Having spent the better part of a decade researching, writing and talking about the rule of law, race, and how law enforcement has affected people’s lives through the years, I am disgusted to see the state of law enforcement today.
The hue and cry against those who enforce our laws are certainly not just in Jamaica as some would like to have you believe. In the great big United States, with its thousands of police departments, it is far worse. As a result, every police actions as it relates to people of color and African-Americans, in particular, has come under immense scrutiny because of the actions of police officers.
In an age when images and video recordings of police-civilian interactions are broadcasted virally across the internet, it appears that police officers have become far more brutal and uncaring about the people they are sworn to protect.
Whether this is so or not, is not for me to say. The fact that images and live videos are so easily available for our viewing may have something to do with that.
What is patently clear though is that the images are not pretty.
The United States, is a country constantly embroiled in racial animosity and strife. It is not always easy to differentiate between good policing and race-based policing when white offices are involved with black suspects.
In Jamaica, the common refrain by those who break the laws is that police arrest them because they are poor. Never mind that the officers are generally just as poor as they are, or poorer.
Stopping a man in Cherry Gardens with a bag containing implements of housebreaking, night or day, elicits that same response.
As a consequence, I am constrained against my gut instincts, when incidents of alleged abuse surfaces, involving black citizens and white police officers.
Nevertheless, the key question I generally ask myself in thse instances is, ‘would the officer black, white Latino or otherwise have acted the way he/she did were the suspects white”?
I am also mindful of the fact that the ability to profile is a vital tool police officers have in their toolkit to help them make policing decisions.
Done well, done right, that deductive reasoning serves our communities very well.
It becomes a problem when rogue elements in law enforcement use it to live out their racist biases in America.
It becomes a problem when brutal cops use it to exact punishment on those they deem powerless in Jamaica.
The rule of law if applied fairly and proportionately is the best method we have to maintain democratic societies. When the laws are applied fairly, justly, equitably and proportionately, in a manner in which all feel equal under the laws, it makes for better societies and a prosperous future for all.
When the poor is made to feel less than in the eyes of the law, or others are made to feel the same way because of their race, sexual orientation,religion, or other distinguishable characteristic societies are less peaceful, less prosperous.
As a consequence the rule of law is heavily dependent of those who enforce our laws to be just and fair.
Unfortunately those who enforce our nation’s laws are weak humans predisposed to the weaknesses of human biases.
The following is one such story from our friends at CNN.com.
Ex-deputy accused of planting drugs on Florida drivers is arrested
(CNN)Florida authorities have arrested a former Jackson County deputy accused of making false arrests after planting drugs on drivers, police said in a statement.The allegations have prompted prosecutors to drop charges in scores of cases.Zachary Wester, 26, was taken into custody at his Crawfordville home, about 20 miles south of Tallahassee, on Wednesday, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He is being held in Wakulla County Jail without bail, the FDLE said.He stands charged with felony counts of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment. He also faces misdemeanor charges of perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, the FDLE said.At least 11 people are suing Wester in federal court for alleged civil rights violations as well.
100+ cases tossed out
At the request of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Wester’s former employer, the FDLE began investigating the deputy in August after bodycam video from a February 2018 arrest appeared to show Wester planting methamphetamine in Teresa Odom’s pickup truck during a traffic stop, FDLE spokesman Jeremy Burns told CNN in September.At the time, the FDLE was reviewing 254 of Wester’s cases, prosecutors said.”The investigation shows Wester routinely pulled over citizens for alleged minor traffic infractions, planted drugs inside their vehicles and arrested them on fabricated drug charges,” the FDLE said in its Wednesday news release, adding that it had reviewed more than 21 hours of footage in its investigation.
It added, “Wester circumvented JCSO’s body camera policy and tailored his recordings to conceal his criminal activity.”Wester’s attorney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.State Attorney Glenn Hess’ office said in September 2018 that 119 cases had been dropped and about 10 people had been released from prison. CNN could not immediately reach Hess on Wednesday, but local media reports indicate the probe has widened since then.Wester was fired September 10. It was not immediately clear how long Wester had been with the department, but the Tallahassee Democrat reported he resigned from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office in May 2016 and later took the job in Jackson County.
‘It damned sure ain’t mine’
Bodycam video from Odom’s February 2018 arrest in Cottondale shows Wester approach the car in a friendly manner and explain to the woman that her brake lights are malfunctioning.He leaves with her license, and as he returns to her vehicle he jokes that his hip almost gave out. Odom tells him her mother is in the hospital and she’s expecting a call from a doctor. Wester tells her that a drug dog is on its way, but Odom says she has nothing in the car and gives him consent to search it.Wester appears to hold something in his left hand as he dons black gloves before the search. His hand moves out of the frame for a few seconds and returns empty. He finishes putting on the gloves and commences with the search.
Bodycam video appears to show Wester planting drugs in Odom’s car last year.After “finding” a bag of white powder in her truck, he places it on the driver seat but doesn’t alert two other deputies on the scene. Instead, he moves it around, first placing it on a spoon and then moving it to the passenger seat. All the while, he continues the chummy banter with Odom.After searching the passenger side of her vehicle, where he had just placed the baggie, he returns to Odom and another deputy with the spoon and powder. Odom says the spoon is for her yogurt but seems surprised by the bag of powder.”That is not mine. No, sir. No, sir,” she says.After the powder tests positive for methamphetamine, Wester tells Odom she’s under arrest as she speaks on the phone with a relative.”He says it tests positive for amphetamine, so I guess I’m going to go to jail,” Odom tells the person on the phone. “It damned sure ain’t mine.”
Case remains open
Three federal lawsuits have been filed against Wester. Eleven people arrested by him claim the ex-deputy framed them, planting some combination of marijuana, methamphetamine, prescription pills or drug paraphernalia, including syringes and scales, in their vehicles after pulling them over for minor infractions. Two lawsuits were filed in December, and another was filed in May.In the most recently filed case, Lora Penn, one of nine plaintiffs, says she was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over June 7, 2018. During the stop, she alleged, Wester placed methamphetamine and a hypodermic needle in her purse.Penn was charged with drug and paraphernalia possession and spent 12 days in jail before “her mother posted bond exhausting her meager financial resources. Penn’s mother was thereafter unable to afford medical care and died due to lack of such care,” the federal lawsuit says.The FDLE, whose investigators have already logged 1,400 hours on the criminal case against Wester, says the probe remains open and encourages anyone with information to come forward.”There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” said Chris Williams, the FDLE’s assistant special agent in charge of the Pensacola office.Prior to his time with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Wester worked in Liberty County. Jack Campbell, the state attorney there, told CNN affiliate WCTV in May that investigators were in the process of “resolving” some cases involving the former lawman. He would not elaborate on how many cases, the station reported.The station has previously reported Campbell was reviewing 26 cases.
CNN’s Amir Vera, Marlena Baldacci and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.