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Jamaican authorities and local police are promoting a culture of fear amongst women and their families in marginalized communities to cover up thousands of alleged unlawful police killings amid systematic injustice, Amnesty International said in a new report today.
Waiting in vain: Unlawful police killings and relatives' long struggle for justice explores the catalogue of illegal tactics used by police across Jamaica to ensure relatives of victims of unlawful killings by the police do not pursue justice, truth and reparation for their loved ones. This includes systematic intimidation, harassment and threats against relatives at home, work, hospitals, and even during funerals.
"Jamaica's shocking culture of fear and violence is allowing police officers to get away with hundreds of unlawful killings every year. Shocking injustice is the norm," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
"Unlawful killings of young men and terrorizing their relatives into silence seems to be the alternative to proper investigations into crimes. Over the last two decades, Jamaica's 'fight violence with violence' approach to crime is not only short-sighted but has proven utterly ineffective in tackling the root causes of violence."
Jamaica has long had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2015 alone, there were 43 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Eight percent of these were at the hands of law enforcement officials.
Since 2000, law enforcement officials in Jamaica have allegedly killed more than 3,000 people - mostly young men living in marginalized communities. Despite overwhelming evidence of police involvement in the crimes, to Amnesty International's knowledge, only a handful of officers have been convicted of murder since then.
The Jamaican police continue to use long-standing and well-documented illegal practices following fatal shootings. These include altering crime scenes, planting weapons on victims, and threatening victims' relatives to dissuade them from reporting abuses to the authorities.
Many relatives of people killed by the police have been harassed at home, in the courts, in hospitals and even at their loved ones' funerals.
Families said male relatives of victims had been unlawfully detained and beaten in detention. In several cases relatives alleged that police officers had killed witnesses in suspected extrajudicial executions. Others spoke of women relatives who had left their communities and even the country to escape intense police intimidation and harassment. Low-income families had little option but to remain in their communities, in extreme fear of reprisals.
The aunt of Shaniel Coombs - who was killed, allegedly by police officers, in Rennock Lodge, East Kingston, on 10 May 2014 - told Amnesty International that after he was killed: "We had the body at home and we were mourning. And the police came, a lot of them, taking up the coffin... drawing it out... I had to call the Minister to ask him to allow us to grieve in peace. I think the Minister called them and then they left. But they have been harassing our family bitterly."
The brother of Nakiea Jackson, a restaurant operator who was shot dead by police on 20 January 2014 in downtown Kingston, said: "The first day the court was filled with police officers... They came to see who the witnesses were... to intimidate. The judge told them to leave the court house. Many times police officers just show up to intimidate."
Efforts by authorities in Jamaica have gone some way to reduce the number of unlawful killings by police - which have halved between 2014 and 2015.
However, these efforts have so far failed to tackle the structural problems that allow security forces to continue to murder people in large numbers and avoid justice.
Many of those interviewed by Amnesty International believe the reduction in killings could be a temporary lull provoked by the initial deterring effect of investigation and prosecution by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), a police oversight mechanism established in 2010, rather than structural reform of the internal operation of the police.
According to a 2008 report by the US-based George Washington University Law School and Jamaicans for Justice, less than 10% of all cases of killings by police since 1999 had reached the criminal courts.
After setting up INDECOM, Jamaica established a Special Coroner's Court in 2011 to conduct inquests into cases of suspected police killings. However, the paltry budget allocations to the court seriously hinders its capacity.
As of July 2016, INDECOM had charged nearly 100 officers with various offences, but chronic delays and backlogs in the justice system have resulted in only eight cases completing trial and of those only one murder conviction being secured.
By 2013, the Special Coroner's Court had a backlog of 300 cases and as of 2016, INDECOM has more than 1,000 open investigations.
Witnesses to police misconduct are discouraged from coming forward, both out of fear and a lack of access to free legal representation. Police officers, by contrast, are all provided with legal representation.
As the sister of Aneika Hayden, who was killed during a law enforcement operation in 2009, told Amnesty International: "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]. You give up hope. Because you are fighting a giant. You are thinking, how can you win. It's the government. You are a poor man fighting the government. There is no way you can win that case."
Amnesty International acknowledges that Jamaica's security forces work under difficult conditions. According to senior police, long hours, low pay, limited respect for work-life balance and dangerous working environments make it very difficult to retain officers. In 2015, 415 police officers resigned. Between 2005 and 2015, 27 on-duty police officers were killed in security operations.
"If authorities in Jamaica are serious about tackling the country's shocking levels of police killings and violence they must urgently promote a deep police and justice reform to address not only the number of police murders but the root causes of the problem," said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
"This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods," said one advocate.
Indigenous and green groups on Wednesday applauded the Biden administration for reinstating protections for millions of acres of wilderness in Alaska's Tongass National Forest that were lifted during a Trump-era regulatory rollback spree.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Wednesday that it has finalized protections for the Tongass National Forest by restoring "longstanding roadless protections to 9.37 million acres of roadless areas that support the ecological, economic, and cultural values of Southeastern Alaska."
