Advice for Securing Justice in a Domestic Abuse situation in Jamaica

Last year, prompted by a woman in distress seeking to escape an abusive and potentially dangerous domestic situation, I did a blog post entitled: “Domestic Abuse in Jamaica: Where are the safe houses for women seeking refuge?” You see, I was trying to identify where she could get safe harbour immediately. I came up empty. Since then, the government has announced plans to establish 3 national shelters and I’ve received confirmation that the Woman Inc crisis center is up and running. However, another recent encounter with a woman seeking to escape and resolve a violent domestic situation caused me to revisit the issue of resources and advice available to women in similar situations.

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The Broken Windows Theory & Policing in Jamaica: “To protect, Serve and Reassure…those who matter”

Once upon time, in a small, quiet community in West Rural St. Andrew, a homeowner came from work one evening confronted by the sight of an old white station waggon on blocks, on the sidewalk almost opposite his front gate. It was a jarring sight: this old, disabled car, an ugly blemish on the green, rustic landscape. Days passed, each day seeing another part of the car missing. One day it had only one door instead of two. The next day, the bonnet was gone. On yet another day, the dashboard had been taken. The car was being scrapped right on the sidewalk, in the middle of this small, quiet community.
The homeowner typically left for work by 7am and returned home after 7pm. He relied on his housekeeper to inform him of the activity around the (not so) abandoned car. She reported that the car’s owner had some connection to the house opposite his…he helped to build it, he claimed, and it was actually his mother’s property, now rented out. He promised that the car would be moved, that he just needed a little more time.
After six weeks of facing this almost shell of a car wreck on blocks, in front of his gate, the homeowner reported the matter to the local police. He reasoned that sufficient time had elapsed and he preferred not to get into an argument with someone who appeared to be comfortable with scrapping a car piece by piece on the sidewalk over an extended period of time. Furthermore, any opportunity to interact with the scrapper would demand a change to his own schedule, awaiting Mr. Scrapper’s attendance at the wreck. This matter of a scrapped car, perched on blocks on the sidewalk, was most certainly an issue of law and order, easily dealt with by the police, he reasoned.
He was in for a rude awakening. 
Ten weeks elapsed, and the shell of the car was still on the sidewalk opposite his gate. One morning, Mr. Homeowner’s wife was leaving for work and she saw two men “working” on the car. She stopped and attempted to pleasantly engage the men, seeking to elicit some sort of timeline and commitment for disposing of the wreck. She was greeted with hostility from one of the men who claimed ownership of the wreck. He angrily sought to justify the presence of the wreck on “his sidewalk” since the sidewalk adjoined “his mother’s house, the house weh him broad out him back fi help har build!” He went on to rant about the homeowner going to the police instead of trying to find him first, and declared “ah nuh so we fi live!”.  Mrs. Homeowner, a bit intimidated, but resolute, politely ended the discussion with: “Anyway, it really doesn’t belong here. Please seek to get it removed sooner rather than later.”
Twelve weeks elapsed, and the wreck was still on the sidewalk. By this time, it was a mere chassis. Note that at the end of 6 weeks having not heard from the police or seeing any resolution, Mr. Homeowner stepped up inquiries of the local police. He made a total of 7 visits to the police station, spoke with a superintendent of police on the matter and went on to report said issue to a senior superintendent of police. In discussions with the police, Mr. Homeowner confirmed that the property was not stolen, and the person responsible was known to the police and was being ‘given time’ to remove the item and clean the mess. Mr. Homeowner remains adamant that the presence of this shell and garbage is a public health and security risk.

