The Burdens of Cooliedom

People always assume because I’m from India that my interest in the Caribbean must lie exclusively in the Indian components of the Caribbean. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’ve been so little interested in matters pertaining to the Indian diaspora that it wasn’t until last month (after 25 years of being here), when I had to write a review essay of Gaiutra Bahadur’s superb Coolie Woman: An Odyssey of Indenture that I really started delving into the history of Indian indentured labour in the Caribbean.

And having done so I’m finding it difficult to avert my gaze. Like myself not many Indians seem familiar with this classic example of subaltern history that is slowly coming to light once again with books like Bahadur’s. Scholars have studied and written on the subject for many years but it takes a book like Coolie Woman to bring the troublesome subject of indenture to the forefront of what I think of as the popular sphere.

 

Between 1838 and 1917 around half a million Indians were brought to the Caribbean to serve as indentured laborers on three to five year contracts, replacing the loss of free labor after plantation slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Around 238,000 of these laborers were brought to British Guiana to perform the back-breaking work of cultivating sugarcane. For a description of the kind of people who made the journey let’s turn to Rahul Bhattacharya, the writer I mentioned in my last post, from his novel The Sly Company of People Who Care:

MEANWHILE ship upon ship of coolies from India kept coming – and kept coming steadily for almost another eighty years, by which time they outnumbered the Africans in Guyana. It is a forgotten journey; few, even in India, are now aware of it. The history was too minor compared to slavery and the Middle Passage, its damage not so epic. The ships sailed from Calcutta, and a few from Madras. The immigrants were drawn mainly from the peasant population in the Gangetic plains of the United Provinces–modern-day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar–and a minority from the presidencies of Bengal and Madras. They were mostly young and middle-aged, mostly male (which led to the sensation of ‘wife murders’ arising from jealousy), mostly Hindu, and mostly taken from the agricultural castes, lower castes and outcastes. The largest caste groups were the chamars, the lowly leather workers, and the ahirs, the cowherds. What was common to them was the fate they were escaping: the famines and revolts, the poverty and destitution of British India. Making their way, that is, from the mess of one end of empire to another.

Lured by local recruiting agents and their tales about the land of gold, they set out to cross the seas. Crossing the sea: kalapani: this was the great Hindu taboo. It came with a loss of caste, of one’s place in the social order – but also, for the wretched, a liberation. When victuals among the castes spilled and mixed on the stormy waters, when each person was treated by the white man with equal indignity, the curse of being judged by birth was lifted. From here on they could be anything.

In her book Mobilizing India Tejaswini Niranjana  (citing Hugh Tinker) points out that the anti-indenture movement in the early part of the 20th century was Mahatma Gandhi’s first major political intervention in India during which he gave anti-indenture speeches all over the country. Anita Desai records how, ‘It was a shock to Gandhi to find that in South Africa he was considered a “coolie”—in India the word is reserved for a manual laborer, specifically one who carries loads on his head or back. In South Africa the majority of Indians was composed of Tamil, Telugu, and Bihari laborers who had come to Natal on an agreement to serve for five years on the railways, plantations, and coal mines. They were known collectively as “coolies,” and Gandhi was known as a “coolie barrister.”’ It was also the first such campaign fought entirely in India rather than metropolitan Britain. By 1915 it had become a central issue in Indian politics. As Bahadur notes:

The policy made indenture a cause for the nationalists, who saw it as an insult to their dignity and self-respect, an attempt to make Indians permanent coolies in the eyes of the world..indenture offended the pride of Indians by “brand[ing] their whole race in the eyes of the British colonial empire with the stigma of helotry. But this shame over reputations as slaves paled in comparison to their anger over the sullied reputations of their women.

In the review essay I mentioned at the top of this post I dive in-depth into the politics of the struggle over the status and conduct of indentured Indian women, about how Indian nationalists were incensed by the “harlots of empire” even more than the danger of being branded the helots of empire. I had to look up what helot meant actually–an interesting word meaning serfs or slaves–with a history dating back to Spartan times and referring to a subjugated population group from Laconia and Messenia who became state-owned serfs whose job it was to cultivate land to feed and clothe the Spartans. Their status was in-between that of freed people and slaves.

For purposes of this post I want to stick to the other problem that worried Indian nationalists–that of being regarded as “permanent coolies” in the eyes of the world. It was one I found rearing its ugly head unexpectedly and perhaps by mistake when I first posted the link to Bahadur’s Coolie Woman on Facebook. “‘Indian woman’ not ‘Coolie woman’” a well-meaning African-Jamaican friend responded, a bald declaration that crept under my skin and niggled at it. After an inconclusive back and forth during which she firmly maintained that the word “Coolie” was too disrespectful a term to use while I rankled at her presumption in blithely determining the vocabulary a young descendant of indenture was permitted to employ, I snapped something to the effect that the word ‘coolie’ is a living word in India today and is by no means a synonym for its 2 billion strong population.

I’m convinced my Facebook friend didn’t mean to conflate the terms ‘Indian’ and ‘coolie’–and surely if we don’t want to be branded by the word we should demolish the conditions that continue to give it currency in the 21st century, not abroad now but at home–but I realise that the C-word as Bahadur calls it in her book, has a Caribbean history reflected in the discomfort my friend showed when she tried to erase it. In places like Jamaica there were arguments in the local press about what ‘Coolie’ meant and to whom it could be applied  which you can see reflected in the letters to the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner appended above and below.

 

Laxmi and Ajai Mansingh, colleagues from India who worked at the University of the West Indies, produced a book on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indians in Jamaica in which they note:

In Jamaica, the term ‘coolie’ was legally banned in the 1950s because it was used in a derogatory sense for an ethnic minority. This process began when the founder-President of the East India Progressive Society (EJPS), Dr. J. L. Varma, was popularly (but not abusively) referred to as ‘coolie doctor’. The EJPS then moved the government to ban the use of the term.

Now my Facebook friend’s squeamishness at the use of the term ‘Coolie’ becomes clearer. But although laudable I wonder whether banning words or proscribing them ever achieves the desired outcome. Should we be trying to sanitize history or recording it in all its ugliness for the benefit of future generations? Can we ever liberate the word ‘Coolie’ from the unbearable weight of its history if its contemporary namesakes continue to work under the backbreaking conditions they do? These are hard questions for hard times.

This article was first posted on my EPW blog (Economic and Political Weekly, India)

Parsing Vybz Kartel’s Sentence

 

Often in the course of his prolonged trial I found myself wondering if the rollercoaster life of Adidja Palmer aka Vybz Kartel was scripted by someone channeling Breaking Bad, the wildly popular American TV series about the rise and fall of a chemistry teacher turned meth dealer.  By the time the trial ended I knew it was nothing of the sort, just another wildly original Jamaican libretto. Described by some as the country’s pre-eminent lyricist, for more than a decade Kartel ruled the roost in Jamaica as its reigning dancehall deejay (”a genre that is to the roots reggae of Bob Marley as hip-hop is to R&B”), his street cred extending far beyond Kingston, into the nooks and crannies of ghettoes all over the Caribbean, into urban America and as far away as Africa where his Gaza Empire has spawned copycats.

By late 2013 Vybz Kartel, 38, was being portrayed by the police and the justice system as Public Enemy No. 1. His fame and fortune notwithstanding, on April 3, 2014, Adidja Palmer was sentenced to life in prison with no parole possible before 35 years, after the court gave itself an extra week to determine whether the embattled DJ should be allowed to make music while incarcerated.  He had been found guilty almost 3 weeks earlier, along with three others, of the murder of one Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams, a dancer and foot soldier in the small army of roughly 30 men that constituted Vybz Kartel’s entourage. These men ensured that Kartel’’s interests were looked after and his bidding done at all times.

Courtroom runnings

It was a dramatic trial with twists and turns that kept the nation in suspense till the very end. As the Prosecution laid it out, Lizard ran afoul of the popular deejay because he and Chow, another member of the entourage, were given two of Kartel’s (illegal) guns, then failed to produce them when asked for their return.  After several futile attempts to get the guns back, Lizard and Chow were summoned to Kartel’s house where there was a confrontation between them and Kartel’s cronies. Chow managed to get away, later becoming the Prosecution’s star witness, but Lizard was bludgeoned to death.

Although the hapless dancer’s body has yet to be found Vybz Kartel and six members of his entourage were taken into police custody in September 2011. Kartel’s defence team made repeated attempts to secure bail for him but were systematically rebuffed on the grounds that the Police had good reason to believe he would try and leave the country if granted bail. Rumours were rife that the reason for this unprecedented incarceration was that the police had incontrovertible evidence, including video footage taken from the deejay’s phone, that incriminated Adidja Palmer and his co-accused.