The Roadless Rule was established in 2001 to protect wilderness areas in U.S. national forests from roads and logging. The administration of former President Donald Trump rescinded the rule in 2020 amid a flurry of regulatory rollbacks, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of Indigenous, conservation, and business organizations. The Biden administration subsequently committed to reviving the Roadless Rule in 2021.
"As our nation's largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Wednesday. "Restoring roadless protections listens to the voices of tribal nations and the people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region's economy."
\u201cThe moment we\u2019ve been waiting for! \ud83c\udf32\ud83c\udf89 Roadless Rule protections have OFFICIALLY been reinstated in Tongass National Forest! This will restore federal protection to just over 9 million undeveloped acres in America\u2019s largest national forest.\u201d— The Wilderness Society \ud83c\udf33 (@The Wilderness Society \ud83c\udf33) 1674680022
According to the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife:
The Tongass contains rare expanses of pristine old-growth forest and as many as 17,000 miles of creeks, rivers, and lakes. These waters abound with all five species of Pacific salmon, which anchor the economy of Southeast Alaska. Approximately 1 million visitors come from all over the U.S. and internationally each year to see its glaciers, old-growth forests, and abundant wildlife.
The Tongass supports an incredible array of biodiversity and is home to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, brown bears, bald eagles, northern goshawks, and Pacific marten, among others. The Tongass is also one of the world's largest carbon reservoirs, storing the equivalent of about 8% of the carbon stored in all the U.S. forests combined. In addition, a broad coalition of tribal leaders, outdoor recreation businesses, and conservationists in Southeast Alaska have fought to preserve the region's remaining cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees.
"The restoration of National Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest is a great first step in honoring the voices of the many tribal governments and tribal citizens who spoke out in favor of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass," said Naawéiyaa Tagaban, the environmental justice strategy lead at Native Movement. "We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this first step toward long-term protections for the Tongass. We hope that going forward true long-term protections will be established that do not rely on a rule which can be changed at the whim of a presidential administration."
"The administration must look to tribal sovereignty and Indigenous stewardship as the true long-term solution for protections in the Tongass," Tagaban added. "Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people have lived in and managed the Tongass national forest for generations; true protections will look like the restoration of lands into Indigenous ownership."
\u201cBREAKING: The Biden administration has finalized the Roadless Rule on the Tongass! This is thanks to years of hard work by Tribes, small businesses, conservation groups, and Tongass supporters like yourself! \n\nFor more information, see https://t.co/pORem4DCcM \n\n#ProtectTheTongass\u201d— SEACC (@SEACC) 1674679664
Kate Glover, senior attorney at EarthJustice, said her group applauds the Forest Service "for making good on its commitment to tribes and to the climate by restoring the Roadless Rule across the Tongass. This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods."
Teague Whalen, who owns Tongass Teague, asserted that "there are two uncompromising realities for the survival of life on this planet: clean air and clean water."
"My hiking tours into the Tongass begin at the literal end of our road, where the Roadless Rule reinstatement will ensure that the Tongass can continue to be a lasting carbon sink," Whalen added.
"DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors," said prospective plaintiff Elijah Edwards.
Three high school students represented by attorney Benjamin Crump are planning to sue Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for rejecting a new high school Advanced Placement African-American studies course, the prominent civil rights lawyer said Wednesday.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, DeSantis rejected the pilot course in AP African-American studies being tested by the College Board—the organization behind the SAT exam—as he believes it "lacks educational value" and violates the state's Stop WOKE Act by promoting critical race theory (CRT). There is little to no evidence that CRT—a graduate-level academic discipline examining systemic racism—is being taught in any K-12 school in Florida, or anywhere in the United States.
"Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?"
"We are here to give notice to Gov. DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African-American studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida, that these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit," Crump said during a Wednesday press conference at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, referring to students Elijah Edwards, Victoria McQueen, and Juliette Heckman.
Victoria McQueen, a junior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, said that "there are many gaps in American history regarding the African-American population. The implementation of an AP African-American history class will fill in those gaps."
"Stealing the right for students to gather knowledge on a history that many want to know about because it's a political agenda goes to show that some don't want... the horrors this country has done to African-Americans to finally come to light," she added.
\u201cLIVE NOW: A \u2018Stop the Black Attack\u2019 rally is being held in response to FL Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to block an Advanced Placement course on African American studies https://t.co/wDRhWv433m\u201d— NowThis (@NowThis) 1674668042
In Florida, those "horrors" include the centuries-long experiences of slavery and Jim Crow, including 20th-century atrocities like the Ocoee and Rosewood massacres and lynchings like the Newberry Six —events that shaped the state's modern history.