In reviewing this story and how it might play out, the “Broken Windows Theory” immediately came to mind. The Broken Windows Theory, posited by Wilson and Kelling in 1982, seeks to make a link between disorder and more serious crime. The theory was born out of the following observations and reasoning: a building with a few broken windows is likely to have other windows broken by vandals eventually, said vandals going on to eventually break in and even become squatters. Consider also a clean sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. This leads to more litter. And even more litter as people conclude that this is an unpoliced situation where anything can and does go.
Wilson and Kelling maintain that disorder, while not directly linked to more serious crime, certainly leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which creates a context for more serious crime to flourish. Residents will grow cynical as to the role and efficacy of the police, and fail to report violations they see or experience. Persons of mal-intent will quickly identify this context as one where they can do as they like and more than likely get away with it.
That the actions of the man scrapping this car on the sidewalk are against the law is beyond debate. His actions constitute a breach of section 45 & 46 of the National Solid Waste Management Act.
Section 45 definitively states that every person who disposes of solid waste in any area or in any manner not approved by the Authority…commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate to a fine not exceeding one million dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding nine months or to both such fine and imprisonment
Section 46 continues: (1) A person commits an offence if he- (a) throws, drops or otherwise deposits and leaves any litter in any public place; or (b) erects, displays (whether by writing, marking or otherwise), deposits or affixes anything in a public place or on any building, wall, fence or structure abutting or adjoining a public place, in such circumstances as to cause, contribute to or tend to the defacement of that place, building wall, fence or structure, as the case may be, and shall be liable to a penalty under section 53.
The law continues to guide law enforcers as to their response to breeches of this act in Section 53: Where an authorized officer finds a person on any occasion and has reason to believe that on that occasion that person is committing or has committed an offence to which this section applies, he may serve that person with the prescribed notice in writing offering the discharge of any liability to conviction of that offence by payment of a fixed penalty under this section…
To provide even more clarity, here are definitions under the law that remove all doubt as to the legality of the scrapping and abandoning of the car on the sidewalk:
“authorized officer”: any member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force
“litter”: solid waste in any public place and includes any refuse, rubbish, bottles, glass, debris, dirt, rubble, ballast, stones, noxious or contained substances or waste matter or any other matter likely to deface, make untidy, obstruct or cause a nuisance in a public place
“public place”:  includes every public highway, street, road, square, court, alley, lane, bridle way, footway, parade, wharf, jetty, quay, bridge, sidewalk, verge;
After twelve weeks and numerous reports, Mr. Homeowner has reasonably concluded that the police have failed to uphold the law in this situation. The police have been unresponsive. The chassis remains on the sidewalk. Mr. Scrapper remains free. The police, by refusing to act decisively and uphold the law where this scrapped car is concerned, have now created a context that exposes this community to the possibility of even more serious crime.
Indeed, the police have spoken to the offender. This is evidenced by Mr. Scrapper’s anger when speaking to Mrs. Homeowner. One gets the feeling that the police have framed their discussion with this known offender from the point of view of the homeowner: “Mr. So and So wants you to move that car from in front of his home” rather than framing the offence from the point of view of the law! Had the police engaged him by pointing out the offence as it is framed in law, they could have prevented the tension that exists because Mr. Scrapper feels that Mr. Homeowner “a give him a fight.” There are too many examples in Jamaica of lives being lost as a result of interactions borne out of unchecked, escalating tensions between parties; disorder giving rise to so called serious crime.
If Mr. Homeowner sees suspicious activity in a nearby residence, who could blame him if he opts not to report it to the police? He can reasonably conclude after all, that the police are selective in how they go about serving, reassuring and protecting. More serious crime can potentially move in to this community now in the face of decreased levels of informal social control.
The Broken Windows Theory and policing are not without criticism. There are studies showing that zero tolerance has led to uneven prosecution in some areas, minorities being targeted and punished for very minor infractions at a higher rate than their white counterparts in the USA for example.
It would suit the police and political directorate here in Jamaica to consider this approach to crime fighting, however.  We have seen a general decline in law and order: loud music way into the night, filthy cities and communities, deliberate ignoring of zoning laws in residential neighbourhoods seeing a rise in commercial activity, savoury and otherwise (think massage parlours) increased road fatalities from reckless driving and on and on. What have we to lose from an approach that treats with such offences as prescribed by the law? The police appear to be selective in which laws they opt to enforce and how they enforce them. This surely is not their right!
After three months, the police still have an opportunity to do the right thing and re-establish a context of law and order in that West Rural St. Andrew community where a scrapped chassis remains a blemish, health risk and security risk, and an obvious affront to the laws of the land. They must immediately act as the law demands, making it clear that the offender’s actions go beyond upsetting Mr. Homeowner, that they are in clear contravention of the law. They still have an opportunity to act and in so doing, dissuade potential lawbreakers seeing a slow decline in standards in the community from adding to the disorder. They still have an opportunity prevent and possibly reverse the disenchantment and resentment that Mr. Homeowner and his family may feel, maintaining these critical allies, the citizens, without whom crime fighting can never work.
Selective enforcement of the law strips the police of legitimacy, rendering their efforts at crime fighting null and void.

Were this another community, say Kingston 8, or were the sidewalk in front of the Prime Minister’s residence or in front of Mr. Captain of Industry’sor indeed in front of the Commissioner of Police’s residence, would the police response to an abandoned chassis be the same as it has been in this West Rural St. Andrew community?  On what basis does the police decide which laws to enforce and when? “To Serve, Protect and Reassure” is the stated motto of the Jamaica police. Their lack of responsiveness to an action that is in direct contravention of the law of the land suggests that their motto would more accurately read: “To serve, protect and reassure those who matter…” 

Simply Black and White… is it really?

