Last week’s news in Jamaica was dominated by the wage negotiations between the police and government. As with public sector workers elsewhere, the police did not actually go out on strike; instead they used a tactic, and a term, I have not heard of before: the “sick-out”. In effect, over fifty percent of the police force called in sick for three days, thus giving the beleaguered taxi drivers a break from harrassment and demands for kickbacks.
I was impressed too by the police force demands in the form of a whopping 41-point wage claim, reduced to a seemingly more reasonable four key points. But check out the minimum demands:
1) a 20 percent increase in housing allowance;
2) a 50 percent increase in service pay [wait … the salary demand is still to come …];
3) a 75 percent increase in salary; and
4) a new police security allowance, originally called “hazard pay” or risk allowance.
One wonders what the other 37 demands include …
17) a canary-yellow Hummer patrol car;
32) profit sharing with north coast drug runners (oh wait …)
37) the keys to the Pearly Gates.
(Feel free to suggest other demands in your comments.)
The timing of the sick-out was not fortuitous — The following day was the 68th annual conference of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP). In that sense it was a threat of future action during the much anticipated forthcoming general election. Although many hope that the political tribalism of the 1970s and 80s is no more — a period when politicians would often side with local “area leaders” (read: gangsters) against the police — the lines of what characterize appropriate behaviour in public service remain blurred and weak.
As Observer columnist, Mark Wignall, whose disillusion in his Prime Minister is almost heartbreaking, commented last Thursday,
If I were the representatives on the [police] federation’s negotiating team, I would milk it for all it is worth knowing that she dare not call an election with pressing police matters outstanding.
Today, Monday, the return to the bargaining table had shifted to the inner pages of the newspapers. On the front page were a report on the PNP conference and this …
Kidnappers killed after vehicle chase
Ross Sheil, Staff Reporter
While police were just over a week ago touting the training in the United States of two of its officers as hostage negotiators, one man in St. Ann resorted to more direct methods, crashing his car into kidnappers to rescue his ‘baby mother’ and nine-year-old daughter late Saturday night.
By Sunday morning, Errol Brown had freed the woman and his daughter and both kidnappers were dead following the crash near Fern Gully in St. Ann.
According to Claremont police, the kidnappers had earlier robbed a bar in Golden Grove of cash and goods before the gunpoint robbery and kidnap of Mr. Brown’s child and her mother from their home in Dunnsville.
When The Gleaner chanced upon the scene shortly after midnight, the body of one of the kidnappers was curled up in a police lorry while onlookers stood and watched as the other kidnapper lay still breathing on the road.
Within minutes a car containing the clearly distressed mother and daughter had sped off escorted by police. Police stood over the kidnapper still on the road, eventually bundling him on top of his accomplice in the back of the lorry before driving them away.
Mr. Brown, bloodied and shaken, claimed neighbours had telephoned to alert him of the kidnapping and that he immediately left his home in nearby Constant Gardens in an attempt to head off the kidnappers.
He said that after spotting the older victim’s car, which the kidnappers had also stolen, he took a decision to use his own vehicle, a Toyota Caldina station wagon, to ram the stolen Toyota Corolla station wagon off the road.
“I see it’s her car and I follow it and trail it for about two miles through Colgate and come out to Swansea. Then they start pick up speed and I decide to ram the car into them and we do exactly so,” he claimed matter-of-factly about the crash.
With both kidnappers attempting to escape, Mr. Brown claimed that, with assistance from passersby, he attacked the men. This was confirmed by witnesses The Gleaner spoke with on the scene. Contrary to other accounts, the Ocho Rios CIB reported that a licensed firearm holder had shot the men, who were both pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
This is one of those stories that gives me more questions than answers: Why did the gunmen go kidnapping after having robbed a bar? Why did they target a policeman’s baby mother and daughter? How did Mr Brown get to the kidnappers, and deal with them, before other police arrived? Who exactly shot them? And why has the last line of the report online changed from the printed version that did not include the words, “Contrary to other accounts”? What other accounts??
Unfortunately, I doubt that the questions will even be asked officially. For example, from October 1999 to February this year, Amnesty International reported that, of over 800 police killings, no police officer had ever been convicted or even subject of an independent inquiry.
Apologists for the police talk of a few rotten apples — but as any good housewife knows, rot spreads fast, and a single apple can ruin a whole barrel. I am not a police basher by nature, but the consequences of corruption for many people living in Jamaica are that, caught between criminals and cops, they often do not know which way to turn.
To end on a lighter note, I was told yesterday of a woman caught blatantly speeding on the road to Mandeville. When she asked the police officer if there was not some other way to sort out the problem, she was told that she could go left or right. Seeing her confusion, the police officer explained: “Either I can write you a ticket … or you can left me some cash.”
Grammatical it ain’t, but she got the message and handed over a thousand dollars.
Four more days left for the musical quiz … not a single Jamaican has yet had a go. FYI, all the original tracks or the sampled songs are Jamaican in origin, so go ahead and have a bash.