Literate mobs: UWI’s 2006 Brush with Gay Lynching

In this post I reproduce my column in the Sunday Herald, April 2006, Keeping Men Safe at UWI, written  following an unprecedented attack on a man said to have made a pass at a male student on the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus. In that incident a mob of 2000 students descended on the unfortunate man and the security guards concerned actually protected him till the police arrived. But first here is an excerpt from the Gleaner’s editorial on the subject Barbarous bloodlust at UWI, published on April 6, 2006.

What happened was not a reasoned protest against what they consider deviant homosexual behaviour, but rather so violent an overreaction that the police in riot gear had difficulty controlling the mob. Shots had to be fired in the air while some students reportedly hurled missiles at the police. It seems clear that if there had not been strong and timely intervention by the police, the alleged homosexual would probably have been beaten to death.

 And below is the column i wrote in response to the attempted lynching. 

Keeping Men Safe at UWI

So now UWI has joined the exclusive club of tertiary-level institutions in Jamaica turning out bigots and murderers. Depressing, but somehow predictable, isn’t it? First there was NorthernCaribbeanUniversity where a few years ago five students suspected of being homosexual were severely beaten up after which to add insult to injury the university’s rescue vehicles refused to take the students to hospital. Then a year or two ago UTECH students cornered an alleged car thief on campus and killed him in the most barbaric manner suggesting that the expensive education spent on them had left little or no mark.

Now comes the crowning touch, the finale. Students at the crème de la crème of universities in Jamaica, the University of the West Indies, practically murdered a man who wandered onto campus and allegedly made an ‘advance’ towards a male student in one of the bathrooms on campus. It’s entirely possible that the alleged homosexual wasn’t quite right in the head judging by the fact that he had been escorted off campus earlier in the day for loitering on the premises. He came back and peeped at someone using one of the male bathrooms. Instead of politely declining the man’s advances and notifying security the student raised an alarm that summoned forth a mob described as being 2000-strong that proceeded to chase, beat and stab the man who narrowly escaped with his life after the police, with great difficulty, intervened.

What is perhaps even more alarming is the fact that senior lecturers at UWI seem bent on making spurious arguments which sound dangerously as if they are justifying the action of the students. “Imagine that the alleged pervert had entered the female bathroom and it was your daughter, sister, girlfriend or wife” equivocated one pun-derous (stet) academic who writes a column in the Sunday Gleaner.

Needless to say if every man on campus, student or otherwise, who made advances towards a woman, were similarly lynched men would soon become an endangered species. Perhaps male students should take lessons from us females in how to fend off unwanted advances without panicking that their manly virtue is about to be ravished. Isn’t it interesting, said a female colleague, that the slightest homosexual advance on a man is interpreted as a grievous assault almost amounting to rape? Suppose women were encouraged to do the same every time a lecherous male leered at them?

“I’ve always been told that if you’re robbed in downtown Kingston, its better to shout ‘B-man, B-man!’  rather than ‘Thief! Thief!’ quipped a Trini friend when he heard the news. According to him it’s a well-known fact that Jamaicans will barely take notice if they come across a thief or a murderer but confront them with a gay man and they react as if faced with a weapon of mass destruction or the devil himself.

It’s excellent that the University has come out and condemned the near-lynching in no uncertain terms. It must go further however by undertaking educational campaigns to rectify the prevalent mindset among both students and academics. What is absolutely astonishing is that in spite of such outrageous behaviour senior academics are still claiming that Jamaicans are ‘homo-antipathetic’ rather than homophobic. One shudders to think of the kind of research such scholars are producing given that their grasp of reality is so questionable.

It also does the university no good when it issues stern warnings to its students indicating zero tolerance of such violations of human rights when its own senior academics are to be found in the leading newspaper making weak puns about ‘homocide’ and ‘backlash’ in an attempt to underplay the seriousness of the situation. Noteworthy also is the tendency of such academics to be critical of ‘mob behaviour’ rather than the rabid homophobia which fuels such a mentality. Likewise it raises questions about the Gleaner’s own position on the matter that it carries such columns while at the same time thundering against the behaviour of the students in its editorials. All of this is sending mixed signals to young people who it could be argued seem to know no better though they’ve had the benefit of university education. But can they really be blamed when those who teach them prefer to purvey prejudice rather than knowledge?

This is why I thought the campaign by prominent gay rights organizations in the UK and the US against Jamaican DJs and their homophobic lyrics was fundamentally misguided. Most DJs, almost 99% of them have not had the benefit of the kind of education UWI students have had. How and why should anyone expect them to see the light when highly educated students and lecturers do not? Homophobia must be attacked in the places it really spouts from, the numerous fundamentalist churches that spew hatred and ignorance and in institutions of learning, higher or otherwise.

If at all anything was gained by the campaign to educate DJs against expressing homophobic sentiments it has surely been undone by the example of UWI students who not only engaged in flagrant gay-bashing but also vociferously defended their criminal behaviour on national television afterwards. Shame, shame, shame.

13 thoughts on “Literate mobs: UWI’s 2006 Brush with Gay Lynching

  1. Thanks Annie, and I will tweet this. There are many similarities of course… and the concept of “educated/literate mobs” is very disturbing. Shame, indeed.

  2. Pingback: Police arrest guards involved in UTech beating « just telling it as it is

  3. thank you for reposting…just wanted to clarify that a university education may imply broadened horizons and perspectives but does not always change ignorance and prejudice, which can sometimes though necessarily come from ‘moral’ and not intellectual positions

      • The word “university” tends to imply that it is a place that broadens your mind, opens you up to new experiences and ideas, etc. But as you say, perhaps not in this case.

  4. The history of intolerance at UWI is much older than that… I can think of two significant incidents in the summer of 1976 in Taylor Hall and in the following academic year in Chancellor when a molotov cocktail was thrown into a room. What was most appalling was the failure of the authorities to deal robustly with it then and a general acceptance by the majority of the student population that it should be without sanction. Indeed the main suspect in the latter case went on to become President of the Guild. It is institutional homophobia – ingrained in both the formal and informal institutions- and that within the context of the flagrant disregard for fundamental human rights and the dignity of each human being.

    • Thanks for this Michael. It’s horrifying. I also know of cases where the rape of female students was hushed up. In one case two girls narrowly escaped being gang raped by a crowd of male students. when the student newspaper tried to report the incident they were ordered to suppress the info on pain of being closed down or expulsion. Its a discomfiting feeling to realize that you can’t rely on your institutions to do the right thing if their interest is at stake.

      Still the kind of persecution you mention is different and persistent. What does that mean? how should we view the University as a result? i find it hard to have these kinds of discussions in Jamaica…

      • We should see the university as it sees itself: principally as a bastion of orthodoxy. In many ways it has been foremost in the creation of the post-colonial bourgeoisie which has been both half-hearted and hypocritical in its (often non-) advocacy for human-rights.

  5. Oh dear. What happened to the crazy, imperfect and idealistic years of the 1970s? Not seeing that period through rose-colored glasses or anything, but are you telling me that the students of the seventies engaged in similar behavior and embraced such attitudes? That is sad, if so. I tend to think of this as a fairly recent phenomenon. But perhaps the homophobic mob is as you said one part of a semi-institutionalized neglect of human rights that has existed since the colonial era. Nothing to celebrate there for “Jamaica 50.”

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