This video by a white looking former beauty contestant Jamaican woman (Rosina Casserly) caused a bit of stir recently. In the video, she spoke about crime, the Chick V epidemic, and aspects of Jamaica other than balmy days sipping Appleton while waves lap around our feet… That she did this in a forum open to the world, and that she did it jokingly caused offence to many.

Anthony Bourdain’s “Part’s Unknown” CNN feature focusing on Jamaica (first aired on CNN November 16) also caused some reaction. In true Bourdain style, his story sought to capture the essence of the destination by delving into more than food and drink.  As he always does, Bourdain tried to present the viewer with more than one angle, seeking to create a context for a more rounded understanding. A Jamaica tourist board feature it was not.  Some people loved it while other declared embarrassment.

There’s a very strong sentiment that we as Jamaican’s ought not to “air dirty linen in public”. We once had a US Ambassador stationed here who dared to level an observation, ok, a criticism then, that as a country we tended to laud announcements rather than accomplishments. What an ant’s nest he stirred up with that statement! Not surprisingly to me, the discussion about the ambassador’s statement had more to do with who made the statement and where the statement was made, with almost zero thought given to the actual veracity of the statement. In Jamaica, form trumps principle every single time. We are extremely hung up on appearances and so called protocols without spending half of that attention and energy on the actual issue. People: we are too destitute and too deeply mired in the mess created over the years by our leaders to waste time on form. I insist.

But let’s come back to the video mentioned at the top of this post shall we. Kei Miller, brilliant Jamaican writer (his ability to articulate thought always leaves me satisfied and smiling…check out his blog) posted a comment critical of the video which eared him the ire of some other on-line commentators and the ire of the video star herself. Kei’s criticsm of the video was immediately slotted into the category of “he’s critical because the girl is a white girl and he’s black.” In his usual clear, thoughtful, introspective manner, Kei provided context for what ensued.  I read and reread his blog post on the matter. Kei boldy goes where many tiptoe around and pretend as if it really doesn’t exist. But lemme ask you this: had that identical monologue done by Casserly been done by Ity and Fancy Cat, would it have been assessed in the same way? Would it have evoked the same reactions? Divides based on skin colour exist in Jamaica. We make judgments in this country based on skin colour, Yes, yes, yes…we proudly declare in our national motto: “Out of many, one people”. Right.


At intermission, I rushed with my young charge to the ladies room. Apparently, every other female in the house was on the same mission. The line was long. I took my place at the back of the line and prayed to God that it would move quickly. Two white looking girls, about 14 years of age, sauntered in chatting merrily to themselves. They swung their long, straight hair up into ponytails as they walked in and I watched in utter amazement as they breezed past us in the long line and simply took their place at the head of the line. Now the original head of said line was a woman, black skin, about 40 years of age. By this time, I am totally focused on what is unfolding before me. I ignored my young charge as I gave full attention to this scene. Black Woman looked annoyed, rolled her eyes and shifted her weight to her other foot as she folded her arms tightly across her chest. No one said anything, not even Black Woman. In a split second I decided that I was giving her exactly 20 seconds to take action, and if she failed to do so, I was going to step in. …19, 20, time up! I commanded my charge to stay put, and I took 3 strides to the top of the line and leaned in towards the girls. In a loud, clear, voice, calm though, I declared to them: “This is a line. This is where it starts, look at where it ends, You join the line down there.”  They looked around in confusion, the confusion changed to obvious embarrassment, and they said sorry and moved to the back of the line. I went back to  my own place in the line, not daring to look  at Black Woman lest she see the disappointment I felt. In her. I had questions… Why didn’t she stand up for herself? Why did those white looking girls not see the line? I really don’t think they were malicious… they were simply behaving as they always did in their context of relative privilege.


Back in the early ’90’s, for a while, I used to take public transport between Kingston and Mandeville. I was engaged in on-farm research near Spur Tree and the project didn’t as yet have an assigned vehicle. It was not uncommon for the mini and coaster buses that I used to take to be stopped by police at random at various points along the route. All passengers had to disembark so the police could search for weapons and ganja. 9 out of 10 times that we were stopped for this search, the police would say to me: “Browning: you can stay inna di bus. Is aright. Si dung.” The special treatment afforded me started from the bus park, where the loader man or driver would signal to me: “Browning, come si dung inna di front.”


