Justice & Accountability for Police Killings
A collaboration with Jamaicans for Justice to tell the stories behind the numbers
In May of 2010, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding signed an arrest warrant for the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, wanted by U.S. federal prosecutors for drug trafficking. Coke was the don of West Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens neighborhood, respected and feared by residents and law enforcement alike. The hunt for the bigman involved a two-month state of emergency, and began with a three-day raid of West Kingston, in which more than 73 civilians were killed.
Jamaica has one of the world's highest rates of extrajudicial killings. In 2010, one in five killings were at the hands of security forces--not counting those who died in Tivoli Gardens. That summer, as a UC Berkeley Human Rights Fellow, I worked with Jamaica’s leading human rights organization, Jamaicans for Justice, to tell the human stories behind those statistics. Arriving the week following the raid in West Kingston, I interviewed family members still searching for their loved ones, along with others who have spent a decade seeking justice for the death of a son.
The project resulted in the 3-part series of multimedia videos below called “Victims’ Voices.” Each profiles the mother of a son killed by law enforcement, and her struggle for answers, accountability, and justice.
Paulette Wellington opened her apartment doors to the police during the 2010 raid in West Kingston. They said her son, Sheldon Gary Davis, a 29-year-old who suffered from a disability that made it difficult for him to walk, looked like a gunman, and insisted he go with them. Five days later, she found his body at a police station, killed by a bullet to his pelvis.
Paulette’s son Damian Roache was shot dead by police bullets in 2002. The 25-year-old was mentally disabled. Witnesses refute police accounts that the killing involved a shootout. For eight years, Paulette has fought to put her son's killers behind bars.
Jason Smith was returning home from playing basketball when he encountered a police convoy. Carrying no more than a bottle of water and a bag of banana chips, the 15-year-old was fatally assaulted by officers. His mother, Monica, wants to see justice for his killing.
Impact & follow-up
Victims’ Voices Launch
On December 10, 2010, International Human Rights Day, Jamaicans for Justice gathered hundreds of community members, dignitaries, and officials for a public launch of Victims' Voices. A screening of the films was followed by a Q&A with the three women profiled. The story of Sheldon Gary Davis, profiled in Victims’ Voices, was later featured in Amnesty International reports about the state of emergency.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
A year following the raid in West Kingston, Jamaicans for Justice gave a presentation to the IACHR to discuss the human rights situation in the country, and particularly the extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions that took place during the 2010 state of emergency. A clip of Victims’ Voices was shown to commissioners as part of the presentation to illustrate the grave violations of human rights that took place during the raid on West Kingston. Click here to see a video of the presentation.
The extradition of Christopher "Dudus" Coke was also the focus of my Master's dissertation for International and Area Studies at UC Berkeley, "The Impact of the War on Drugs on Security, Legitimacy, and Sovereignty in Jamaica: A Case Study of the Extradition of Christopher "Dudus" Coke."
As Christopher Coke awaited sentencing by a New York federal judge in early 2012, I wrote about the lack of justice for the dozens of Jamaicans killed in the manhunt for Coke. Read the op-ed, "Casualties on the Battlefield of the "War on Drugs," in the Huffington Post.
The stories featured in Victims’ Voices were also made into an audio documentary broadcast on the nationally-syndicated radio program, Making Contact.