Jamaican Dad reflects: My son was no angel, but…

Barrington Fox displays the autopsy report on his son’s death at the hands of the police in 2000. (Photo: Norman Thomas)

(Jamaica Observer) Barrington Fox had always felt that his son would have met a violent death. After all, the 67-year-old admitted that he was unable to control the boy, even before his teenage years.

In 2000, Fox’s worst fears were realised when his son, Joel, was shot dead by the police. According to the cops, the then 18-year-old, after being picked up by them, tried to disarm a female cop while being transported to Constant Spring Police Station. However, another member of the police team shot him.

Two weeks ago Fox, obviously still hurting, reflected on the incident which has resulted in him becoming a human rights activist — helping families who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances.

 

He believes the State and society at large could do more to reform young men who choose a life of crime and violence, instead of “killing them out”, as he put it.

Recalling how his son slipped through his fingers in spite of his desperate attempts to keep him on the straight and narrow, Fox said: “If I am fair within myself, it was clear that it was going to happen. From he was 12 years old I tried to get help for him by going to the police. I wasn’t carrying news on him, but I begged them to help my son, and them never give me no help. He needed guidance, and since he was not listening to me I thought the police would be better able to help him.”

The father told the Jamaica Observer that about a week before his son was killed he pleaded with him to turn from his life of crime.

“About a week or two before his death I confronted him about what I was hearing from other people that he was involved in. That was my last interaction with him and it did not go well, because him say I was taking other people side. But I saw him going on the wrong path and I was trying to get the truth from him and he did not want to listen to me,” Fox said.

Weeks later, police apprehended Fox’s son at his home in the Red Hills Road area.

“He was at home that day and some police officers from the Constant Spring Police Station came to apprehend him. They claim that he tried to disarm an officer on the way to the station. Them beat him to a pulp, handcuff him, throw him in the vehicle and took him away. Somebody who was there when them come for him tell me that them tell him, ‘bwoy, today a your judgement day’. That seal him fate that day,” Fox said.

“I am not going to say my son was an angel, but my problem is, if you accuse somebody of a crime and you apprehend that person, I expect that you are going to carry him to the station. And if you have any proof, you charge him and lock him up. I don’t expect them fi execute him,” he continued.

The father admitted that he was not always around while his son was growing up, and that the mother of his children, from whom he was estranged, was the primary caregiver. But living in the neighbourhood nearby the normally volatile Hundred Lane, Fox said that while he worked late-night shifts as a property caretaker, his son fell in with the wrong crowd.

“I could not stop him from being in the wrong crowd because I wasn’t there all the time. I would go to work in the evenings and come home in the mornings. When I come home I wouldn’t see him, and I didn’t know what he was doing at night when I wasn’t there,” Fox explained.

“But I believe that my son was looking for a mentor and I couldn’t give him that mentorship because of certain other influences in the area. He was allowing himself to be used by these older men who call themselves don and these things. I couldn’t stop it.

“In the early stage he was not a bad child, but around 13 years old him just stop go school. Him believe him a big man and him father not supposed to say anything to him,” Fox lamented.

In an attempt to get his son back in school, Fox said he enrolled him at the HEART Trust/NTA Learning for Earning Activity Programme (LEAP) Centre.

“When I got him into LEAP, he learned very fast. I remember him set up this old radio that was not working, and him fix it up, so he had the ability to do something good. But that didn’t seem like what he wanted, he just wanted to be among the wrong crowd.And from you are in the wrong crowd, the only thing that is going to bring is death — And that was what it bring.”

The loss of his son at the hands of the police spurred Fox to become an active member of the Jamaicans For Justice support group for other parents whose children were either killed or abused by the police. He was also among the individuals who founded Families Against State Terrorism, which operated from 2002-2004.

“I got involved immediately and start to support other family members who lost their child at the hands of the police. I realised that this was not a fight for my son, but a fight for justice; it was a fight for others. I lost my case but that didn’t deter me because it was not about my son again. It was about preventing the police from killing other people,” he said.

“That is why, whenever I hear the police kill anybody else I try to get in touch with that person family and I keep in touch. If there is a court date or a funeral, I am there. I visit with them and support them, get them to go and give statement to the police. These people become like family to me because I want these people to know that they are not alone. It can happen to anybody; and people call me because I can give them direction, so I am still very active.”

Fox said he has also participated in a lot of street demonstrations over the years, along with other groups, “because I don’t believe that my son get justice. The police did not give him a chance by taking him through the justice system”, he complained.

He said that the establishment of the Independent Commission of Investigations resulted from the activism of himself and other individuals.

“That was our fight, because you can’t have a police commit a crime and the police investigate it — So it was not a lost struggle,” he pointed out.

Ultimately, Fox said parents whose children, especially boys, find themselves on the wrong path should seek outside help.

“I would tell other parents out there who have sons like my son: try your best to get help for them. Don’t give up on them. Right now I am here sick and if he was around maybe him would be the one to come and look for me and do things for me that I would want to get done,” said Fox.

“Who to tell? Maybe he could have turned his life around. We can’t condemn the youth them because them might start on a wrong path. What they need is guidance, and sometimes the parents alone can’t even guide them. Not that the parents’ guidance is not enough, but a parent can do so much and no more,” Fox said.

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