Last year, police in Seattle shot and killed a pregnant woman who was also a mother of four in the presence of her children after she called law enforcement agencies to report a burglary in her home.
The death of the 30-year-old, Charleena Lyles sparked outrage across the country, with many describing the shooting as another example of police using force against black Americans or people of colour. The two police officers involved in the shooting were declared innocent by the court after a year.
All over the world, parents, spouses and children of those who were wrongfully killed by the police are seeking justice. In Jamaica, the situation is no different.
Last year, law-enforcement agencies killed 168 people, an average of three people a week in a nation of 2.8 million but only a few of these officers have been convicted for their actions, according to human rights organisation, Amnesty International.
As part of moves to address these concerns, Amnesty International and relatives of people killed by police in Jamaica on Thursday delivered a 64,000-name petition to the office of Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Kingston.
The petition is calling for accountability for a “deeply troubling wave of killings” in recent years, Amnesty said in a press release. The release added that the “hand-in of 64,331 letters and signatures – which took place on International Day Against Police Brutality – is part of a global campaign that’s generated half a million interventions from Amnesty supporters worldwide urging the Jamaican government to protect victims’ families from police intimidation and guarantee their access to justice.”
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said: “Tens of thousands of activists from as far afield as Sweden, Taiwan and the Ivory Coast have sent a clear message to Prime Minister Holness that the deeply troubling wave of killings by Jamaican police cannot continue to go unpunished.”
“The Jamaican government must bolster the capacity of the Special Coroner’s Court to deal with killings by police and address the barrage of structural obstacles and the outrageous intimidation tactics often used by police to prevent victims’ relatives from pursuing justice,” she stated.
Over the past two decades, Jamaican authorities have sought to fight the country’s crime rate with a rather tough approach and this has led to more than 3000 killings by the police since 2000. In 2014, Nakiea Jackson was shot dead by the police just because he fit the description of a Rastafarian looking man, local reporters said.
A year before this, Mercia Fraser, a 31-year-old also died from a brutal beating sustained while in police custody. Since then, there have been protracted delays in dealing with these cases. A Special Coroner’s Court set up in 2011 to deal with these police killings has built up a long backlog of cases due to lack of funding and personnel for its operations.
In Jackson’s case, a preliminary inquiry into the case in 2016 was dismissed after a key witness failed to show up in court over concerns of fear. According to Jackson’s brother, Shackelia Jackson, there have been police raids in their community and intimidation in court. Their case is now awaiting an inquest as several others.
In the case of the 30-year-old, Charleena Lyles, who was killed in the United States, the Washington State’s legislative session this month passed laws to ensure greater accountability when police officers use deadly force unlawfully. Her cousin, Katrina Johnson, joined families of victims of police violence in Jamaica to present the petition to the authorities.
“We never want to see another child cry at their parents’ funeral because of police violence. We never want to see our children think that their race or background makes them unequal before the law. We come together across borders, as leaders of a movement that will save lives, restore hope, and bring justice to those who were wronged,” she said.