The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has come under intense scrutiny after a female police officer on the force allegedly cut the dreadlocks of a Rastafarian teenager who was in their custody. The officer reportedly claimed she cut off the teenager’s dreadlocks because she thought her natural hairstyle posed a suicide risk.
The incident, which was strongly condemned by the teenager’s parents and attorney, reawakened memories of the deadly 1963 clash between Rastafarians and the Caribbean nation’s police force, The Gleaner reported.
In an interview with the news outlet, 19-year-old Nzinga King said she was arrested by officers in the Jamaican parish of Clarendon on July 22 following a confrontation. The teenager said she was in a taxi when two police officers pulled the driver over and ordered a male passenger to alight from the vehicle. After the male occupant ignored their orders, she said one of the officers sprayed pepper spray into the vehicle, disregarding the other passengers.
“A lady was there breastfeeding and the policeman behaved as if he did not care, so I came out (the taxi) and I was angry because you came there to remove one occupant and you pepper-spray the whole car,” she recalled.
The teenager said she ended up having to remove her facemask after she was hit by the pepper spray as she could not properly breathe. But she said the officers told her to put it back on and warned that they would charge her for flouting the island nation’s COVID-19 safety protocols if she did not comply. Things, however, escalated from there and she was processed for court on a disorderly conduct charge.
King was issued a $6,000 fine with a 10-day jail sentence if unable to pay. And because she couldn’t pay the fine, she was taken into custody and sent to the Four Paths Police Station in Clarendon where she had her dreadlocks cut though she was against it, she said. King told The Gleaner she was left humiliated as a Rastafarian after she lost her dreadlocks.
“I’ve been to a lot of places and I’ve been accepted. I’ve never been shunned or turned away or been put aside. I’ve never experienced this until the 22nd of July. That was the first time being violated because of my culture,” she said.
The teenager also said the incident brought back harrowing memories of when she was gang-raped at the age of 16. “I have been suffering from a recent trauma. I’ve been traumatized and this now, she’s just bring me back to some memories of being sexually abused and now I am being physically and mentally abused,” King said.
Meanwhile, the attorney representing King’s family, Isat Buchanan, said they’re going to file a lawsuit against the state if the family isn’t compensated for the “aggravated and egregious act.” “There is no pier in law that could allow a police officer to scalp a Rastafarian,” Buchanan said.
“Black hair is a symbol of our roots. Many state actors may resent it, but the Constitution says it must be protected. That is all I will say on the issue. As a member of the Rastafarian community, Princess Nzinga was scalped by a woman officer, and no justification in law will suffice,” the attorney added.
The Caribbean nation’s Police Commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson, has also ordered an investigation into the incident.