Justice Over Drinks
As we came around the corner, my taxi-driver and I, we broke the stop sign. Standing there was a crew of policeman who promptly pulled us over. They made the appropriate sounds of disapproval before accepting only $500 from my taxi-driver.
It was a gift for them to buy "drinks," although everyone knows that the cost of a "drink" for a policeman runs half the cost of the $7000 traffic ticket. He laughed, grateful that he was let off easily and on we went. After all, he argued, I was his first fare of the morning.
"What can you do for me today?" '
"'Do you want to go right to court? Or lef' something with me? "
"Do you want to go left or right?"
These are the code-words I have learned, as a recent returnee, that policemen use when they are offering to help you to ''help yourself'' out of your predicament. You have been pulled over for a traffic violation, and it is now up to you to decide whether or not to try to get yourself out of it.
At this point, instead of being mad, I only feel a certain pity. At a pay rate that is abysmal, how much can be expected? They have dangerous jobs, in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and they can barely afford to scratch out a basic existence.
Their response is that of the underpaid civil servant the world over - desperate and pathetic.
It is no wonder that the Bob Woolmer investigation seems to have been bungled beyond belief. A Jamaican autopsy takes 20 minutes, and according to the United Nations standard it should take 2-4 hours. We are hardly the more efficient.
In defense of law-breaking motorists, their choice to break a second law is an easy one. A ticket costs them $7000, a whole day in court and 3 points on the license. A bribe (sorry... drink) costs $3000 and an opportunity to give a seemingly charitable gift to a poor, underpaid civil servant.
Here in Jamaica, this is what we do -- we take matters into our own hands. The justice system is so faulty that bypassing it remains the only way to allow life to keep running.
So, we Jamaicans buy lots of ''drinks'' for traffic cops. We block roads when citizens are shot by police. We pull together vigilante squads to hunt down and kill thieves who steal cows and harvest the crops of others. We rent guns and pay gunmen to exact revenge from others.
We do it because it is the only way to get justice in a timely way, as the backlog in the courts makes a mockery of the citizen's attempts to use official channels.
After all, why wait years for the court to do their work, when there are countless guns for hire who are willing to "take care of things" in a matter of days.
Fortunately, a change may be afoot. At the moment, there is a new Chief Justice who has been nominated, due to take office in July. That she is a woman is a good thing, as just about anything that works in Jamaica is run by a woman.
As with Portia, we shall see.
P.S. Not that the problem of police corruption is unique to Jamaica. My sister has encountered much greater corruption in African countries that she has lived in.