The swirling rumours proved to be true. The trial was prosecuted largely on circumstantial evidence— involving sensational  Blackberry messages, video footage and voice notes downloaded from the deejay’s cellphone in which Kartel’s voice could be heard making threats about what he would do if the guns, coded as ‘shoes’ weren’t returned. ‘If dem want dem fren fi live dem fi return mi shoes’ he is heard to say on Voice Note 2. In other messages he asks for information on countries he might travel to, the Bahamas for instance, lending credence to the Police’s concern that he might skip bail if granted it.

The Defence team did not dispute that the voice heard in the notes was Kartel’s. Instead their strategy was to prove that the cellphones in question had not been properly secured by the police, who were careless about maintaining the chain of custody, making it possible for the notes to have been tampered with or manipulated. They also proved that other key items of evidence such as a backup disc provided by the phone company and a notebook belonging to a policeman witness had gone missing. They were able to show also that Kartel’s phone had been used three hours after being taken into police custody.

The long and tension-filled trial lasted nearly four months, ending suddenly on March 13, on the sixth day of the Judge’s summation, after a juror was accused of attempting to bribe the foreman of the jury and fellow jurors. Despite this dramatic development, which might have derailed the case had the Judge called for a mistrial, the trial was hastily concluded with the jury delivering a ten to one guilty verdict.

Judge Lennox Campbell’s instructions to the jury explained the legal doctrine to be used in deciding Vybz Kartel’s guilt—that of common design. After all there was no direct evidence to prove that the deejay himself had participated in the murder. As Judge Campbell explained “…The scope was to kill Clive Lloyd Williams for the loss of a firearm. The law of Common Design is – as long as you participate knowing that was the ultimate end it doesn’t matter that you didn’t pull the trigger; it doesn’t matter that you didn’t wield the knife; it doesn’t matter that you didn’t administer the poison. Common Design can encompass a person at a gate as look out man for the police. As long as he’s there to look out, he can be charged for murder.”

The kind of security put in place by the Jamaican Police on the day of the verdict and again on the day of the sentencing, suggested that this was the trial of someone far more important than a mere music personality.  The Police blocked major roads leading to the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston, placed Police personnel in riot gear at strategic points and patrolled the area around the court with mounted Police. The diminutive Judge, known informally as Little Lenny, appeared in court flanked by four bodyguards.

During the final days of the trial American rapper Busta Rhymes attended court in a show of support for Vybz Kartel. Notably absent was anyone from the local music fraternity among whose ranks there did not appear to be much sympathy for the embattled DJ or sorrow over his fate. Although a large crowd had appeared outside the courtroom shouting ‘No Teacha, No school’ on the day of the verdict (a reference to Kartel ‘s nickname–‘The Teacher’) and the days leading up to it, on sentencing day there was only a modest crowd in attendance outside. The elaborate preparations made by the Police seemed like overkill.

#VybzKartel still represents #Calabar, as seen in this photo taken today after his sentencing #VybzKartel still represents #Calabar, as seen in this photo taken today after his sentencing

Vybz Kartel still represents his old high school Calabar, as seen in this photo taken today after his sentencing. Photo: @Dre1allianceEnt

 Vybz Kartel: DJ or Don? or both?

So what was the secret of Vybz Kartel’s success I asked Anthony Miller, producer of Television Jamaica’s weekly Entertainment Report, the definitive news source on Jamaica’s volatile music industry. His answer was:

The smartness, the nimbleness of mind; Kartel could string words together. In terms of that hip hop flow, spitting lyrics, he was the quickest and the nimblest and easily the most brilliant. He was the lyrical genius of his generation who flooded the Jamaican market with music. He delivered the social commentary but he also gave the public fun and games with his song about Clarks shoes (which caused a spike in sales for the company) and Ramping Shop which was banned from Jamaican airwaves for its raunchy lyrics. He outraged every sensibility in Jamaica and then he started to bleach. He always had an avalanche of new material. But there was also a sinister element, a darker element. He overreached by flying in the face of the establishment in Jamaica, by continually goading them. He always flew in the face of authority.

Opinions about Vybz Kartel vary depending on the demographic of the person you’re speaking to. Nicknamed World Boss and Addi the Teacher or ‘Teacha’ by his adoring fans his phenomenal popularity made him the envy of politicians though he didn’t kowtow to their demands. On the other hand Kartel was known to hobnob with top dons or gang leaders like Tesha Miller of the Klansman gang and Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke whose sensational arrest and extradition to the United States occupied international news for weeks in 2010.

“A lot of DJs see themselves as dons; the don is the model, so they behave like dons. Dons have the power, they have the girls and DJs are in the best position to become dons because they have the constituencies, “ says Anthony Miller.

According to ethnomusicologist Dennis Howard the nexus between political dons and musicians in Jamaica goes back to the very roots of Reggae and Dancehall. It was a symbiotic relationship, the musician needed the support of the don who often demanded a ‘big up’ while the don fed off the popularity of the singer. The globally celebrated singer Bob Marley himself was friends with a number of dons/gang leaders across the political divide so Kartel’s association with gang leaders and the underworld was by no means unprecedented. The problem was that with Kartel there no longer appeared to be a distinction between the two.

In 2009 when Vybz Kartel fans (Gaza) clashed violently with rival deejay Mavado’s fans (Gully), the two were summoned to a meeting with then Prime Minister Bruce Golding but the only person who could rein them in was Tivoli Gardens enforcer Dudus who forced the two deejays to publicly end their hostilities at his annual stage show ‘West Kingston Jamboree’.

While Mavado seemed to heed the pleas of the government and the Police to reform himself Kartel continued along the path he had chosen, thumbing his nose at the police and Jamaican society while continuing to parlay his carefully cultivated notoriety into profits. He now diversified into other products such as a line of clothing, bleaching soap and his own rum. Perhaps the last straw for the police was the much hyped launch of Kartel’s own show, Teacha’s Pet, “a reality TV dating show surrounding the love life and career of the Artiste Vybz Kartel.” Within a few weeks of the airing of the show Kartel was arrested and the show discontinued.

Public Enemy No. 1

Why were the Jamaican police so single-minded in their determination to put Vybz Kartel behind bars? Why was he considered such a menace to society? Again stories abound. The Minister of Justice, Peter Bunting, had been touring Montego Bay, center of the vicious Lotto Scam conglomerate, which preys on elderly American citizens, scamming them out of thousands of dollars of their savings each year. In fact the Minister was under pressure from the Americans to smash the criminal enterprise. As he visited area after area he was told by residents in each community that he should go easy on the scammers because what they were doing was, after all, merely a form of reparation–collecting monies due the citizens of Jamaica for the years of free labour provided during the era of plantation slavery.

When the astonished Minister enquired further into the source of such unorthodox views he was referred to a song by Kartel called ‘Reparation’ with the catchy refrain ‘Dem call it scam,
Mi call it reparation’.

Foreign exchange is good fi di country
Franklyn, USA, Sterling England
Every Ghetto yute fi a live like di big man
Mansion bigger than Hilton

The catchy tune was even quoted by American TV host Dan Rather in a 60 Minutes expose of Jamaica’s Lotto Scam, adding to the pressure on the Jamaican government to rein in the criminal elements who were preying on America’s elderly. Although Kartel’s lyrics were never explicitly used against him in the trial, they would have been on virtually constant rotation in the minds of the Judge, Jury and Prosecution. In addition to the song about Reparations there were any number of gangster lyrics issuing from the prolific hit machine known as Vybz Kartel.

Perhaps the thing that most cemented Kartel’s image as a demonic creature who had to be contained for the safety of the public was his unconventional appearance, aided by the increasingly visible tattoos embellishing his bleached skin. This more than anything literally marked Kartel as a devil-worshipper in the eyes of fundamentalist Christian Jamaica. As if he realized this, Kartel addressed the issue as soon as he was given a chance to speak for himself in court.

My Lord, I bleach my skin, I am heavily tattooed also but that is merely superficial. That is a part of the persona of Vybz Kartel not Adidja Palmer. I am a normal person like anyone else.