Another one of the students, high school sophomore Elijah Edwards, said that "Gov. DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors."
"I thought here in this country, we believe in the free exchange of ideas, not the suppression of it," he added.
Also present at the press conference were Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-63), Florida Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Dianne Hart (D-61), state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-35), American Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer Fedrick Ingram, and National Black Justice Coalition executive director David Johns.
"By rejecting the African-American history pilot program, Ron DeSantis clearly demonstrated he wants to dictate whose story does and doesn't belong," said Driskell.
He wants to control what our kids can learn based on politics, not on sound policy. He repeatedly attacks the First Amendment rights of Floridians with books being banned from libraries and classrooms and now throwing his weight against this AP African-American history course. He is undermining the rights of parents and students to make the best decisions for themselves. He wants to say that I don't belong. He wants to say you don't belong... But we are here to tell him, we are America. Governor, Black history is American history and you are on the wrong side of history.
Acknowledging that the course "will be altered and resubmitted and most likely they'll be able to make enough changes for the governor to approve it," Driskell asked, "but at what cost? Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?"
\u201cWhen DeSantis taught school, according to some of his students, he told them that the Confederacy had a point because they "lost property" and that abortion "was wrong". Hypocrite. Was that HIS WOKE agenda? \nVisit https://t.co/LNnmmhjyvZ.\u201d— Dr. Marvin Dunn (@Dr. Marvin Dunn) 1674575816
"Accurately teaching our history is not political until others make it so," Driskell asserted. "How is political to talk about the struggles we've endured? How is political to talk about and to remember our history?"
"The truth is the truth; you can't change it, it simply is," she added. "But if you try to sugarcoat it, if you refuse to teach it accurately, then the truth can be suppressed, it can be diminished, and if we're not vigilant, it can even be erased."
The governor also signed a law requiring "media experts" to ensure that all books in Florida classrooms are "free of pornography," are "appropriate for the age level and group," and contain no "unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination." Violators face felony charges, leading some teachers to cover or remove books from their classroom libraries for fear of running afoul of the law.
\u201cMy latest. \n\nBlack journalists knew from the jump that the end game of the CRT panic was to justify legalizing anti-Black efforts.\n\nFlorida and DeSantis are showing us what was under their *ahem* hoods this entire time. \n\nhttps://t.co/3dtnSB0lXu\u201d— Karen Attiah IS ON INSTAGRAM @karenattiah (@Karen Attiah IS ON INSTAGRAM @karenattiah) 1674666471
DeSantis stridently touts himself as a champion of "freedom."
"Together we have made Florida the freest state in these United States," he said during his 2022 State of the State address. "While so many around the country have consigned the people's rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom's vanguard."
"The decision to halt fracking was exceedingly well-reasoned, and I hope the court rejects the oil industry's reckless attempt to overturn the 9th Circuit's ruling," said one campaigner.
The American Petroleum Institute and a pair of oil companies filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in a bid to overturn a lower federal court ruling that blocked fracking in public waters off California's coast.
"The decision to halt fracking was exceedingly well-reasoned, and I hope the court rejects the oil industry's reckless attempt to overturn the 9th Circuit's ruling," Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in a statement. "Fracking is dangerous to whales, sea otters, and other marine wildlife, and this dirty, harmful technique has no place in our ocean."
CBD and the Wishtoyo Foundation sued the Trump administration to stop offshore fracking in 2016. Then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a similar case.
In 2018, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez ordered a prohibition on permits for offshore fracking in federal waters off California, ruling that the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) had failed to adhere to multiple federal laws.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gutierrez's decision last June, arguing that the DOI violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act when it allowed fracking in offshore oil and gas wells in all leased public waters off California.
In late August, the Biden administration, of which Harris is the vice president, asked the 9th Circuit for an en banc review to overturn the panel's ruling.
The Biden administration's request, which drew the ire of environmentalists because it would have enabled offshore fracking to resume, was denied in September.
"Fracking is dangerous to whales, sea otters, and other marine wildlife, and this dirty, harmful technique has no place in our ocean."
In its June ruling, the 9th Circuit stated that the DOI "should have prepared a full [environmental impact statement] in light of the unknown risks posed by the well stimulation treatments and the significant data gaps that the agencies acknowledged."
Instead, the agency "disregarded necessary caution when dealing with the unknown effects of well stimulation treatments and the data gaps associated with a program of regular fracking offshore California in order to increase production and extend well life," the 9th Circuit wrote.
The panel's decision prevents the DOI from issuing fracking permits until it completes Endangered Species Act consultations and published an environmental impact statement that "fully and fairly evaluate[s] all reasonable alternatives."
In addition to the fact that offshore fracking increases planet-wrecking greenhouse gas emissions, tens of millions of gallons of toxic fracking wastewater have been dumped into the ocean since 2010.
According to CBD scientists, "At least 10 chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including sea otters, fish, leatherback turtles, and whales."