very wrong with the approach and conduct of the security forces. It was the beginning of the end for me.