In interviews Kartel would often refer to himself in the third person, drawing a distinction between himself, Adidja Palmer, the responsible father and citizen and his more reckless deejay persona, Vybz Kartel. There was a market demand for a character such as Vybz Kartel, he explained, and Palmer was going to exploit the lucrative niche—after all he had children to feed.  His 2012 book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, begins by saying, “I start this book in the same way that I start each day of my life, with a Thank you Jah for giving me, Adidja Palmer, the inspiration to be Vybz Kartel. “

Gaza

Inspired by Jay-Z’s 2010 autobiographical narrative, Decoded, Kartel’s book, co-written with Michael Dawson, is a combination of lyrics, their interpretations, anecdotes, philosophical reflections, and autobiographical information. Written very much in the mode of a teacher analyzing and explaining the world, it was also a resounding call–Gaza mi seh!–for ghetto people everywhere to get together and stand up for their rights. “Its not a moral war, it’s a financial war, dem nuh waan ghetto yute fi have house n car,” goes the catchy line from one of his songs. “Incarcerated but not silenced” and “I pray this book helps to change Jamaica forever,” say blurbs on the cover with an image portraying Kartel as a Malcolm X type figure.

Some think the book was published because Palmer knew he had to lay the groundwork to shift public perception of himself as a common criminal. That may be so but in the process he managed to harness a cynicism about the system—coded as Babylon in Jamaican parlance—that has great currency. Though his music is viewed as having no explicit political message his concept of ‘Gaza’ has the resonance that rival DJ Mavado’s ‘Gully’ never had though both are metaphors for the underclass that spawned both musicians.

Vybz Kartel flashes the ‘Gaza’ sign as he exits the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston yesterday. The entertainer was given life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 35 years for his role in the August 2011 murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams. (PHOTO: BRYAN CUMMINGS)

Vybz Kartel flashes the ‘Gaza’ sign as he exits the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston yesterday. The entertainer was given life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 35 years for his role in the August 2011 murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams. (JAMAICA OBSERVER PHOTO: BRYAN CUMMINGS)

Gaza is the name Kartel gave the locality he comes from in Waterford, part of the bedroom community of Portmore, on the outskirts of Kingston. Inspired by the fierceness of the inhabitants of the original Gaza Strip in Palestine, Kartel adopted the name of this embattled settlement in the Middle East, and the shibboleth of his supporters around the world became Gaza mi seh! Usain Bolt has been one of Kartel’s most avid fans not allowing other deejay’s music to be played at his parties and giving the Gaza sign whenever he was in the limelight. Many of Jamaica’s top athletes are Gaza fans though they may be slowly backing away now.

Perhaps the best way to understand Gaza is to see it as a new identity–underpinned by a Ghetto pride ideology–a defiant “Yes, we’re from the ghetto and we’re proud of it” stance. Although Kartel intended Gaza as a response to the lopsided landscape of opportunity in Jamaica that renders the poor socially invisible, the concept rapidly grew legs and migrated all over the world, an indication both of his talent and the globalization of inequality that disproportionately affects ghetto-dwellers worldwide.

The ‘Shit-stem’

While the Jamaican judiciary jubilantly celebrated Vybz Kartel’s guilty verdict and sentencing as a resounding victory for itself it is worth noting that alleged crime boss and head of the Shower Posse Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, now serving a 23 year sentence in the US,  was never charged or prosecuted for breaching the law in Jamaica where he lived. Similarly David Smith, who defrauded investors across Florida and the Caribbean out of more than US$220 million was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in the US. Although he operated out of Jamaica, Smith like Coke, was never charged or prosecuted for any crime or misdemeanor in Jamaica.

And then less than a week after the guilty verdict was announced in the Kartel case, Kern Spencer, a young politician belonging to the ruling party, was found not guilty of significant fraud and money-laundering charges in relation to the distribution of energy-saving light bulbs, a gift from the Cuban Government. The Director of Public Prosecutions herself expressed shock at the verdict saying that the evidence against him had been overwhelming. But for most people the Kern Spencer verdict was par for the course. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of politicians, police and big businessmen who have ever been convicted of any crime in Jamaica.

Jamaican Police and the country’s legal system now have to prove to cynical Jamaicans that they not only have the will and drive to successfully bring rogue DJs to book but also the numerous rogue policemen, politicians and businessmen still at large. If not, as Kartel’s song ’Sup’m a go happen’ warns Jamaica could be on the brink, like Egypt, like Tunisia before it, of ‘something happening’.

Kartel’s defence team will now prepare to appeal the verdict and the sentence. For them what was unique about this trial was the unprecedented use of digital evidence by the Prosecution. The irony of course is that had Kartel simply used a code to lock his phone the Police could never have got into it to find the incriminating evidence they did. The deejay’s lead attorney Tom Tavares-Finson told me days before the sentencing that he expected Kartel to be sentenced to 35 years. They were already focused on the appeal. Tavares-Finson is hopeful that since he has been requesting and receiving transcripts of the court’s proceedings on a daily basis, he has about 80% of what will be needed to mount the appeal in hand already. He thinks Adidja Palmer stands a good chance of having the guilty verdict overturned by the higher court and his client is of the same mind. As the twitter account known as Adidja A. Palmer @iamthekartel tweeted:

GazaArmy. we nuh deh pon nuh mourning ting .Addi said “Justice how ever long it takes will prevail,a so Haile Selassie sey.”so we a move fwd

POSTSCRIPT: Since the sentencing of Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer and his co-accused on April 3 there have been some interesting developments. The very same day the Police High Command issued a statement detailing among other things the security challenges they had faced in the course of the trial and the numerous “attempts to pervert the course of justice” they had been confronted with. It now is much clearer why they were so determined to put Adidja Palmer behind bars.

Another interesting piece of information came from Shawn Storm’s attorney Miguel Lorne, who revealed that his client had been offered a plea bargain that would have resulted in a much reduced sentence for him. His client turned down the offer, sticking by Vybz Kartel and in the process, also receiving a life sentence.

And yes it’s true. Kartel’s lawyer, Christian Tavares-Finson IS the half-brother of Junior Gong or Damian, Bob Marley’s youngest son. Lead attorney Thomas Tavares-Finson who headed the defence team was once married to Cindy Breakspeare, whose son with Bob Marley he helped raise. Tom and Cindy have two children of their own, Christian and Leah. Incidentally Tavares-Finson Sr. is a highly sought after criminal lawyer with a star-studded list of former clients such as Grace Jones, Gregory Isaacs, Big Youth, Bounty Killer, Mavado, Sean Paul and Shabba Ranks, who retained him to defend them against charges ranging from cocaine possession to ‘using profanity’, a uniquely Jamaican offence. In more recent times Tavares-Finson, also an Opposition Senator, was most wanted Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke’s lawyer until forced to step aside due to his political obligations.

Life for Vybz Kartel…

I will be putting up a more substantial post soon about the sentencing of Vybz Kartel. In the meantime here’s a selection of tweets from earlier today that will give you a feel of what the mood was like today at the Supreme Court and outside it.

  1. Wonder how much ppl aguh put Gaza 4 Life pon dem TL n Facebook today? True loyalty is shown during times of adversity
  2. Attorney for #ShawnStorm now seeking mercy on his behalf. Kartel has asked lawyers not to seek mercy from the Court#SentencingHearing
  3. “This has never been an easy part of any trial for me” – Justice Lennox Campbell
  4. Trust me Gaza Army this thing not over. VYBZ Kartel will be a free man in due time n we aguh Mek sure dem hear him voice up to the time
  5. “We have heard evidence that there was a great deal of planning and premeditation and the deceased was subjected to much stress” – Judge
  6. Planning, premeditation and lot of stress for the deceased says Lennox Campbell #KartelSentencing
  7. The Court recognizes that the offenders had different roles – Judge Campbell. Convicts now asked to stand
  8. Him ask Addi n crew to stand
  9. BREAKING: Kartel sentenced to life in imprisonment with hard labour. Not eligible for parole before 35 years - @Nationwideradio
  10. #courtroomchronicles there r police barriers everywhere. Even lawyers are being stopped n asked if they have matters at court today
  11. Breaking – Kartel sentenced to LIFE!
  12. Breaking – judge says Life for #Kartel. 35 yrs to be spent before eligible for parole #KartelSentencing
  13. Breaking – Shawn Storm gets life. 25 years before eligible for parole#KartelSentencing
  14. Dem sentence mi Bredda @iamthekartel to LIFE without parole for 35 years.
  15. As expected, Adidja Palmer is sentenced to LIFE.
  16. “Stay Strong” That is the message Addi ask me to pass on to the GazaArmy. 1 more time, Addi Anuh Girl Guide, him a souljah.
  17. @nnboogie I told the guys at the gym that Judge will give life sans parole 35-40 years …they thought I was being unrealistic …
  18. @nnboogie they were looking at 20 to 25 ..but Judge was always going to sentence with a heavy hand, especially if one doesn’t big for mercy
  19. It is not over Gaza Army. It is not over. Certain details we have to hold back but this is just a obstacle on the road to freedom
  20. So can Kartel still produce music in prison?
  21. Bury dancehall today. The best and worst of it gone.
  22. We had a break in his meeting to reveal the news in the Kartel trial
  23. Mi… Dutty big black barry….write the best blag post bout kartel roun 3 year ago. And it come to pass http://bigblackbarry.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/the-issue-of-mr-adijah-palmer/ …
  24. Poor Parliament. They should have deferred the #ThroneSpeech. Kartel is more newsworthy.
  25. I see u watch the news “@DMarcAnthony@nnboogie@thelockedwonder “Yeah.. but is not like seh is wan big person iina society him did kill.””
  26. The fact that the #KartelSentencing takes precedence over parliament shows our faith in the system.
  27. It was my first blog post ever. Science…
  28. I now propose that the Govt allow Kartel to record in prison for 60% of revenue. Kartel to pay his incarceration expenses out of his 40%
  29. The trajectory of every #JaThroneSpeech is the same! Tell the people how poorly the world economy is performing.
  30. Addi never asked for nor expected anything else from the system that facilitated his conviction despite missing n tampered evidence
  31. Based on the sentence handed down today, if Kartel’s conviction is upheld in the Appeals Court, he will be 73 years old before parole.
  32. He shouldn’t do music – shet it dung
  33. Defence lawyers for Kartel say they expect to file his appeal by year end
  34. Angry Kartel crowd chanting Kartel wi sehh .. being monitored by Policepic.twitter.com/kD8JzPVe5T
  35. Absolutely crazy scenes downtown.
  36. Women rolling in the street and wailing at the #KartelLifeSentence
  37. Gaza 4 Life! Empire Foreva !
  38. Baddest dj ever in the genre. Ever. I still hold to that.
  39. Not his fan, but Vybz Kartel was a lyricist, visionary entrepreneur, and marketing expert. He is also a convicted murderer. #DealWithIt
  40. kartel shoulda jumped on one a them haitian boats when he had the chance
  41. When yu give a man life sentence eitha him give him life to god In prison or him stay behind bars & instigate heinous crimes on outsiders
  42. #courtroomchronicles …it is over ..for now. An appeal is imminent. This is where it all happened ..…  http://instagram.com/p/mVeEQbMRFM/ 
  43. #courtroomchronicles crowd around court. Shouts of “free kartel” “a nuh angel him kill” “dis affi re-try” can be heard. Police everywhere
  44. #courtroomchronicles one lady shouts, “look how di police kill di pregnant ooman and neva get 35 yrs!” ..for them #justice is blind & unfair
  45. #courtroomchronicles one man shouts “look oomuch ppl do worse dan him! All di politician and judge weh drive bad and kill ppl pon di road!!”
  46. #courtroomchronicles For them, it’s abt 2 societies, 2 justice systems. One for the rich & privileged. The other for the black ghetto youths
  47. WHO is gonna tell me My baddi set good like di ice inna freezer and mek mi believe it?! WHO?
  48. GazaArmy. we nuh deh pon nuh mourning ting .Addi said “Justice how ever long it takes will prevail,a so Haile Selassie sey.”so we a move fwd
  49. Kartel attended court today in a white jacket suit and a Calabar High shirt and tie, apparently celebrating the Champs win of his alma mater
  50. #VybzKartel still represents #Calabar, as seen in this photo taken today after his sentencing pic.twitter.com/nbPGIY9PXL

Vybz Kartel’s trials and tribulations

Kartel holding kerchief to face as he enters courtroom for sentencing on March 27, 2014. Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Vybz Kartel’s sentencing was supposed to take place yesterday but has been postponed to April 3. The Dept of Correctional Services is to decide whether Kartel will be allowed to record music in prison, and if allowed, whether proceeds should go to the family of the victim Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams.

According to a report in the Jamaica Observer:

Justice Campbell postponed the sentencing after defence lawyers informed him that they had not received a letter he instructed the Supreme Court to draft and send to the prosecution and the defence.

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn admitted receiving the correspondence.

Justice Campbell told the court that he wanted the assistance of both sides on sentencing guidelines.

He said the degree of participation of each convicted man in the murder would be important in his decision on how long they would be locked away in a penal facility.

“Sentences are not just clutched out of the air,” Justice Campbell said.

The judge said Llewellyn had made her recommendations and had pointed to sentences handed down in similar circumstances.

He referred to the case of singer Jah Cure (real name Sycatore Alcock), who recorded three albums while incarcerated at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, and wondered if, in the event that Vybz Kartel recorded music while he served his sentence, any proceeds made from those songs should go to Williams’ estate.

“In a previous matter, when a person was convicted who had some artistic talent certain things were done. It needs to be found out whether in fact it was open to the court for any of those proceeds gained could go to repairing any of the damage to the relatives of the deceased,” Justice Campbell said.

The Tower Street prison, popularly known as GP, is fitted with a fully operational recording studio and a low frequency radio station FREE FM, which broadcasts in the precincts of the prison.

In the case of Jah Cure, the proceeds of his songs were used to bolster the rehabilitation programme and he earned no money.

The prison authorities would have to ultimately make the decision for the victim’s family to be compensated from any recording released by the artiste while imprisoned.

Meanwhile below is a selection of tweets curated since Adidja Palmer/Vybz Kartel and his co-accused were found guilty.

  1. Bless up Robert Mugabe on ur 90th Earthstrong. Since Chavez gone, u n Castro r the only two real heroes let.
  2. Yes, Babylon, u.win this one. So every bad mind, envious hater of ghetto ppl celebrating now but there is more to.fwd
  3. Is just a regroup thing. Babylon.pull a fast one but we live and learn.
  4. “…one of the apparent drawbacks of living pon di Gaza…is that one of its commandments is no sexual activity, at all…” – The Fader
  5. who remembers that review of “gaza commandments” in the fader…
  6. Addi will be bigger tmoro than he was yesterday n dat nah change.Gaza is more than music,its a source of inspiration 4 ghetto yutes globally
    The tweet below is about someone who stole J$1000 from @Grindacologist :)
  7. RT @anniepaul@Grindacologist what yu gonna do? ¤ or maybe i will chop up di bredda fine fine…
  8. Certain things cant b discussed on this account. Follow@realgazawriter to be updated
  9. wonder if dem gon show kartel in him new york nets jersey…
  10. How is it that kern spencer was found not guilty on so much damning evidence but vybz kartel was found guilty on way less evidence?
  11. @emilynationwide . No problem except if u r a bleached tattooed Dancehall artiste that expect a fair trial n an unbiased judge
  12. Should have a special court for Politicians in Jamaica with a statue of a Kangaroo roun front n a stage 4 comedians inside
  13.  http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=51871 …. Not a single public official has been convicted but Tommy Lee,Sizzla,Movado,Ninja, Busy, Buju, Popcaan, get pressure
  14. Gaza family, just keep calm n jus watch wat a gwaan tmoro. Nuh give the Police any reason to beat up anymore poor people.
  15. Confirming that Addi has asked his lawyers to NOT BEG FOR ANY MERCY tmoro in Court. He maintains that he is an innocent man unjustly framed
  16. @ayannahomer30 Truth is sistren, it is the system’s hands n dem on a mission to destroy the Gaza
  17. Vybz Kartel sentencing now, dancehall is to be incarcerated today! Long live the legend, long live dancehall!#kartel#Worl’Boss
  18. Gaza family, dem carry bag a police for a reason. Don’t give dem no chance to get dem wish.
  19. From 2009,long b4 any allegations, Addi told me they told him this day would come come if him no stop lick out gains Babylon n see it ya now
  20. Vybez Kartel arriving for court today. Mans about to be sentenced to 20yrs and man is bussin shades & ave fruit juice pic.twitter.com/2n6M3aL7u9
  21. WOW here we go again Jamaica calls out mounted Police, riot Police and even snipers on top of buildings as they await Kartel’s sentencing..
  22. UPDATE: Judge now requesting written submissions from defence regarding proposed guidelines for sentencing. Not readily available.
  23. Need to get some things done on King Street. This fuckry with Kartel needs to be resolved today.
  24. Murmur in Court as sentencing of Kartel is postponed until April 3 to facilitate written submissions from defence re sentencing guidelines
  25. Imagine if CNN covered Vybz Kartel trial & verdict the illustrations/ graphics they would employ not to mention their BREAKING NEWS banner
  26. We have always said that Gaza fans r above average intelligence.U all prove it everyday with comments. Ignore badmind ppl n keep progressing

Crime and Punishment in Jamaica

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 9.16.30 AM

Comparing and contrasting is always a useful exercise. This morning when I read the abbreviated article shown above i thought, really? Two men, Claytoday Dunkley and Garfield Litchmore, falsely accused of killing lawmen, lose 6 years of their life due to police bungling or worse, and the most the Gleaner can do is run a brief two-column report on page 2 with skeletal details of a case that seems to be a flagrant violation of human rights.  Not only that, you would only have read this article if you subscribed to the hard copy or the ePaper of the Gleaner, it wasn’t available on its website. Why not? Is it because the two concerned are labourers from Trench Town and not from Upper St. Andrew? What recourse if any do they have? Will any members of the Police be held accountable for this travesty of justice?

Buju Banton might have smiled and called this low-budget justice for low-budget people…aside from this the admission that the police apparently falsely charged the two men raises doubts about the reliability of evidence they presented against Vybz Kartel and co which as we all know ended in the conviction of the superstar DJ and three of his co-accused last week.

Juxtapose this for argument’s sake with the 2007 trial of former UWI student Rodney Beckles, accused of stabbing one  Khalil Campbell to death over a chillum pipe. On that occasion the story occupied the Gleaner’s front page, seen below, no doubt because the protagonists were both sons of ‘high-society officials’ as the headline pointed out. Rodney is the son of Sir Hilary Beckles, Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus. The young man he killed was none other than the son of Justice Lennox Campbell, yes you read it right, the very Supreme Court Judge Lennox Campbell who presided over the Kartel trial. The murder took place in January 2007 and by the end of November the same year young Beckles had been acquitted, much to the relief of his parents.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.28.35 PM

Killed over ganja – Feuding sons of high-society officials
published: Friday | January 5, 2007

AN ARGUMENT over ganja has left the son of Supreme Court judge Lennox Campbell dead and the son of principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, facing a charge of murder.

Rodney Beckles, 21, whose father, Professor Hilary Beckles, was en route to Jamaica from Barbados yesterday, is now in police custody after stabbing to death Khalil Campbell, 28, of Daisy Avenue, St. Andrew.

The accused Beckles, a student at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, allegedly stabbed Campbell 21 times after an argument over the illegal substance.

Police sources say Beckles is alleged to have denied Campbell the opportunity to smoke his chillum pipe, claiming Campbell was not mentally capable of ‘handling the weed’. An altercation developed during which Beckles allegedly stabbed Campbell several times despite attempts by two other persons to restrain him.

Despite the fact that the 18 injuries were all found on the body of the victim, none on the body of the killer Beckles, a jury which deliberated for two hours (shades of the Kartel trial!) decided that the victim had been the aggressor and Beckles was acting in self-defence when he stabbed Campbell through the heart. The Star’s account of the trial described the scenario:

The jury found that Beckles was not guilty of murder or manslaughter.

Beckles who was represented by defence lawyers Patrick Atkinson, Deborah Martin and Robert Fletcher gave sworn testimony in his defence and was thoroughly cross-examined by prosecutors Caroline Hay and Ann Marie Feurtado -Richards.

Beckles said he acted in self defence after Campbell who was known to be mentally ill, rushed at him like a raging bull and held onto his foot. He said he began hitting him and when his foot was released, he saw blood on his clothes and blood on the deceased’s chest.

He said he and a friend were smoking ganja from a chalice and it was after they denied Campbell’s request for a smoke from the chalice that the incident took place.

The prosecution led evidence that there were 16 superficial injuries to the body and two stab wounds. The fatal injury was a stab wound to the chest which penetrated the heart. The pathologist said he saw defensive injuries to the body and it was his definition that the deceased was the victim and the attacker was the aggressor.

The defence brought medical evidence to show that the deceased was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and cannabis abuse and was aggressive when he did not get his medication.

So what do you think? Is the second a case of high-budget justice for high-budget people in contrast to the case of the Trenchtown labourers, Claytoday Dunkley and Garfield Litchmore? Again what does this indicate about the quality of justice meted out by Jamaican courts?

Finally was Kartel found to be guilty or was he to be found guilty by a police force and judiciary determined to make an example of him?

Vybz Kartel found guilty of murder


Dec 13, 2013 newscast on Kartel trial detailing video and bbm evidence presented by prosecution

Well, i was wrong. I fully believed that Kartel and co. would walk; because of the weakness of Jamaica’s justice system,  the strength of the defence team, and because the powerful are rarely tried, let alone found guilty in this society. But no! In a dramatic, rapidly unfolding denouement yesterday afternoon the nearly 3-month old Kartel trial came to an emotion-filled climax. Amidst rumours that one of the jurors, ‘No. 3′ to be precise, had tried to offer the jury’s headwoman a J$500,000 bribe, the jury decided 10 to 1 that Kartel, and three of his four co-accused were guilty of the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams, a young dancer whose body has yet to be found.

Lizard’s sister, Stephanie Breakenridge, sat in the courtroom sobbing every now and then as the final moments arrived. In all of the circus around this celebrity court case her brother, seen in the video above dancing and bigging up the Gaza Empire, had been virtually forgotten in the media coverage of the trial, except perhaps as its subject, in cold, clinical terms. His terror-filled texts had been read to the courtroom earlier in the trial but otherwise very little was known of the young man who thought his moment in the sun had arrived the day he was adopted by Kartel and his group.

Word on the verandahs is that the DPP Paula Llewellyn, Judge Campbell, Prosecutor Jeremy Taylor and his team were determined to use this case to showcase the ability of the Jamaican court system to deliver justice, surely if not swiftly. I congratulate them on their determination to demonstrate that justice is not as elusive in Jamaica as many of us have been led to believe…let’s hope the Kartel trial sets the bar for all trials in Jamaica from now on.

As Dah’Mion Blakey said on Facebook: The same rigor with which this case was pursued should be extended to ALL; uptown, downtown, popular, unpopular and indifferent!! #‎JudicialReform‬ ‪#‎SocialJusticeForAll‬

Finally, many of us thought that Kartel would have got off because the jury would have felt too intimidated to find him guilty. Clearly they didn’t. This too was something the DPP must have been keen on establishing, to signal to potential jurors and a timorous public that the all-abiding fear that curtails the carriage of justice too often is perhaps overstated and unnecessary. Of course we have to wait and see and hope that none of the jurors face repercussions for their decision.

Below is a curated collection of tweets that will convey the atmosphere yesterday in Kingston, especially downtown where the Supreme Court is located. There are tweets by @Iamthekartel, a Twitter account supposedly speaking for Kartel, along with many others which capture the climax of this sensational court case.

Finally, thanfully, nxt wk this time Adidja Azim Palmer will be tweeting from this account so beta start follo him from now
Best Male Actor in a supporting role, Shawn Storm. From The Series #KartelMurderTrial
When Kartel gets acquitted he gonna be walking out like… #KartelMurderTrial pic.twitter.com/fX4yOzR8Sb
Busta need a day job. Him tun courthouse tetes
We a keep it orderly, nah give the police r media nutten bad fi say bout the Gaza btwn now and the nxt 72 hrs when we expec Addi to walk out
“Mi Bible de near me,” – Vybz Kartel
Appealing to 2 Police,designate a section near the Courthouse where Gazafans can wait in peace 4 d verdict No bada style d people n bloc dem
“Give me a chance fi talk pon poor people behalf” Vybz Kartel.
“Its not a moral war, its a financial war, dem nuh waan ghetto yute fi have house n car.” Vybz Kartel
Breaking – judge in #KartelMurderTrial threatens to take action against Kartel’s lawyer if he interrupts his summing up again
My word – I suggest you walk with an id if you intend to be in downtown KGN as of tomorrow. It’s getting frantic #KartelMurderTrial
Bigup the Legendary Junior Reid 4 his presence in Court today alongside the Legendary @BustaRhymes. Babylon a c the ratings Addi get.
If court starts on time, judge could use another 2 hrs to close summing up & then discharge jury #KartelMurderTrial
But, court has never started on time. May be this will be the once in a blue moon. #KartelMurderTrial
Pot cover, light, horn, shout, ilebrate how u want but keep it legal cuz Babylon nah play today.
5 accused 11 jurors 30 witnesses 65 days so far 6th day of summing up #KartelMurderTrial
Kartel supporters downtown have breached the barrier on Barry Street and have been shouting ‘no Teacha,no school’
Lawyers have been summoned to judge’s chamber. Tension inside; Tension outside. No hallelujah in the middle #KartelMurderTrial
One more time, we have to keep calm. Keep it safe n peaceful
Who would have thunk it. Jury sent to deliberate at 3:42 PM #KartelMurderTrial
Mi a ready up fi di new tune dem fi drown out dis Soca madness!! What will it be…#KartelMurderTrial
The global impact of ONE case in Jamaica. #KartelMurderTrial #Jamaica #Barbados #USA # Canada #Kenya # Indonesia #Waiting to hear
UPDATE: Still awaiting Judge. Tom Tavares Finson has just asked the registrar – “unnu sen fa di Judge” ? ..still waiting
Crazy! “@emilynationwide: Calm on the inside now. Tension on the outside #KartelMurderTrial pic.twitter.com/oS8nvAReHx
#courtroomchronicles the room is filled with prosecutors ..DPP is here, all her #gladiators ..no defence counsel in the room. #vktrial
Jury still out for a second time because they told court a moment ago they have a majority verdict of 10:1 #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..Some have said the verdict is guilty ..10 to 1 ..There is talk that there is a new world bawse in town tonight ..
IF YOU SUPPORT OR LISTEN TO KARTEL THERE’S NO WAY A GUILTY VERDICT IS ACCEPTABLE! THE BOSS MUST BE FREE #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..November has led to this ..I have never seen so many prosecutors in court .. where are defence counsel? ?
#courtroomchronicles I see Barbara Gayle ..Anthony Miller ..A host of local and international journalists ..defence counsel now appear ..
#courtroomchronicles ..The judge is flanked by 4 police officers on the bench ..never seen that b4 either ..what a bumbo today .. #vktrial
I would love to see a log of all the tweets on #KartelMurderTrial ..#VeryInteresting
“A phone went off in the court, and it was a vybz Kartel ringtone” #KartelMurderTrial #tvjnews
So the verdict is that there was no verdict? #KartelMurderTrial.
#courtroomchronicles ..one police says she is like a tree planted by the rivers of Jordan . She has nuttn yo fear , as accused men walk in
#Update A press personality ejected from court after phone rings with Vybz Kartel Ringtone #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..kartel dons an epic blue tie, white shirt and dark suit ..The room is filled ..all jurors present ..
Up listening to nationwide radio when I should be writing essays and there’s still no unanimous vote… #KartelMurderTrial
Vybz Kartel has been found Gulity! Sean Storm has been found Guitly. #KartelMurderTrial
But all of Juici celebrated.. And screamed.. Thought it was a rat.. #KartelMurderTrial
Shane Williams acquitted
BREAKING: Shane Williams told he is free to go. Kartel and 3 co-accused will shortly be cuffed and carried away. They’ve been found GUILTY
#courtroomchronicles judge: I thk u n say on behalf of jamaican ppl, thank u for having served so well. Judge now asks DPP to address court
A soh di ting set, yu duh di CRIME jus duh di TIME Rasta! #KartelMurderTrial #WorldBossForBleaching
Judge to jury-’i will say this u couldn’t have done anything else on this evidence presented here. It was not possible’ #KartelMurderTrial
Sentencing to take place March 27, 2014 #SentencingDay
Looooool”@UWISTAT_MONA: So the possibility of a second Vybz Kartel Lecture at UWI (Mona) was just thrown out the window. #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..Taylor walks away ..he gives no comment ..DPP however is being interviewed ..she didn’t walk away .. *facepalm*
Pple unfollowing Emily Crooks like she be the reason Kartel in jail #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..anxiety fills the corridors now ..The police will arrest a juror ..it is alleged he tried to bribe foreman ..
I wonder how ova Waterford stay….. #KartelMurderTrial
#Breaking – Vybz Kartel is guilty – Juror accused of bribing 500K #KartelMurderTrial – Developing pic.twitter.com/EwzZIVnalp
#courtroomchronicles police are everywhere ..we haven’t yet made our way to the streets ..The air is uncertain ..what will supporters do
#courtroomchronicles …loud noises now being heard in the vicinity of the courthouse as news of the verdict spreads thru the streets
NOW -Shouts coming from Tower Street now ‘we waan Kartel’ Police closing in on the crowd gathered there
Mi nuh see one mothercunt big dancehall artiste ah tweet bout #KartelMurderTrial/#KartelVerdictReaction. Dem in shock or dem happy?
Busta Rhymes was no help lol #KartelMurderTrial
#courtroomchronicles ..one lady says “free world bawse ..A him seh bleaching and ah bleaching we seh” …
The sad thing is that the #Endometriosis march won’t even get mentioned because of the #KartelMurderTrial
Juror alleged to have attempted to bribe another juror now detained by the police #KartelMurderTrial
People, we have to respect the justice system. Allow Kartel Lawyers to file the appeal. Let peace reign.
Police directing traffic away from King Street now as bottles are being thrown – police say
How many years are we possibly looking at for each of the accused according to our laws @thelockedwonder ?
Give thnx 4 the support. Give thnx to the lawyers. Be safe; dont give the law any reason to be upset. Gaza 4 life! Empire Foreva! One Love.
Suh since the Police were so confident and diligent and resilient in THIS CASE, We can assume from yah suh on dem ago be dat way every case?
@Uncle_Wil 25 to life …and based on judge’s comments …well, I guess we will know soon..
If anybody thinks #KartelMurderTrial verdict will change #dancehall they are crazy. The music wasn’t on trial. It’s like hip-hop
@Uncle_Wil the appeal will also raise some very interesting points ..including chain of custody, police tampering with evidence, bias etc
#VybzKartel found guilty! Was at Supreme Court until short time ago. Find my piece in tomorrow’s #Gleaner. #KartelMurderTrial
@Uncle_Wil So hope is not lost to the fans …time will tell …it will be very interesting to see how the court of appeal deal with issues
Wasted my good good obeah on that trial— dammit. #GuiltyWorldBoss #KartelMurderTrial pic.twitter.com/Nsp8ffpG64
Thx for the overwhelming support. Gaza nuh weak. Who want to be happy n proud that a man gone jail under these circumstances, good 4 them.

“I want to disturb my neighbour”: Stuart Hall and the role of the public intellectual

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004

Thought precedes action, and Jamaica in its obliviousness to who Stuart Hall was, to his extraordinary work and life, to his globally mourned death, demonstrates the perils of a society in which the most complex levels of thinking are considered expendable, an unnecessary luxury, something that need not detain the nation. It’s a symptom of the weakness of its intellectual elite that they have shunned serious engagement with the ideas of a thinker who influenced thought all over the world, moreover one who was born and brought up in Jamaica, who left at the age of 19 to embark on a lifetime that would change the world. That it hasn’t changed Jamaica, that there is no room in the oft-cited “Brand Jamaica” for the great thinkers this country has produced (many of whom toil in foreign vineyards), is an indictment of the state of intellectual life here for young Jamaicans deserve to know that their countrymen excel not only in sprinting and music but also in the much less visible arena of intellectual production.

The indifference to the passing of this intellectual colossus (the New York Times referred to him as UK’s Du Bois) in the country of his birth was noted by its leading newspaper, the Gleaner, which went to the lengths of editorializing on it: “…our ignorance of Stuart Hall, at all levels of society, perhaps says more of national inattention to ideas and the people who generate them – especially the big ones. For as a thinker, Professor Hall would, in our view, be the equivalent to the likes of Usain Bolt.”

Members of the University of the West Indies were quick to point out that the University had not been ignorant of Stuart Hall, bestowing an honorary doctorate on him in 1998 and holding a conference in his honour in 2004. The conference which was the most successful of several such colloquia mounted by the now inactive Centre for Caribbean Thought also demonstrated through the overflowing, standing room only auditorium in which Hall gave his public lecture, that there WAS appreciation on the part of the public for the man and his ideas. Nevertheless a mere 10 years later when Hall died, it took the media a couple of days to react and it was the next day before the University of the West Indies managed to get out a tribute, one that would be revised and updated several times over the next couple of days as the starchy institution tried to come to grips with its own lacunae regarding the work of this great thinker.

An early version of the University’s tribute described Stuart Hall as a ‘communications specialist’, which is rather like describing a race horse as a ‘galloping machine’. What this reflects is the restrictive mindset within which tertiary education has been trapped in Jamaica. Ours but to produce ‘experts‘ and ‘specialists’, not thinkers or theorists.

But maybe that’s in the past. I was heartened to receive this tribute written by three of the younger members of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Doreen Gordon, Orville Beckford and Moji Anderson, which they tried to get published in the Gleaner. Alas the old lady of North Street wasn’t interested. I offer it here as a guest blog post because it simply and succinctly sums up who Stuart Hall was and why he was globally valued in the way he was even if not in the country of his birth. We ought to use the moment of his passing and the local apathy to it as an opportunity to do some serious soul-searching about the stifling levels of anti-intellectualism in this country, and for that matter, the world.

Stuart Hall at Aggrey Brown's home

Stuart Hall at Aggrey Brown’s home, Golden Spring, Jamaica, 1998

 “I want to disturb my neighbour”: Stuart Hall and the role of the public intellectual

by Doreen Gordon, Orville Beckford and Moji Anderson

There have been many tributes to the Jamaican born thinker, Stuart Hall – a testimony to his influence across political, academic, artistic and media spheres.  Hall was remarkable for his ability to move between the worlds of the academy, politics and popular media with both elegance and authority, be it in his political writings, television and radio appearances, or guest lecturers. In reflecting on Stuart Hall’s life, one cannot help but think about the role of the intellectual in society. An intellectual often stands outside of society and its institutions, actively disturbing the status quo. However, at the same time, an intellectual is a part of society and should strive to address his/her concerns to as wide a public as possible. Stuart Hall may be described as a “public intellectual”: actively involved in the politics and issues of his day, critiquing the society around him, and disseminating new insights through various media to a wider public. He was also deeply concerned with making education more widely accessible.

Arriving in post-war Britain as a young Rhodes Scholar, Hall did not return to Jamaica to live. Colonial society and the Euro-centric middle class environment in which he grew up seemed too constricting. His socialisation, early colonial education and the culture shock of migrating to race-strained Britain in 1951 no doubt shaped his particular concerns. He once said in a debate with a conservative political figure in London, “You cannot have at the back of your head what I have in mine. You once owned me on a plantation.” He remained on the side of the oppressed, the marginalized and the exploited – a perspective shaped by his Caribbean roots. This was clearly his role as a public intellectual: to make room for the voice of the powerless.

Hall’s broader recognition in Britain came when, along with a handful of intellectuals, he helped to form the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1964 at the University of Birmingham, eventually becoming its Director. Emerging as one of the country’s leading cultural theorists, he helped to define some of the major changes and cultural shifts occurring in twentieth century Britain.  It was a relatively new idea at the time to take the study of popular culture seriously and in particular, to analyse its relationship to politics and power.  The new academic discipline of cultural studies spread from Britain to the United States, to Latin America and the Caribbean, and even to Australia and East and Southeast Asia. Although some might argue that cultural studies is on the decline, the discipline has generated a wealth of significant work and set the stage for an entire line of theory, critique and political action which is still very influential, especially in the anti-globalization movement.

Hall’s writings linking racial prejudice and the media became key works, making him an inspirational figure for young black artists and film makers from Britain. His studies on post-colonialism asked the question of how a modern, multicultural British society could be created that respected cultural differences among people – thus he is often referred to as “the godfather of multiculturalism.” He observed that increased diversity within nations and the need to accommodate different sets of demands by various cultural groups posed challenging questions about the meaning of equality.

When Hall later moved to the Open University as Professor of Sociology, he continued his engagement with major issues of the day relating to British politics, culture and race. Indeed, he is often credited with the phrase “Thatcherism”: a term used to describe the politics, policies and political style of Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Leader from 1975 to 1990. Yet his views were never extreme. He urged his comrades not to dismiss Thatcherism: that they should try to understand it and its popular appeal. For Hall, Thatcherism was a new phenomenon, an authoritarian populism that needed to be understood before it could be contested.

Hall was a political actor: he was involved in protests, the campaign for nuclear disarmament, and political writing. He insisted on linking intellectual and cultural work to political struggles rather than pretending that the former is an end in itself. He maintained strong ties to Marxist thinking and to radicalism in general, but he also critiqued Marxism, especially its Stalinist versions. While he insisted on the connection between theory and political practice, he wanted it to be a flexible one that provided space for intellectual, cultural and political creativity. This search for ideological flexibility and freedom within Marxism is the well-spring of his work and impact.

Key to Stuart Hall’s thinking was his refusal to reject completely the impact of economics in peoples’ daily lives, something lacking in many contemporary cultural theories. Yet, he was not an economic determinist – in other words, our consciousness, ideas, and cultural creations have a degree of independence and agency outside of economic realities. However, some critics have suggested that the confinement of the economic factor in Hall’s writings to “the first instance,” meant that serious economic analysis was sometimes missing from his writings. For example, Hall did not consider the material basis of Margaret Thatcher’s political power, nor was he able to articulate convincing alternatives to the present global capitalist order. However, he rightly understood that we could not grasp contemporary realities without studying the workings of capitalism.

Hall’s contribution to issues of race, ethnicity and identity are well respected and far-reaching. Given the genealogy of Stuart Hall – his parents’ ancestors were English, African and Indian – his take on race and race relations was influenced by this cosmopolitan, consanguineal mix. His view was that race, ethnicity and identity are social constructions. If they can be constructed by human beings, they can also be challenged and torn down. Hall argued that race had more in common with language than with biology. In other words, ‘race’ is a moving, shifting conundrum defined by the environment, social structure and the people involved in the social relations of production and speech. Thus the concept of race for Hall was never a fixed but a moving target, with different dialectics attached to each representation and perception. Hall was not afraid to express his dialogic about race in his writings. He acknowledged the power of race and ethnicity to shape social interaction and the ways in which particular objects are viewed – for example, how works of art are read. His deep and independent post-colonial thoughts will surely be missed. However, may they carry on, in the words of Bob Marley, to “disturb my neighbour.”

“As a Jamaican Negro I know my country well…”

While searching for something else I came across this interesting 1938 letter to the editor of the Gleaner taking Alexander Bustamante on about something he had said regarding the officer corps of the Jamaica Constabulary. Apparently he didn’t approve of black or coloured Jamaicans being appointed as Police Inspectors for fear they would abuse their subordinates. Since both Mr. Bustamante and the JC are in the news right now I thought others might find this peep into history interesting as well.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 9.50.05 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 9.50.33 AM Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 9.51.00 AM Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 9.51.27 AM

Pawns of the Pentecostalists? Global Homophobia on the rise

AP Kenya Gay and Out

Binyavanga Wainana. Photo: Ben Curtis, AP

I finally got around to watching Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainana’s Hard Talk interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC  just a few days ago. The interview was instigated by Binyavanga’s hugely hyped ‘coming out’ a few weeks earlier. In response to the recent  wave of homophobic legislation in Nigeria and Uganda Wainana released a short story titled I Am a Homosexual, Mum. In the BBC interview Binyavanga was on form as usual and made a lot of sense but Sackur took me by surprise when he seemed to reject out of hand the Kenyan writer’s assertion that the Pentecostal movement with its fire and brimstone preachers were very much to blame for the recent escalation in homophobia on the African continent.

This sounded perfectly plausible to me, especially since I’ve heard local gay activists say the same thing in the context of Jamaica, that American Pentecostalist preachers come to the Caribbean and rave and rant against homosexuals with an incendiary intensity that simply wouldn’t be allowed in the United States with its hate speech laws. All of a sudden something I’ve been puzzled by for a long time–the mystery of why homophobia manifests itself so virulently both in the Caribbean (with Jamaica taking the cake for over the top intolerance) and on the African continent–seemed to have a simple explanation. The same set of American Pentecostalists have mounted concerted campaigns against what they call ‘the homosexual agenda’ in both locations, and I don’t know about African countries but you will have noticed if you’re from here that the use of the term ‘homosexual agenda’ has seen an exponential rise in the last 5 years. Just to test my hypothesis I decided to look at another recent site of anti-gay rhetoric and action–Russia. It was instructive. An American evangelist named Scott Lively had been at work there just as he had in Uganda, which he first visited in 2002. According to a Washington Post article:

Scott Lively is an obsessively anti-gay American evangelical minister. He is, according to National Journal, “perhaps the most extreme” of a network of U.S. evangelicals who, having failed in their crusade against all things gay at home, travel abroad to connect with anti-gay activists and arm them with arguments that, for example, homosexuals will seduce their children, corrupt all of society, and eventually take over the country. You don’t need to take my word for it; read Lively’s manifesto here. It’s a 2007 missive to Russians suggesting they “criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality,” i.e., use state power to force gay people into the closet. This is something Russia actually did last year (rather indirectly, but quite effectively).

Meanwhile the Southern Poverty Law Centre details Lively’s pernicious activities in Uganda:

In early March 2009, he went to Uganda to deliver what would become known as his infamous talk at the Triangle Hotel in Kampala at an anti-LGBT conference organized by Family Life Network leader Stephen Langa. The conference, titled “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda,” also included Don Schmierer, a board member of the ex-gay therapy group Exodus International, and Caleb Brundidge Jr., a self-professed ex-gay man with ties to the ex-gay therapy group Healing Touch. Thousands of Ugandans attended the conference, including law enforcement, religious leaders, and government officials. They were treated to a litany of anti-LGBT propaganda, including the false claims that being molested as a child causes homosexuality, that LGBT people are sexual predators trying to turn children gay by molesting them, and that gay rights activists want to replace marriage with a culture of sexual promiscuity. Lively met with Ugandan lawmakers during the conference, and in a blog post later he likened his campaign against LGBT people to a “nuclear bomb” against the “gay agenda” that had gone off in Uganda. A month later, the Ugandan parliament was considering legislation that included the death penalty for LGBT people in some instances and life imprisonment for others. According to Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Episcopal priest from Zambia (now in Boston) who went to the conference under cover, Lively’s talking points were included in the bill’s preamble

According to Right Wing Watch:

While Lively lashes out at Republicans in the U.S. for helping “hand over the military to the Sodomites,” he praises anti-gay measures in India, Russia and Jamaica, and argues that the reason Ukraine’s president pulled out of an agreement with the European Union was “the Ukrainian disdain for the sexual perversion agenda of the EU.”
In Lively’s own words:
Those of us who still hold a Biblical worldview have been heartened by recent global events affirming normalcy. The Australian high court struck down “gay marriage” as unconstitutional, the Indian high court re-criminalized sodomy, and Russian President Putin declared his nation to be the new moral compass of the world for championing family values. Although Ukraine’s highly controversial decision to postpone (or cancel) a step into the fold of the European Union has been framed in economic terms, there is little doubt that the Ukrainian disdain for the sexual perversion agenda of the EU has played a major role. And in tiny Jamaica, a push to decriminalize sodomy (driven in large part by the U.S. State Department), has run into so much opposition that the pro-family Jamaicans just might win that battle.

To see Lively in action watch this UK Guardian video released today, How US evangelical missionaries wage war on gay people in Uganda. Although Lively himself doesn’t seem to have made a personal appearance in Jamaica as yet we have been treated to diatribes against the LGBT-community by one of his disciples, Peter LaBarbera, whose group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) threw a banquet in honour of Lively in 2011. LaBarbera was in Jamaica as recently as December 2013 urging Jamaicans to resist changing the laws against buggery. 

LeRoy Clarke. Photo: Stefan Falke

Of course we can’t blame the Pentecostal purveyors of hate entirely for the intolerance towards the LGBT community. Their maniacal fervour and rhetoric falls on very fertile ground. Anti-gay sentiment is alive and well from the least literate to the most highly educated and accomplished of Caribbean citizens. Look for example at the startling outburst the other day by Trinidadian artist Leroi Clarke, that has stirred up quite a controversy in Port of Spain. A report in the Trinidad Guardian quoted the eminent painter:

In a phone interview yesterday, Clarke related homosexuality to the increase in crime, saying young men are usually indoctrinated into gangs with homosexuality and because of the violation of their manhood use the gun as a symbol of their masculinity. He added: “It is brought about by power bases that manipulate the principles that hold our heritage for their own advantage. “Something is happening with the gender paradigm today. We had guidelines where we looked at certain types of conduct as abominations. We took it from the scriptures.” The Bible, he added, was one of those and verses clearly refer to homosexuality, men with men and women with women, as “unnatural” and an abomination. “Today, the word abomination does not have the same tone. People indulge abominations, accede to them,” Clarke lamented. “At 73, I can say the world is no longer mine,” he said. Asked exactly what he meant by saying homosexuality was threatening the arts, Clarke said with the exception of the sailor and maybe the midnight robber, there were no longer any definitely male costumes in Carnival, not even in portrayals of the devil. “An effeminating power has taken over the costumes and even the rhythm of the music. Carnival is no longer male and female. “This is a very serious matter. We are dealing with a problem that is threatening our heritage.

LeRoy Clarke at work. Photo: Annie Paul

LeRoy Clarke at work. Photo: Annie Paul

Rumour has it that what may have set Clarke off was the recent state gift to Carnival Masman Peter Minshall of the State property he has been occupying in Fede­ra­tion Park, Port of Spain. Minshall, a white Trinidadian is openly gay.

To return to Stephen Sackur’s interview with Binyavanga Wainana which must be watched to be believed, I admit to feeling as if the scales have dropped from my eyes. On the one hand you have Sackur browbeating Wainana for bringing up the very pertinent matter of the anti-gay campaign by Pentecostalist missionaries in African countries such as Uganda, claiming that the Kenyan writer was trying to blame African homophobia on ‘external influences’ such as this (He wasn’t); and on the other hand you have Sackur insisting later on in the interview that the West must be allowed to interfere in the internal matters of African societies in the name of championing ‘universal values’! Sackur needs to be administered a good dose of Stuart Hall 101 on the inherent problems of overlooking cultural factors in the name of a tenuous universalism which only seems to work unidirectionally–from the West to the rest of us.

If indeed you speak in the name of the West Mr. Sackur deliver up former UK PM Blair to the Hague for trial for the universally understood category of war crimes (as Wainana gently suggested).  I’d love to see an interview along those lines. And at the very least leash the rabid hatemongers within your midst and curb the export of hatred and homophobia from the West before we all become puppets of the Pentecostalists. After that you may or may not be allowed to preach ‘universal values’. External forces ought not to lead the way to change in societies from outside, they can provide assistance discreetly, at the behest of, and in line with, not in advance of those militating for change  from within and only after they put their own house in order. Nuff said.

The Stuart Hall I knew

Stuart Hall at INiva (Institute of International Visual Art) with Annie Paul and artist Steve Ouditt from Trinidad and Tobago

Stuart Hall at INiva (Institute of International Visual Art) with Annie Paul and artist Steve Ouditt from Trinidad and Tobago, 2000

This post was written for the Indian magazine EPW (Economic and Political Weekly), it’s website to be specific, where I’ve been invited to blog.  They asked if I would share some of my personal memories and photographs of Stuart Hall in the wake of his passing on Feb 10. The post follows.

RIP Stuart Hall, doyen of cultural theory (1932-2014). “The cultural dimension is not a secondary, but a constitutive dimension of society.”

I found Ranjit Hoskote’s tweet quoted above, worth retailing, because it encapsulates Hall’s vastly influential work most admirably and serves as a suitable introduction to the Jamaican-born thinker the world has been mourning since Feb. 10, 2014.

I first heard about Stuart Hall from Tejaswini Niranjana, an Indian scholar who visited Jamaica for three months in 1994. She was a Homi Bhabha Fellow (named after the Physicist not the theorist of hybridity) and had come to the University of the West Indies to familiarize herself with Caribbean culture. Teju was interested in and fascinated by the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean but equally by Jamaican popular culture which is predominantly Afro-Caribbean.

I credit Teju with awakening my now abiding interest in Caribbean, and in particular Jamaican, popular culture by introducing me to the relatively new field then, of Cultural Studies. Having studied English Honours at Lady Shri Ram College and Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the 70s followed by Journalism at the University of Kansas, and even a foray into visual art, I had found myself rudderless. Neither English Literature nor Sociology really enthused me; it wasn’t until that fortuitous encounter with Cultural Studies that I began to feel an interest in matters intellectual again.

Having wandered through several different ‘disciplines’ as I had, I was excited to find new ways of thinking and writing that synthesized my different areas of knowledge. Of course this was something that JNU’s multi-disciplinary approach to scholarship had also prepared me for. In 1995 I started writing a weekly column in a Jamaican newspaper while working at the University of the West Indies in scholarly publishing.

I named my column ‘Hyphen’ to signal my lifelong feeling of ‘in-betweenity’, of being formed between cultures in an India that was rapidly modernizing, producing tectonic cultural shifts not always easy to navigate. Born and brought up a Syrian Christian, albeit by liberal parents, I always felt envious of my Hindu friends, especially the numerous rituals and festivals they could lay claim to. There was also a sense of feeling illegitimate, especially since I grew up in Ahmedabad, not Kerala, where I wouldn’t have been as out of place.

There is something profoundly destabilizing about watching your mother carefully crow-proof fishbones and other scraps of our non-vegetarian meals in secure little packets before consigning them to the garbage can in case rapacious birds outed us in front of our finicky vegetarian Gujarati neighbours, forcing us to leave the community in disgrace. There is also a deep discomfort in feeling disconnected from the vernacular culture around you because your father thought English was the only language you needed to know. Not being allowed to go to Hindi movies like all my friends did produced yet more alienation; by the time I reached my teens I felt like a classic misfit, like someone looking at the world through an impervious bubble.

It wasn’t till I came to Jamaica in 1988, after sojourns in the United States and Brazil that I started to feel at home, leading me to settle down here. Here was a vibrant, vernacular culture I could be part of. Jamaica is also the most welcoming society I’ve ever come across.

For more go here.