I knew someone who was summoned to jury duty years ago. She told me that she watched on in amazement at how the foreman was selected. See the selection criteria there… (sub-heading above). And no one objected. Including the person I knew. She wasn’t interested in the position and saw no point in introducing contention.


The last time I combed my daughter’s hair was when she was in grade 4. She has a huge and gorgeous head of hair. Washing and combing it demanded prayer and fasting and push ups and pull ups…for the two of us. On this particular occasion, as her tresses got the better of me, I sighed and heaved and sucked my teeth. My normally quiet, reserved 9 year old angel said quietly, but clearly: “White woman can’t manage black woman hair.” I was stunned into silence. I was hurt that my baby saw a difference between us.  I was puzzled. We both struggled through what would be our last hair episode (that’s why God invented hairdressers) and a few days later, after I figured I had processed it sufficiently, we spoke. I told her that shades of blackness was an artificial construct devised to divide the African slave population.  That we as black people bought into it as we failed to recognise the glory and beauty of our black selves and instead looked at whiteness as an aspirational ideal. Mi tell har fi stop it.

Me and Rachie
Her Glorious Mane!

If you live in this country, then you have at least ten more stories that you can place right alongside only the 3 stories that I have chosen to share. I haven’t spoken bout how I was called coolie girl or white girl at my primary school. I haven’t shared how I was trying to make a point in a group discussion during high school and was laughed out of the room when I started with: “We as black people…”  My parents, especially my mother, had a very strong sense of who they were, and passed that on to all six of us.

My Darling Antecedents

I remember being puzzled when an old white man who was also attending the rose conference I was attending in Detroit politely asked me: “What are you?” My answer that I was Jamaican added to his confusion.

“But you aren’t white, are you? Are you black?” 

Yes I am. I come from the Caribbean where there was a whole lot of raping of black women by white men, and intermarriage between Indians, Chinese, Blacks and Whites”. Thus ended that convo.

We like to sing “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery” and we are taught to recite: “Out of Many One People”.   I don’t think we get it. We still draw lines and make judgments based on colour (and the colour and class relationship can be thrown into the mix too) in Jamaica.

I have never lived anywhere other than the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Grenada). This is merely my experience, in the skin that I was born with. Other persons, born in a different skin, have other experiences that though different from mine, illuminate the very real colour divide in Jamaica. H insists that as a nation, as a people, we still haven’t recovered from slavery. He may be right.

