Opposition Leader Mark Golding has described as “ill-advised”, a statement that was made by National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, in which he stated that police officers should “fire back” if gunmen engage them in fire fights.
Some human rights and civil groups, such as Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) and Stand Up Jamaica, as well the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), have lambasted Chang for the remarks he made in Westmoreland on Thursday.
The human rights groups and INDECOM have insisted that Chang’s statement was seemingly suggesting that police officers should “shoot to kill” when confronted by armed criminals, and said he should retract the comments.
Chang, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, did not exactly use the term “shoot to kill”.
“They (the police) not out there shooting down people like that. There are fatal shootings because man shoot gun after dem. I not telling police not to fire back, and a say it right here in Westmoreland, I not sending no ambulance out there either,” declared Chang.
“Anytime a man take up a gun after police, I expect the (police) commissioner to train the police when they must not miss,” he indicated.
For Golding, the way in which Chang framed his statement is controversial, and it sends the wrong signal.
The PNP president made the comments during a press conference following day two of the party’s private session of its annual conference with its delegates and other party officials at Jamaica College on Saturday.
“I think the way in which it was framed is very controversial, and sends the potential signal of endorsing unlawful killings, and that, I think, is unfortunate,” Golding remarked.
He elaborated that, “The reality is the police, any citizen, has the right to self-defence when they are under attack, and lethal force is used because it is necessary to defend oneself. That is lawful.
“On the other hand, telling police to shoot to kill when they are engaged goes beyond that, because it may cover circumstances in which it is not necessary to end someone’s life to apprehend them.
“So, from that point of view, I think it was an ill-advised statement,” Golding contended.
He also took note of a statement that was made on Twitter by Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) with responsibility for information, Robert Morgan, who said he stood with Chang amid the rising criticisms of his comments.
“I stand with Dr Chang and the police. If a criminal confronts you using deadly force, protect your life and that of our citizens,” tweeted Morgan on Friday.
In returning to the deputy prime minister’s remarks, Golding pointed to a recent opinion poll which showed that 93 per cent of Jamaicans surveyed for the poll felt that Chang was not able to do the job as national security minister.
Dr Horace Chang (file photo)
Based on that, the Opposition leader said: “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s (Chang) is trying to step out and show that he is being forceful and strident.”
Still, Golding is of the view that the minister went a bit too far in this instance, and said he should have framed “his language” in a way that was appropriate for a minister of Government.
“I think that the idea that the police have the right to defend themselves and that there are circumstances (in) which lethal force is justifiable in law, is true, and I support that.
“… But to say, generally speaking, that police must shoot to kill when they’re engaged goes too far, because there are circumstances in which it is possible to enforce the law (and) apprehend offenders without taking a life,” stated Golding.
Here is the full context of the statement made by Chang at the ground-breaking for the Frome Police Station in Westmoreland.
“In the old days, they use to criticise the police for extra-judicial killing. At the same time, what some used to praise the police for is when they form some special squad and shoot down a bad man, but we equip the police (and) they operate professionally. They not out there shooting down people like that.
“There are fatal shootings because man shoot gun after dem. I not telling police not to fire back and a say it right here in Westmoreland, I not sending no ambulance out there either.
“Anytime a man take up a gun after police, I expect the (police) commissioner to train the police when they must not miss.
“Don’t want them come give no trouble at hospital. When they get hurt, they get hurt. Once you pull a gun on a police officer, you must prepare to deal with the consequences. You know, at the hospital it cost $10 million to save (the) life of a gunman who shoot people and shoot at police. Not into that!
“When criminal see police come, they must surrender and come in. They are entitled to a fair trial. That’s why I emphasise (that) we are providing the court with that what they require to operate. An efficient system.
“I can’t tell the judges what to do, but I can give them the laws and a good courthouse, and that is what we are doing, and we are training the police officers to prepare the cases well.
“So, they have a good forensic lab and the tools to work. And I want to assure the country that I take the job personally, seriously, and the Government takes it seriously,” said Chang.