A look at the Mario Deane case in Jamaica, the Michael Brown case in the US and the fundamental questions they raise about the Police as a viable, functional arm of governance globally.
Video above features Mario Deane’s parents and Jasmine Rand,one of the lawyers representing the family of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, now on the legal team representing Mario Deane along with Michael Baden, an internationally known forensic pathologist who examined Michael Brown’s body in Ferguson.
On the 6th of August, Jamaica’s 52nd anniversary of independence, a young citizen named Mario Deane died while in the custody of Jamaican police. A Montego Bay construction worker, Deane had been detained by Jamaican police for possession of a Ganja spliff or joint on August 3rd. Despite a relative arriving to bail him within a few hours, the police, in what can only be interpreted as an act of malice, denied him bail–a decision that would cost the young man his life. Deane ‘s crime? Supposedly he had insulted the force by saying that he didn’t like the police.
Deane’s death by savage beating–exactly at whose hands is unclear since the first police report said he had died of injuries sustained from a fall from his bunk. This story was later amended with police now reporting that two mentally ill cellmates had administered the fatal beating. From Sunday to Wednesday Deane remained in hospital under heavy police guard, finally succumbing to his injuries on Independence Day.
Jamaican media carried shocking images of Mario lying in hospital with his face swollen beyond recognition and TV and radio interviews with his family members roused the country as no other death in police custody had done before. It wasn’t as if Mario Deane was the first person to lose his life due to the callousness or viciousness of the police, but he was the first to galvanize the nation into a loud and angry refusal to accept what the state was offering in the name of policing.
What makes a particular case pivotal in inciting public protest is always somewhat of a mystery. In India the boiling point was reached in December 2012 with the gruesome gang rape of young Jyoti Singh. The fury with which the public reacted, with middle and upper class women flooding the streets with placards and processions, took everyone by surprise. Foreign commentators mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that the victim must have been middle class, hence the unprecedented public rage. But she was nothing of the sort. What infuriated urban women was the fact that they identified with her, they all had taken buses at one time or another, nothing could have been more innocent than a young woman’s desire to get home safely and her violation hit home like no other case did. It reminded women of how fundamentally unsafe they were, of what a savage and uncaring society they lived in.
Similarly I think the Mario Deane case is one that resonates deeply with many Jamaicans who are moved to think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Two decades of campaigning by Jamaicans for Justice, an NGO that militates on behalf of human rights, had never achieved such a unified response although they must be given credit for having prepared the ground by their systematic highlighting of police abuses.
In the public’s view Mario Deane was no criminal, never mind that ganja possession is a crime on the books here. It is so much a part of Jamaican culture that no one views it as a serious infraction. In fact the government is about to decriminalize possession of small amounts such as the spliff Mario was carrying. Identification with Deane was therefore high, he was merely a hard-working construction worker going about his business whose life had been rudely, and permanently, interrupted by the police.
Mario Deane died on August 6. On August 9 an American teenager named Michael Brown was shot down by police in Ferguson, Mississippi. He was black. The city erupted in fury and for days US news channels focused on little else but the teenager’s death. The fallout from the Mario Deane case was now reinforced by this surprising evidence of virtually identical police brutality in the land of the free and the brave. As Kellie Magnus @kelliemagnus tweeted “sad and odd that this case and mike brown case in US happening same time. Black in US = poor in ja.”
For once the USA found itself on the back foot, promoting human rights globally, but practicing the opposite at home. Critics such as Amnesty International were quick to point this out tweeting that the US couldn’t tell countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it didn’t clean up its own human rights record. “Your work has saved far fewer lives than American interventions” shot back The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) which was soon forced to withdraw its snarky retort. “Our sincerest apologies to @amnesty & our followers. Our last tweet was sent in error. We’re reviewing internal policies for social media,” it tweeted.
The discomfiture of the Americans resonated in Jamaica where only a few weeks ago the Police Commissioner had been forced to step down, it was widely believed at the behest of the USA. How could the Americans tell Jamaica how its police force should be staffed without putting their own house in order?
Meanwhile on Facebook a friend, Olu Oguibe, wrote a punchy update, pointing out the comparatively similar behaviour of police everywhere. “…cops are a united nation unto themselves,” he said:
A Murder in Ferguson
One of my favorite movie moments of all time is in Shrek 2 when police pull over Donkey and Puss in Boots, played by Antonio Banderas, and a police officer puts his hand in Puss’s pocket and comes up with drugs. Realizing he’s just been framed, Puss moans helplessly. “That’s not mine, officer”, he begs, “I swear it, that’s not mine.” You never can win against the police, can you? It’s a policeman’s world.
No sooner it became clear that the officer who choked Eric Garner to death in New York last month might be charged than the guy who recorded the incriminating viral video was suddenly arrested for drug dealing and his girlfriend booked for possession. Now, as Ferguson police reluctantly name the cop who shot young Mr. Brown, under obvious pressure from Washington, they simultaneously tell us the youth was recorded a short while earlier robbing a Deli. He isn’t that nice, innocent lad y’all are shouting about, Police Chief Jackson seems to be saying: he’s just a common criminal and that gives us the right to murder him in cold blood. Sure!
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, cops are a united nation unto themselves. You never win against cops.
New York Mayor de Blasio’s stipulation following Eric Garner’s death “When a police officer comes to the decision that it’s time to arrest someone, that individual is obligated to submit to arrest,” gave rise to derisive responses such as this one from writer Marlon James:
I think he should go further and give a live demonstration on how a black person, whether it be a robbery suspect or a female University professor should not resist arrest, because clearly the original model, dropping to your knees, holding your hands up, and/or screaming “I’m not resisting,” isn’t working so hot. Perhaps his wife can volunteer to demonstrate it.
Regarding Michael Brown’s murder Marlon James had the following to say:
And yet we all know how this is going to play out, or are we waiting for The Onion story to confirm it? It worked before and will work again and again. Put the black kid on trial for his own murder.
Meanwhile back home in Jamaica the Sunday Gleaner published an expose on what exactly goes on in police detention centres. The description seems to lend credence to police claims that Mario Deane was beaten to death by inmates. Which inmates though? After reading the following account it seems highly unlikely that two mentally challenged inmates would’ve undertaken to beat a fellow inmate to death. And of course it still doesn’t exonerate the police and the country’s justice system. Why are Jamaican citizens being made to risk their lives in such death traps? Why is the police looking the other way while such brutal behaviour goes on under its nose? Whatever happened to the notion of restorative justice?
Detained in a death trap
Gary Spaulding, Aug 31, 2014
According to Brown, the obvious ‘Don’ in the cell instructed the other inmates to, “show dem how we welcome visitors in here”.
“What took place was known as ‘feathering’ or a beating. A horrendous activity any first-timer must face,” said Brown.
“The feathering beating continued throughout the night, but there was no police personnel coming to my rescue. After the welcome, the don instructed the others to give us time to settle in as ‘we ago try dem case lata’,” recalled the still-shaken Brown.
“We – the other newcomers and I – stood there for another 35 minutes hoping that the awful experience would end, but no such luck,” said Brown as he noted that the respite was because the don was on his ‘bird’ or telephone with his girlfriend.
$10,000 to sneak in a phone
Brown said he later learnt that it had cost $10,000 to have the phone sneaked into the cell, one cigarette cost $100 while a small bag of ganja which would sell for $50 on the streets was sold for $300 in the cell.
“With the telephone conversation done, we were asked why we were in jail … the first guy scuffled his way up to the front of the cell and explained, he was feathered to the point of tears. He was later kicked, slapped in the face, and beaten by the cellmates for showing emotions.” All that time, there was no response from the police who are mandated to keep prisoners safe.
Then it was Brown’s turn to ‘take the stand’ and the first question from the don was if he had ever killed anybody. “I said no and was asked why are you here then”.
As Brown explained why he was behind bars, he was instructed to stand before being hit in the chest. Six pairs of hands then started to beat him before they were ordered to stop by the don.
Attention turned to another of the newcomers who told the inmates that he was involved with guns and knives during a robbery in his area.
“He immediately gained some amount of respect and was not feathered during my time there,” said Brown.
“There were 19 of us at the rear of the cell where we slept. It was like an organisational chart in a workplace and you had to work our way to the top.”
On the eve of a new police commissioner being appointed in Jamaica the public must ask if he or she will put a stop to such barbaric behaviour at precincts under control of the police. Do police personnel here and elsewhere realize what human rights are? Nix that, do they even know what it means to be human?