Principle of Legitimacy and Crime Fighting in Jamaica


Kelly McIntosh, Contributor
We have been doing the same thing as it relates to ‘the fight against crime’ and expecting a different result for a few decades now. The latest iteration, the latest variation on the same tired theme, is a rehash of a unit formed in 2012 to ‘fight crime’.
The new MOCA is now a merger of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Anti-Corruption Branch and the former Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force. Yawn. We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Successive administrations have resorted to the time-worn tactic of creating/renaming a ‘special task force’ or creating/renaming a new ‘squad’ when their backs are against the wall for their abject failure to create a safe environment for the citizens of Jamaica.
Let’s go back just a little, shall we. We have had Echo Squad (1976), Ranger Squad (1980), Eradication Squad (1980), Area Four Task Force (1986), Operation Ardent (1992), ACID, shortly renamed SACTF (1993), Operation Justice (1995), Operation Dovetail (1997), Organised Crime Unit (1998), Operation Intrepid (1999), Crime Management Unit (2000), Organised Crime Investigation Division (2003), Operation Kingfish (2004) and Operation Resilience (2013).
At the beginning of 2014, National Security Minister Peter Bunting announced his plans for adding resources to this ‘fight against crime’: more boots on the ground, more vehicles, and new legislation to ‘get the bad guys’. I’m stifling yet another yawn. But try as I might, I cannot continue to merely exist, seeking to protect my psyche from the constant bombardment of warmed-up dishes of yesterday and grand announcements.
Has it not occurred to those tasked with the responsibility of leading us, of protecting us, of serving us that they have failed? That this ‘strategy’ of announcements and task forces and squads has yielded nothing? Have they not stopped to consider that perhaps their philosophical framework needs to be challenged at the very least and most likely discarded?
How successful has this approach of ‘getting tough on crime’ by way of a bigger, better squad/task force been? Look at the murder statistics! In spite of more than one dozen task forces/squads since the 1970s, this little island at the end of 2013 was declared in a UNODC report as having the sixth highest homicide rate in the world.
But let’s go back again, shall we, to track our progress on the road to this dubious honour: 1972: 152 murders, 1980: 899 murders, 1990: 543 murders, 2000: 887 murders, 2010: 1,428 murders, 2013: 1,200 murders. The 2013 murders represented a nine per cent increase over 2012 murders. Yes, the minister has been quick to point out that at the end of 2013, shooting was down by one per cent, rape was down by 16 per cent, and aggravated assault by 14 per cent. Only that persistent, niggling little metric, murders, was up.
Principle of legitimacy
So I return to the need for a new philosophical framework. In his most recent book (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants), Malcolm Gladwell outlines the ‘principle of legitimacy’ and how it applies to effectively dealing with crime and insurgency. He speaks about the three-decade-long unrest in Northern Ireland, despite more and more force being added to quell the situation there. He speaks of the tome Rebellion and Authority by Leites and Wolf (1970), which has served as the template for many governments and administrations, essentially recommending the addition of resources and coming down hard and with evident power and authority against those who dare to flout the so called rule of law. Leites and Wolf’s philosophy served as the template for the terms of engagement of the USA in Vietnam. We know how that worked for them.
The principle of legitimacy may seem counterintuitive at first glance, as its focus is not ‘how can I clamp down’ in the face of rebellion and antisocial activity. Gladwell states that when people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters first and foremost how they behave. Jamaica has been seeking to fight crime per the tenets of Leites and Wolf: more resources, more force, and more show of force.
It simply has not worked. It makes sense, therefore, to consider changing the philosophy that guides strategy. This theoretical framework, the principle of legitimacy, holds that desired behaviours will result when three conditions are met. First, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice. Second, the law has to be predictable; consequences must be the same today, yesterday and forever despite who the lawbreaker is. And last, authority has to be fair – one group cannot be treated differently from another.
Think about your own effort as a parent to instill order in the home: chaos will reign if you punish the same infraction one way today, and ignore it tomorrow. Chaos will reign if you punish Child 1 but turn a blind eye to Child 2 who disobeys. And chaos will certainly reign if the children feel as if they don’t have a voice. The minute you turn your back, they will seek to give vent to any and every desire they have, like watching a forbidden show, or sneaking candy when they know they’re not to, or hiding to go online in spite of your instructions to the contrary.
Brooklyn example
Gladwell goes on to illustrate how using the principle of legitimacy to influence policing strategy in Brownsville, Brooklyn, resulted in a sustained fall in robberies in that town between 2003 and 2006. The police there recognised that they were seen as the enemy and deliberately set out to demonstrate in tangible ways that they were interested in the community (youth programmes, inserting themselves in family life, consistently and fairly applying sanctions) and not merely interested in simply laying down the law. Gladwell summed it up nicely: When the law is applied in the absence of legitimacy, it doesn’t produce obedience. It produces the opposite: backlash.
What have we to lose in considering this philosophical framework in the ‘fight against crime’? Do the Government and police force exhibit legitimacy? Does every Jamaican feel as if they have a voice? Scenes of poor, black people holding placards and blocking roads demanding justice keep looping in my mind – different district, always the same demographic, same plea.
Is the law predictable? Does every spliff smoker fear being arrested and jailed and possibly dying at the end of the day? It seems to me that laws are sometimes used as a tool of selective oppression, an instrument used to capture and condemn subjectively per the whim/agenda of the law enforcers. Are our authorities seen to be fair? Whether or not so-called police death squads really exist, it is a matter of record that extrajudicial killings in Jamaica are alarmingly high. In 2012, 219 Jamaicans were killed by the police, nine more than the 210 killed by the police in 2011. And in 2013, 245 Jamaicans were killed by police.
Police abuse
Think about reported beatings and verbal abuse at the hands of the police, and even death of persons in police custody. Hark back to the case of Agana Barrett in 1992 who died of suffocation in the Constant Spring lock-up after being crammed into a small cell with 16 other men. It took the State 11 years to award his mother $3.5m.
Fast-forward to 2014 where Mario Deane was arrested and taken into custody for possession of a ganja spliff. He died days later as a result of the beating he experienced while in the custody of the police. It took six days after Mario’s death for the personnel on duty to be interdicted. Can our authorities really be deemed legitimate?
I implore our Government and our police force to challenge their current assumptions about what it will take to fight crime in light of past actions and past results and this very compelling principle of legitimacy put forward by Gladwell. For if Mr Gladwell is indeed correct, continuing along the present trajectory of simply a greater show of force in the absence of an engaged citizenry, and fair and predictable law enforcement, will result in only one certain outcome.
Kelly McIntosh is operations manager of a major food-export company. Email feedback to and Follow Kelly’s blog at