Sun | Dec 10, 2023

Letter of the Day | Could Tyre Nichols incident happen in Jamaica?

Published:Monday | February 6, 2023 | 12:14 AM


Tyre Nichols, could his case happen here in Jamaica? Well, if yes, of course, it happens all the time. Was it racist? Yes, of course, just as it is in Jamaica with a social-class element too. Is it about power? Exactly so, which is what differentiates prejudice from racism. Was it committed by bad apples? Perhaps, but it is also systemic in that the bad apples are rarely removed.

It has been some days since the murder of Tyre Nichols, a young black man, by five black police officers. From the start it was clear that a young white man would not have been treated so badly by the police, and that medical assistance would have been rendered more quickly. Also, did the Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis feels she had to dismiss the black officers quickly to prove that as a black woman, she wasn’t biased? Would five white policemen have been dismissed so quickly without this race-factor at play? Would the system have protected them anyway?


In a discussion on CNN Ibram Kendi, co-author of How to Be a (Young) Antiracist, agreed that beyond the racist aspect, such incidents in the United States are about the abuse of power, which only thrives when there are no effective sanctions, when the system itself is also abusive. He elaborated in a way that is so applicable to Jamaica. When the powers-that-be hold certain people, or groups of people in contempt, not deserving of respect, the ‘operatives’ will follow their lead and feel justified in their abusive actions whether they are of the same ‘race’, or not. This is yet another example of blaming the victims which is a common ploy of those struggling to maintain their version of order, an unjust one that means there can be no peace.

In Jamaica, the ‘untouchables’ are the working-class male youths who apparently have a right to be hounded by the security forces, swept up and detained for extended periods before most are released without charge. Worse still the police act as judge, jury and executioner, aided and abetted by the statements, ancient and modern, of various senior politicians (the powers-that-be). And now the Jamaican police force will be emboldened not just by their guns, but also by the new Road Traffic Act.

Remember, Tyre Nichols was pulled over by traffic police for no other reason than he was ‘driving while black’.

Also on CNN was the interview with Benjamim Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, whose attitude towards Palestinians is exactly the same as these other power-corrupted racists. He described Palestinians as loving death, as opposed to Israelis loving life, such that he dismissed a two-state solution because Palestinians could not be trusted to have security responsibility in any such arrangement. Not too different to what the British would have been saying not too long ago about their ‘unruly, unready’ colonial ‘subjects’. It is indeed a concern if the Holness administration is still taking ‘security’ advice from Netanyahu, driven to even greater abuse of power because of the far-right extremists now in his coalition, including his minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

There can be no peace without justice. But justice requires challenging the system, speaking (informed) truth to power. The powers-that-be choose whether the process will be ugly, or not.