Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Blog I Have Been Reluctant to Write

For quite a few reasons, I have been reluctant to write this blog on some happenings involving the police, all of which occurred in the past few weeks.

I was running a few miles from home with a small group one day, when we passed a police car pulled over to the side, and a motorist who was pulled over. We came by at just that precise moment to both see the complaining motorist hand over some money to the policemen, in a way that looked to my untrained eye as if both parties were trying to avoid being seen doing to the handoff.

A week or so later, I was driving through a different neighborhood in the dead of morning, and as many Jamaican drivers do, I paused at the light and went through the red. The number of hijackings in Kingston make stopping at red-lights in the middle of the night a risky proposition.

As I drove through I saw a policemen flagging me down. I pulled over and he asked me "how I could just run through the red light like that?" I explained: "Officer, mi fraid like puss dis time a mawnin'!" (Officer, I am as afraid as a cat at this time of the morning!")

He asked me for my license and registration, and I explained that I had my registration but I did not bring my wallet for safety reasons. He said that I would "definitely be going to court."

A couple of other cars came by, and he pulled them over also. By the time he returned I was getting quite nervous, although not nearly as nervous as I have ever felt in the US whenever I got pulled over (with Rodney King images flashing through my mind.) Basically, he said "I am going to warn you to not go through lights again, and to remind you that we all need to take care of each other, because one hand shakes the other."

I heartily agreed.

Not until I drove off did I realize that I may have promised to support the police with a small cash "contribution" if and when I got stopped the next time, and that the only reason I got off was that I did not have my wallet.

A few weeks ago a Belgian friend of mine told me that she was driving with a European friend of hers when she was also stopped by the police for speeding. She has been living in Jamaica since September.

She was quite direct with her policemen "Is there any way you could take care of this for me, because it would take so much time for me to go in and pay the fine and all that?" She paid him, and was quickly on her way, having saved herself time and money.

I had a mixture of feelings, after my run-in partly due to the way in which the policeman said what he said. Frankly, it felt more the good advice from an older uncle, than what I thought would be a real-life case of "police corruption." It sounded more like a plea for help, than an ominous warning, or some kind of veiled threat. I was quite happy to have gotten off, and felt in my bones that I was so relieved that I might have easily paid over the J$1000 (US16) he was probably looking for.

One thing I am acutely aware of, is how we ordinary Jamaicans contribute to the crime wave that we have experienced for the past 30 years.

As I thought about it some more, I realized that if I had taken the easy way, I would have added to the problem that the police say is at the core of their inability to apprehend criminals -- people do not trust them with inside information.

I could see why.

I felt as if I had the power to buy off a policemen at that stop-light, and that it was just a matter of having the right amount of money at hand. What kinds of crimes could I have purchased my way out of, if I really wanted to, and if I had the cash?

AS I thought about it some more I felt a creeping nakedness... that the barrier I imagined between myself and a criminal out there was simply dissolving before my eyes. It was very disconcerting.

After all, I have already learned that a call to the police is not the first to make. Instead, that call should be made to one's security company. After all, the security companies hire more people than any other industry in the island, and the overall impression is that they are very, very good.

I believe that when it comes down to it that I will gladly spend a day in court, rather than contribute to removing the protection I sometimes like to think I have. Or at least, in my mind I am planning to do so -- we shall see when the time comes.

Incidentally, my reluctance from writing this blog comes from being traces -- that somehow a disgruntled policeman might think I am writing about HIM.

P.S.> There was a cover story in today's Jamaica Gleaner entitled Cop Killings Rise -- Repeat Offenders Causing Concern. The fact is, not a single policeman has been convicted of a shooting crime since 1999. This in a country that has one of the highest rates of police shooting per capita.


At 6/19/2006 4:37 PM, Anonymous B said...

I'm with you on this one. I have always maintained that I will not be paying any policeman to get out of a ticket and contributing to their corruption. If I was wrong then I will take the ticket, and if I wasn't then I will go make my case in court.

P.S. Thanks for the link

At 6/22/2006 8:34 AM, Blogger Fyr said...

I have had no illusions about protection from crimminal activity in this country for as long as I can remember. Call it snobbery, call it upper-class prejudice... I don't care, call it what you must - but when the police force is largely populated by those who barely managed to scrape 4 CXC subjects, who can't speak a word of English and carry a chip on their collective shoulders about who is better off and who isn't.... then people like me have NO protection at all. They look me in the face and see "priviledged" and the attitude that follows is telling. Automatically I "think" I am better than they are... no matter how much truth there may or may not be in that assumption, the logic behind it is where it's all at. *I* will die at the hands of one of the many gunmen who drive by my house at 2am firing their automatic weapons for fun and there will be NO recourse for me.

I never intended to rant on like this, and I apologize profusely. However, I must make the point that this country is a cornucopia of confusion and crossed lines - no one problem is contributory to the state of affairs anymore. It's too many and all overlapping. We are in dire straits.

At 6/22/2006 7:59 PM, Blogger fwade said...

fyr said: "This country is a cornucopia of confusion and crossed lines"

Well said. I have been meaning to write about this for some time, as the rhythm here is SO very different from what a returnee or expat is used to. There is always a feeling that something is about to happen that is surprising, or even shocking,and this feeling can be disconcerting, or thrilling, depending on the moment.

At 6/30/2006 4:54 AM, Blogger Mad Bull said...

I have had a similar experience. At the time, I wasn't the person about to be 'taxed' but I was the reason for him being in a position to be taxed. He really didn't want to spend a day in court, so I forked over some dinero... read all about it here...

At 6/30/2006 4:56 AM, Blogger Mad Bull said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/06/2006 8:10 AM, Blogger fwade said...

mad bull,

Thanks for the link. Now that I read your account, I do recall that very friendly tone.

It was weirdly comforting but dangerous-feeling in a way.

I remember comparing it to the feeling of terror I would feel whenever I was pulled over by a cop in the US. That felt like I was taking my life into my own hands -- especially after the Rodney King episode.

Talk about contrasts...


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