Jamaica protesters call for end to police killings

March 27, 2012 - 6:36 PM

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Elaine Wilson's voice rose in anger Tuesday as she described a police shooting in her impoverished community that she claims killed her 45-year-old sister almost two weeks ago.

Wilson was among roughly 60 protesters who gathered outside Jamaica's security ministry in a rare street demonstration to demand an end to police shootings.

She said officers shot wildly during a March 16 raid in her poor Cassava Piece neighborhood. Her sister Diane Gordon, a mother of two, was fatally shot in the head on the street as she returned from a child's wake.

Police say Gordon was killed during a shootout between officers and gunmen, but residents deny there were gunmen in the area.

"I just want justice and for the killing to stop," Wilson said at the protest, clutching a sign reading: "Peace cannot be built on impunity."

The demonstration was organized by Jamaicans for Justice, a human rights group on the Caribbean island.

Protesters carried photographs of shooting victims and held placards denouncing police violence. "No state killings, stop legalized murders," one sign proclaimed.

Gordon's death is among roughly 50 police killings in Jamaica so far this year, nearly 30 of them in March. The killings, mostly in densely packed ghettos, have alarmed politicians on both sides of the politically divided island.

"The firing of high-powered weapons at close range in these communities is absolute madness. It seems, unfortunately, that this is a pattern of behavior that has emerged," opposition lawmaker Karl Samuda said after Gordon's death.

After the demonstration, National Security Minister Peter Bunting met with a delegation of protesters and said the government is committed to reducing the level of violence and crime.

"I think the outrage and anger over the recent loss of a number of innocent lives is an appropriate response and an encouraging signal that the society is growing intolerant of the subculture of violence that has developed over a number of decades," Bunting said.

Police leaders say the department is striving to battle heavily armed criminals and tries to cooperate with communities in the fight against crime.

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington acknowledged in a statement to officers Friday that there has been "an abnormal increase in civilian fatalities arising from armed confrontation with criminal suspects in a very short period of time."

Ellington said the police force has moved away from routinely using M-16 assault rifles and carbines in street level policing, replacing them with MP-5 submachine guns and Glock pistols. Pepper spray will also be reintroduced to some 6,000 officers.

There were 211 reported police killings last year on the island of 2.8 million people.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd