KINGSTON, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Jamaican women bear the brunt of a “culture of fear” intended to intimidate families and stop them seeking justice for thousands of extrajudicial police killings on the Caribbean island, according to a report from a human rights group.
Women who are already grieving for lost sons, brothers and partners are further traumatized by police who intimidate, harass, and threaten witnesses and relatives of victims of police killings, said Amnesty International.
Police have shown up at homes, hospitals, courts, and even funerals and wakes, researchers said in the report.
“Unlawful killings of young men and terrorizing their relatives into silence seems to be the alternative to proper investigations into crimes,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Jamaica has one of the world’s highest murder rates and is rife with gang violence.
In 2015, there were 1,207 murders, according to government statistics, and since 2000, around 3,000 people, mostly young men living in poor communities, have allegedly been killed by police, the report said.
Police shootings are generally attributed to a “tough on crime” approach, but often disproportionately target poor communities where victims have little recourse, Amnesty said.
“Even if you do follow up with the case, sometimes you don’t have the bus fare, you don’t even have the money to go (to court),” said the sister of one police shooting victim interviewed for the report.
“You give up hope. Because you are fighting a giant …You are a poor man fighting the government. There is no way you can win that case.”
Some women reported struggling to pay rent or buy food after the death of a husband or son while burial expenses and the cost of lawyers and pathologists also put pressure on finances prompting the sale of cars, cows, and other items.
Claims of unwarranted police violence are nothing new to Jamaica.
In 2010, a standoff with drug kingpin Dudus Coke in the Tivoli Gardens area of Kingston and the ensuing police intervention drew international scrutiny after scores of local residents were killed and hundreds arrested.
The incident spurred the creation of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) as an independent police oversight body that has brought some cases to trial.
But even if families get their day in court, the harassment continues, according to the sister of one police killing victim.
“The first day the court was filled with police officers… They came to see who the witnesses were … to intimidate,” she was quoted as saying in the report, “Waiting in vain: Unlawful police killings and relatives’ long struggle for justice”.
Senior police representatives contacted by Amnesty denied receiving any reports of intimidation and harassment from the relatives of victims of police killings.
A spokeswoman for the Jamaican Constabulary Force did not respond requests for comment by email and phone.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who received the Amnesty report, said force should be used “sparingly” by police.
“We reject violence. The government is of the view that the state should set the example and not use violence as a means of conflict resolution,” he said in a statement.
Jamaica has made some progress in response to police killings over the last 20 years, the report said. Killings by police accounted for about 20 percent of killings from 2011 to 2013 but this fell to 11 percent in 2014 and 8 percent by 2015.