Reggae inna India

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I’ve been enjoying the month of July off from my column, so much that I’ve even forgotten to post the last few columns from June. This is my Gleaner column from June 9. Taru and Samara have received much publicity recently with a really good Guardian article about them last week. 

With all the angst about two Japanese performers supposedly taking over the Jamaican music scene by entering local competitions and dominating them (Japanese sound system Yard Beat beating Jamaica’s Bass Odyssey in the Boom Sound Clash finals, and Japanese reggae/dancehall artiste Rankin Pumpkin, nearly winning Magnum Kings and Queens) I thought I might highlight a happier story about the export of Jamaican music and culture.

Last month Al Jazeera aired a half hour documentary called India’s Reggae Resistance: Defending Dissent Under Modi. The film featured a musician named Taru Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate and his partner, singer Samara Chopra aka Begum X. Principals in a band named the Ska Vengers, bringing classic Reggae to the masses of India is their mission.

After current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was elected the Ska Vengers produced a confrontational video called A Message to You, Modi, with lyrics that went”Stop your fooling around / Messing up our future / Time to straighten right out / You should have wound up in jail.” Like many other artists, writers and musicians they were worried about what the new regime might mean for freedom of speech. The bold song earned the band a lot of attention attracting filmmaker Vikram Singh, who made the Al Jazeera documentary.

I met Delhi Sultanate and Begum X about three years ago when they visited Jamaica. For them it was a pilgrimage, a much cherished visit to the holy land so to speak. For Taru in particular the trip was like living a dream because of the close emotional and psychic connection he feels with Jamaican music. He first encountered Reggae as a young teenager living in Germany where his mother taught Hindi. The bond was immediate and his love for the music followed him to Berkeley in California where his family moved next.

In California Taru hung out with youngsters whose parents had been members of the Black Panthers and continued to nourish his radical roots with Reggae. Fast forward to today and Delhi where he now lives. The documentary showed Taru and Samara in the process of getting a large sound system built called Bass Foundations Roots – BFR Sound System. Their plan is to tour the country with it, visiting sites of environmental and human rights protests bringing Reggae, which they see as the quintessential protest music, to protesters.

An earlier project called World Sound Power, tried to meld Indian folk resistance music with Jamaican sounds, with lyrics focusing on caste violence, state abuse of power and crony capitalism. With the BFR Sound System their intention is quite simple and revolutionary. As Taru explained in an interview on criticallegalthinking.com:

“We can make people dance. Our sound system is powerful and can create a sense of physical well-being and connectedness in listeners. At present, this is one thing that we can contribute to political spaces and gatherings. There is a time for speeches, for critical discourse for discussion, for slogans, but dancing and singing together is also very important. We will only get through these times if we find joy in each other and build strong relationships of trust and care, with each other as well as with the larger community. It’s the only way I find myself being able to not get depressed and to despair.”

Begum X who has a yoga therapy show on TV also sings over the sound. She’s a small woman with a big voice, when you hear her you look around expecting to see someone like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan only to see a petite pixie like figure dancing Jamaican stylee in between belting out lyrics. She designs all the graphics and organizes the shows.

Both Taru and Samara sing in Patwa which the former fluently raps and DJs in, something people are surprised by. According to him if you sing in American English or perform on a theatre stage in India with a British accent it is considered normal, but “speak in English from another colony and people start raising questions at once. JA to my knowledge is the only colony that has managed to export its form of English globally.”

In the criticallegalthinking.com interview Taru elaborated on his unusual identity formation: “I consider the heritage that made Reggae to be part of my heritage, and my work aims to bring this into the Indian context. For me there are also clear links between the forces that underpin Reggae music and things that are happening in India today. The colours red, gold and green have concrete meaning here, incidentally the first national flag of India or the flag of the revolutionary Gaddar party also featured Red, Gold and Green. Red stands for the blood of the martyrs, green stands for natural abundance, and gold stands for the wealth that is inside the earth.”

So what do you say? Are Delhi Sultanate and Begum X not the most unlikely but inspiring Reggae Ambassadors ever? So what if the Japanese are invading Jamaican culture? The groundwork is being laid for access to the second-largest market in the world. Run wid it producers!

Garvey Lite?

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Bust of Marcus Garvey v. 1. After a massive protest by Rastas in Papine Square on June 25, 2017, the University of the West Indies agreed to take down the offending bust and replace it with another that would approximate the demands for a big-head, big nosed Garvey more like the photos that exist of him.

My column of June 2 in the Gleaner. After much public agitation and disapproval the University of the West Indies finally agreed to bow to public pressure and withdraw the offending bust. At a tumultuous press briefing (see video above for a brief taste of the event) the Dean confirmed that a new bust would be produced by August 2017. The sculptor would still be Raymond Watson. At the briefing Watson said that he had tried to create a youthful image of Garvey, to befit the University setting where the bust would be installed.

During his lifetime Garvey was much vilified as those who fight the status quo often are. Born in Jamaica he strode forth boldly into the world and changed it by rallying people of African origin who had been systematically exploited and denigrated by slavery. His influence rebounded all the way from the Americas to Africa, where he promised to take all those who wanted to ‘go back home’ in the immortal words of Jamaican singing star Bob Andy. To the pre-eminent shipping enterprise of the day, White Star Line, he counterpoised his Black Star Line, a fleet of ships that would carry the descendants of slaves back to Africa. The rest is history.

Decades after they’re gone how do we memorialize such individuals? In May 2017 during a short run of Garvey: The Musical at the University of the West Indies in Kingston a bust of the great man was unveiled at the Department of Humanities and Education. Members of the Marcus Garvey Movement on campus had demanded a statue of Garvey after a life-size one of Mahatma Gandhi was installed there a few years ago. How could the University pay tribute to an Indian leader before even nodding in the direction of its own home-grown hero, the first national hero of the country, they asked.

Accordingly the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE), Professor Waibinte Wariboko, a Nigerian by birth, volunteered to take on the task of arranging for a suitable monument to the great man. A Jamaican sculptor, Raymond Watson, was commissioned to produce a bust, the University’s slender resources not stretching to accommodate the expense of a full-bodied statue in these hard times.

Details of the commission, such as the brief presented to the sculptor, are unknown but on May 19 the bust was duly unveiled in the courtyard of the FHE. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the visit of Professor Rahamon Adisa Bello, vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos in Nigeria, who jointly unveiled it with the Principal of the Mona Campus, Archibald McDonald. When they ritually removed the cover revealing the modest bust underneath a gasp of consternation went up from the audience. Rastafari representatives in the audience started grumbling loudly that this was the statue of an imposter, not Garvey, this slim, unremarkable, downtrodden looking person could never represent the magnificent Marcus. Garvey, they said. Many agreed.

“Garvey seems poorly. His posture conveys passivity. He looks like a weakling,” declared Carolyn Cooper in her column. #NotmyGarvey protested lecturer Isis Semaj-Hall commenting on what she called the “slimmed down interpretation” of the great leader. This is a “UWI interpretation of Garvey” said a Facebook commenter while Xavier Hutchinson accused the sculptor of “fat shaming one of my heroes.”

Suzette Gardner was kinder to Watson: “Maybe he was trying to inspire young people capturing Garvey as a youth. Still, Garvey might have been slimmer but his head was always big. Give us our big headed Garvey so the youth can know him as he was – young or old!”

According to Am’n Ron: “Regardless of the artist’s explanation this presentation should never have been approved. This was a moment for a recognizable rendering that will last through the generations and not a moment for a random artistic interpretation. From what period in Garvey’s life did he take this, and what is the image source he used? This seemingly made a mockery of the whole effort. I fully appreciate the spirit of the mounting of a Garvey bust, and I agree that it was overdue, but I’m in agreement with the woman who calmly said, “tek it dung!”  To those who have the authority, please replace it. It feels disrespectful.”

Another Facebook commenter said: “I’ve been too upset to speak on it but i have  much more to say. I will write and share. The best part of the ceremony for me was catching up with people I have not seen in ages. Unfortunately it was an upsetting occasion for all of us.”

For me the problem wasn’t so much that the bust didn’t look anything like the Garvey we feel we’ve come to know and love. It’s the scale and unambitious scope of the representation that bother me.The only other life-like sculptures on campus are of Mahatma Gandhi (Indian) and Philip Sherlock (white) both full body representations. Then for the champion of black identity you have a modest bust. It’s a problem to say the least.

In the weeks since the unveiling calls have been mounting for the removal of the ‘fake’ statue of Garvey. The Gandhi and Sherlock sculptures were gifts to the university, and it may be that those who feel strongly about this might have to undertake to commission a better representation of Garvey that can be situated at the University of the West Indies or some other location.

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Petrina Dacres, whose Ph.D dissertation, “Modern monuments: Fashioning history and identity in post -colonial Jamaica” documents the furore surrounding almost every public monument in Jamaica, was also at the press briefing.

In future any public commissions of art should be informed by the well-documented history of responses to public monuments in Jamaica. Edna Manley lecturer and first Stuart Hall Fellow Petrina Dacres has written an entire thesis on the subject. There is no excuse to be caught by surprise like this. Contrary to what many seem to think, commissions of public statuary are not occasions for artists to wield artistic license and express themselves as they would with work meant for a gallery or private setting.

Rudies don’t fear…

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My unedited Gleaner column of May 17, 2017

The case of Latoya Nugent, her arrest and trial on three counts of ‘using a computer for malicious communication’ under the Cybercrimes Act came to a head on May 17, 2017. After pleading ‘not guilty’ to the three charges brought against her by the Thompson brothers, the apparently trumped up case against her was finally dismissed.

Essentially Paula Llewellyn, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who intervened in the case, admitted that Ms Nugent could not be found guilty because her actions had not been criminally liable.  The DPP acknowledged that the postings allegedly made by Nugent were offensive and perhaps intentional but they didn’t come anywhere near meeting the ‘high threshold’ of evidence required by Section 9 of the Cybercrimes Act.

“In other words, it was offensive, but it was not at the level to make it obscene, or threatening, or menacing,” Paula Llewellyn told The Gleaner outside court.

This is interesting in light of the fact that Nugent had not only named alleged sexual predators on social media, she had then responded to their lawyer with an ‘expletive-filled’ letter. Many senior journalists had already pronounced Nugent guilty and seemed to approve of her arrest by the police but surely they must re-assess their understanding of what constitutes cybercrime now? Also what constitutes obscenity?

What Latoya may have been guilty of was offending certain deeply held notions of propriety in Jamaica where cursing is forbidden, no one should be ‘out of order’, especially women, the young should yield to the old, and everyone is referred to as a ‘lady’ or a ‘gentleman’, even crooks and murderers. Advocating on behalf of children and women who have been systematically violated and abused Nugent was in no mood to mince her words or be silenced and for this she was crucified. ‘She had it coming’ thought most of her critics when she was arrested but now they’re confronted with the fact that ‘she had it coming’ doesn’t constitute a criminal charge.

What civil society must ask in the wake of the DPP’s statements about the lack of evidence against Ms. Nugent is what made the Police act in the manner they did? Six heavily armed policemen invaded her home looking for her, then when they couldn’t find her, invaded Mary Seacole Hall, a dormitory on the University of the West Indies campus, where they intimidated her colleague, Student Services Manager, Nadeen Spence. Spence described the terror of those moments and the complete lack of support from civil society going on to say “The media wants to put us in our place and have us speak in proper hushed tones.” Is this the rightful role of the media?

As we all know, Ms Nugent was subsequently arrested and hauled off to a lockup where she was detained overnight. The manner of her arrest, with the Police brandishing high powered weapons suggested they were apprehending a kingfish of organized crime or at the very least a serious menace to the nation. They showed no warrant either when arresting her or seizing her property. Surely this is highly irregular? What does the media have to say about this complete overstepping of bounds by the police? Or is such censure reserved only for women who step out of bounds?

At the same time let’s contrast the extraordinary treatment of Latoya Nugent with the relative lack of resolve of the Police when confronted with actual gangsters and threats to the nation. In such cases Police are impotent, apparently, until some external government flexes its muscles and insists that the Jamaican Police do their job.

Thus the Gleaner recently editorialized about the fact that “since 2006, lottery scammers have operated in St James and other parts of western Jamaica with virtual impunity, and they have been sullying Jamaica’s name internationally.” The scammers have terrorized Western Jamaica unstemmed by police action, as they went about their business of fleecing thousands of elderly Americans. Pointing out that It was the extradition of an alleged mastermind and eight others at the insistence of the US that had finally prompted police action, the Gleaner lambasted “the tepid response of the Jamaican justice system.”

“This newspaper believes it is quite humiliating that our local authorities have been largely impotent in investigating and bringing to justice the people behind scamming, which are said to include police officers… Jamaica… has demonstrated that it is weak in its attempt at reining in criminals, whether they are white-collar offenders who ravage people via Ponzi schemes, or they are heavily armed street gangs.”

Is it too much to ask that some of the zeal displayed by the Police in arresting and charging impolite women be diverted to the apprehension and prosecution of real criminals? Meanwhile as Stella Gibson, Latoya Nugent’s alter ego said on Facebook:

“As long as I breathe abusers will never silence me.
As long as I breathe paedophiles will never silence me.
As long as I breathe sexual predators will never silence me.
As long as I breathe, the state will never silence me.”

Rudies don’t fear (as the song goes), rudies don’t fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kingston: Creative City Not?

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Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), an urban art festival held every June, will not celebrate its tenth anniversary this year due mainly to dwindling support from corporate Jamaica. The email press release from the organizers of the festival said simply:
“The staging of KOTE is a large undertaking and can be difficult given that it is a 10 day studio and performing art festival held at over 26 venues throughout Kingston with hundreds of artists participating.”

“This year KOTE Milestones would have been our 10th anniversary however unfortunately given a combination of factors and unforeseen circumstances including not least of all the financial strain of the festival, we have been forced to cancel KOTE 2017.”

The cancelling of KOTE is a blow to Kingston’s cultural calendar as it was a showcase for artists, writers, musicians, poets, dancers and others involved in the expressive arts. Typically KOTE events catered to aficionados of alternative music (alternative to Reggae and Dancehall that is), modern dance, poetry, theatre, architecture, pottery and visual art, bringing a wide range of patrons, young and old, out of their closets for this rich cultural immersion.

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David Marchand (photo: Chloe Walters-Wallace)

For example at KOTE 2015, David Marchand, the fantastically eccentric and reclusive visual artist found dead in his Runaway Bay home last week, had his first solo exhibition in 23 years featuring 55 of his art works. Titled “Tsunami Scarecrow: A David Marchand Retrospective” the launch of the exhibition featured opening words by Maxine Walters, a dedicated patron of his work, jazz compositions by Seretse Small and a preview of a documentary on Marchand by Chloe Walters Wallace. Marchand liked to think of himself as “a visual Bob Marley”, but I think Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry offers a better comparison.

Another year the highlight of KOTE was a guided bus trip starting at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, the site of the 1891 World Fair and stopping at different locations in Kingston that once were tourist sites. Conducted by architect Evon Williams, the tour extended from the site of the now defunct Myrtle Bank Hotel downtown to Immaculate Conception Convent in uptown Kingston once better known as the Constant Spring Hotel. To visit its beautiful lobby and environs is to take a step back in time, for the nuns have changed the buildings very little and done a good job of maintaining its serene ambiance.

KOTE also pioneered what has become a regular feature of the National Gallery of Jamaica, its Last Sundays programme, when the Gallery is open to the public for free with performative offerings in addition to the art exhibtions. Hard to believe that sponsors were not forthcoming for such a beautifully curated series of events showcasing Kingston as the creative hub it is.

Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, even with a depressed economy due to plummeting oil prices was able to find the resources to continue hosting their excellent little literary showcase, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Aside from their title sponsor, the Trinidad and Tobago Gas Company, Bocas has 30 or more other sponsors including One Caribbean Media willing to support and celebrate Caribbean talent.

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Ishion Hutchinson (2nd from left), Safiya Sinclair at Bocas Lit Fest. At mike Nicholas Laughlin

Jamaica dominated the festival this year, leading people to refer to it as the Jamaican Bocas, which culminated in Kei Miller winning the overall Bocas Award for his consummate novel, Augustown. Also in the running was another Jamaican, Safiya Sinclair, for her book of poetry, Cannibal. Safiya was the Bocas winner for poetry this year and is the latest wunderkid of Jamaican poetry to hit the international circuits, winning several mainstream fellowships and awards.

Another headliner at Bocas Lit Fest this year was Ishion Hutchinson, the Portland prodigy, the shearing of whose locks as a schoolboy inspired Kei Miller’s novel, Augustown. Hutchinson’s many honors include the American National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Whiting Writers Award and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets; he is also a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in poetry. Like Sinclair, Ishion grew up in a Rasta household, she in Montego Bay and he in Port Antonio.

Festivals such as KOTE and Bocas are also about developing a ground for home-grown talent to thrive in…for how much longer can we expect our best and brightest to live in their heads? Safiya Sinclair pinpoints the sense of ‘unbelonging’ quite eloquently:

“Home was not my island, which never belonged to us Jamaicans, though it’s all we’ve known, and home was not my family’s house, which we’ve always rented, all of us acutely aware of the fact that we were living in borrowed space, that we could never truly be ourselves there. Home was not the body. Never the body—grown too tall and gangly too quickly, grown toward womanhood too late. Like a city built for myself, home was a place I carved out in my head, where the words were always the right words, where I could speak in English or patois, could formulate a song or a self. Home for me has always been poetry.”

What price press freedom?

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When you were a child and got punished for doing something bad did you ever wish for a world in which wrong was right and right was wrong? Because then, you resentfully imagined, you might not find yourself the target of a beating or scolding so often? Well, I’m beginning to think that I may be living in such a world after all.

There are several reasons for thinking this. The arithmetic of crime and punishment in Jamaica for one. Take the fact that Former Commissioner of Customs Danville Walker was found guilty of breaching the Contractor General Act for which the maximum fine was only J$5,000 (approx US$35) or 14 days in prison.

Let’s add to that the fact that reputed gang leader Tesha Miller was recently fined the maximum penalty of J$100 (under US$1) after pleading guilty to one of two counts of making a false declaration to Jamaican immigration officials. In effect Miller was found guilty of entering Jamaica under a false name. In what I can only assume was sarcasm at the paltry sum involved Parish Judge Sancia Burrell in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court imposed the fine accompanied by the following statement:
“I hope you are prepared to satisfy the maximum fine and I hope you are able to call a relative or family member to help you if you can’t manage it”.

In contrast section 9C of The Town and Communities Act specifies that “any person who shall make on any fence, wall or other building, any obscene figure, drawing, painting, or representation, or sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or write or draw any indecent or obscene word, figure, or representation, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language publicly can be subject to a fine not exceeding $1,500 or to imprisonment with or without hard labour, for a period not exceeding thirty days.”

Well, clearly using “indecent or obscene language” publicly is 15 times worse than pretending to be somebody else, in essence trying to mislead immigration officials, in Jamaica. And it’s twice as bad as breaching the Contractor General Act, to calculate by the dividend of the maximum number of days one can be sentenced to prison for. Keep in mind that the Act in question is designed to curb corruption in public office, one of the scourges of the developing world. Clearly this crime is viewed with mild disapproval and no more in Jamaica.

The boom shot however is the new Cybercrimes Act under which human rights activist Latoya Nugent was arrested and charged for allegedly publishing information on social media accusing several persons of being sexual predators. According to a report in one newspaper, “Under Section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act, which speaks to the use of a computer for malicious communication, in the case of a first offence, Nugent faces a maximum fine of J$4 million or imprisonment of up to four years, or both, if convicted.”

Blow wow, well blow me down with a feather. Do the math and tell me what you think the Jamaican justice system is telling us about which crimes it considers serious and which ones to rap us on the knuckles for. Tell me why we’re not to conclude that the Jamaican state feels much more threatened by a freedom of speech violation than nefarious crimes such as sidestepping the laws of the nation or brazenly lying to officials about one’s identity.

Senior Trinidad and Tobago journalist Wesley Gibbings says that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are really hard sells in the Caribbean, that deep down Caribbean societies don’t believe in these freedoms. Apart from “financially induced self-censorship” new cyber legislation is a threat, according to Gibbings, who was speaking at a forum on press freedom at Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, because any statement viewed as having embarrassed someone can be considered libelous and subject to punitive fines. Cyber legislation is being invoked under criminal law so that you can be arrested and jailed for being insulting, ‘unpatriotic’ and other such vague and loosely defined terms.

While May 3 is celebrated as World Press Freedom Day there are different metrics of press freedom, according to Gibbings some of which may not be relevant to the Caribbean. Reporters without Borders compiles an index in which Jamaica ranks 8th out of 180 and Trinidad 34th. Despite this says Gibbons “in the Caribbean journalists are not being killed, but many stories die,” though in most places stories die because journalists are killed. But in the Caribbean, according to Gibbings stories die without journalists being killed, silenced by threats to their jobs and self-censorship so the metrics need to be compiled in a much more nuanced way.

The other problem Gibbings feels is that there is little real interest in investigative journalism. “…whether you look at civil society and their representative organizations, journalists themselves, the corporate sector, the state—none of them really want it because a lot of them really wouldn’t last too long in their positions if you had proper investigative journalism.”

This is a chilling realization borne out by the calculus of crime and punishment detailed at the beginning of this column. What it makes clear is that too many sectors of society have a serious interest in maintaining a corrupt status quo, and will use the legal system to suppress those who would expose the wrongdoing while giving a bligh to the wrongdoers.

 

 

Policing Profanity

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Clovis cartoon, Jamaica Observer, April 17, 2017

My Gleaner column of 19/4/17

If I were ever to be tried for murder I would want QC Valerie Neita Robertson as my lead defense attorney. For as we have seen in the case of hapless Kay-Ann Lamont, murdered with her 8-month old fetus for using ‘indecent language’ after being robbed while out shopping for school supplies for her children, Neita Robertson is able to move juries to do the unimaginable: acquit her killer of murder, manslaughter or any kind of wrong-doing whatsoever.

Police Corporal Smart, who killed Kay-Ann Lamont, was regarded as “a very mild-mannered police officer” and his defense was accident, intermingled with self-defense, according to Director of Public Prosecution Paula Llewellyn. In fact the DPP’s statements about this trial are instructive. The Jury, she says, was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the guilt of the accused with respect to murder, manslaughter or wounding with intent in respect of Kay-Ann Lamont’s sister, also shot by the policeman, was made out.

In an interview with RJR’s Dionne Jackson-Miller the DPP explained that Corporal Smart heard expletives being uttered, decided to make a “lawful arrest” but in attempting to restrain Lamont while trying to “overcome her resistance” to arrest, there was a struggle during which his gun accidentally went off. ”A lot of members of the public are not aware that when a policeman is making a lawful arrest he doesn’t even have to touch you, he only needs to say ‘I am arresting you’ and the citizen has a duty to comply, then you complain after,” explained the DPP.

A video shot by an onlooker was pressed into evidence and Prosecution called five eye witnesses, including two sisters of the deceased, one of them the wounded complainant, to testify to the jury how their sister had received her injuries. There were also two policemen testifying for the crown and an independent businessman with no connections to either side. “But remember” continued the DPP, “the jurors are not only listening to the evidence being given they are also observing the witnesses give their evidence, observing their demeanour, their tone, their manner.”

The accused, Corporal Smart, had six character witnesses and according to the DPP was crying throughout the trial, and from his antecedents, the statements of his character witnesses and his demeanour—“he was a very soft-spoken, mild-mannered policeman who had an excellent report from the character witnesses about how he conducted himself professionally so you go back to what the jurors as common-sense persons coming from different backgrounds would have been looking at and observing…They can see elements when human rights are being infringed and they see police brutality, examples of it, but they can also see when members of the public are not being disciplined or not obeying when a police officer is seeking to effect a lawful arrest (pl retain italics). So it is finally left to the jury to observe, listen and assess the demeanour of the witnesses and the accused to decide can they be sure beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused.”

I was struck by the DPP’s repeated emphasis on the ‘demeanour’ of the witnesses, in particular the two sisters of the deceased. What does this suggest? That their demeanour was somehow not appropriate enough to work in their favor while the ‘demeanour’ of the policeman—‘mild-mannered’ ‘decent and honourable’ according to the defense attorney, sobbing uncontrollably in court during proceedings and verdict somehow gave him the edge as far as good citizenship was concerned while the dead woman, first in cursing her bad luck at being robbed, and then resisting arrest by the policeman for the ‘crime’ of doing so had somehow wantonly squandered her right to go about her business? Her demeanour wasn’t one of milk toast niceness and obedience so ultimately she was herself responsible for losing her life at the hands of this ‘decent and honourable’ policeman?

QC Neita-Robertson explained in a separate interview that the video showed the 8-months pregnant Lamont and her two sisters advancing on Corporal Smart who then drew his gun in ‘self-defence’. In retreating the policeman fell and his firearm went off killing Kay-Ann Lamont and injuring her sister. The shooting itself was not caught on video but the accused claimed that he was attacked by a crowd who were supportive of the sisters. This claim according to Neita-Robertson was corroborated by a crown witness who testified that crowds in Yallahs “have a habit of attacking police and disarming them.” Of course with the Police’s record of abuse of power and extra-judicial killings this is hardly surprising if true.

Ultimately as the DPP kept repeating “This case also involved whether a lawful arrest was being effected.” And there in my mind lies the rub. Had there not been a law proscribing the use of expletives in public Kay-Ann Lamont would still be alive and so would her unborn child who would have been five this year. At a time when the DPP complains of an acute shortage of court rooms to try the many serious criminal cases that keep being postponed as a result, this case tied up a courtroom, legal luminaries, jurors and judge for five whole weeks.

Isn’t it about time we did a cost-benefit analysis of the law against ‘indecent language’ to assess what exactly the gains are compared to the egregious loss of life demonstrated by this case? Why is the law and order system so intent on criminalizing the use of expletives while allowing alleged criminal masterminds such as Tesha Miller and others to operate without hindrance? Is something being lost in translation here?

Evening Sun Can’t Dry Clothes…

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My Gleaner column of April 12, 2017

Reparation begins at home and last week’s unprecedented government apology to Rastafari for the Coral Gardens ‘incident’—really an attempted pogrom or ethnic cleansing by the state—is a good beginning. In the years just before independence there was a worry that Marxist extremists, emboldened by Fidel Castro’s overthrow of Batista in Cuba in 1959, might influence militant Rastas to do the same in Jamaica.

It might seem preposterous today but in 1960 a Rastafarian elder named Reverend Claudius Henry wrote a letter to Castro asking for help in overthrowing the “oppressors” in Jamaica. This was followed by his son, a Black nationalist activist from the USA, Ronald Henry, and members of his First Afrika Corps who had established a military training camp in a remote area in the Red Hills, ambushing and killing two Royal Hampshire Marines. In an interview I did with Professor Robert Hill some years ago he said that for the next six days they were hunted down in the largest search operation that Jamaica had ever witnessed with close to a thousand military and police taking part in the search.

Norman Manley was then the Premier of Jamaica and his security adviser was the noted anthropologist MG Smith. According to Hill Smith viewed the Rastafari as a serious security threat, describing the situation thus in a letter: “Revolution becomes Redemption with Repatriation as the issue provoking bloodshed. The Marxist vanguard wears a Niyabingi cloak.”

Of course anyone who knows Rastafari today realizes how remote such an eventuality really was. But in those days Rastas were seen as disreputable, dangerous thieves and murderers both by the PNP, the JLP and the middle and upper classes generally, mainly because with their dreadlocks, their vernacular speech and smoking of ganja the brethren violated every aspect of the codes of respectability and faux gentility the upper crust lived by.

The persecution of Rastafari by the state started way back in the 30s when according to the Observer: “For preaching against the British monarchy and pledging open allegiance to the Ethiopian Emperor, Howell and Hinds were arrested and charged in January 1934 in St Thomas for sedition. The trial of those early Rastafari preachers was heavily reported in the Daily Gleaner and followed by the general populace, as Jamaicans became exposed to public anti-Rastafari sentiment. The Rastafari doctrine and community were on trial and under scrutiny…The police attended at Howell’s camp in St Thomas and smashed it. Between 1934 and 1935 other early Rastafari leaders were also targeted and prosecuted, including Archibald Dunkley in 1934 and 1935 and Joseph Hibbert in 1935.”

By the time of the Coral Gardens events in 1963, the Jamaica Labour Party was in power and plans were afoot to develop prime St James properties into exclusive enclaves for tourists.The problem was that these were areas co-inhabited by Rastas and it was feared tourists might be alarmed by sightings of the unshorn bredren. On April 11, 1963, there was a series of incidents in Coral Gardens resulting in the burning down of a gas station and the death of 8 people, including two policemen. According to Professor Horace Campbell the Jamaican state used the altercation at Coral Gardens, to mount a violent campaign against the Rastafarian community in Western Jamaica.

“The brethren had claimed freedom of movement for themselves and for other oppressed Jamaicans. They were being prevented from walking along the areas of the Coast close to the Half Moon Bay Hotel. These areas were being segregated in order to make the Montego Bay area ready for international investments in tourism.”

The biggest landowner in St James in those days was Sir Francis Moncrieff Kerr-Jarrett. “He continuously petitioned the Governor and the colonial office to clamp down on the Rastafari who he described as ‘an undesirable sect’ saying that the governor should do everything to discourage their activities During the latter years of the fifties, Kerr Jarrett was behind one of the conservative movements to appear in Jamaica under the guise of Moral Rearmament. In the years 1951-1960 he was the principal patron of this conservative cold war pseudo-religious movement. Through the activism of Kerr Jarrett, the colonial special branch police had placed numerous Rastafari camps under surveillance and had used the Vagrancy laws of the period of enslavement against the camps of the Rastafari.”

This is the background to the explosion that took place at Coral Gardens that fateful day in April 1963. It is surely one of the finest ironies that 55 years later the Jamaican tourist product is inconceivable without the accompanying image and sound of Rastafari. We have lived long enough to see Bob Marley’s words come true: “the stone that the builder refused, shall be the head cornerstone.”

The government’s apology comes not a moment too late but the accompanying offer of reparation in the sum of $10 million dollars seems paltry. It is too little, too late and exemplifies that wonderful saying “Evening sun can’t dry clothes.”

As Bunny Wailer exclaimed on Facebook:

“AFTER RASTAFARI CREATE BILLIONS OF WEALTH FOR BRAND JAMAICA, THEM WANT OFFER RASTA $10,000,000 DOLLARS? $10,000,000 DOLLARS is what its costing just to produce my One Love Tribute Show! Its A Disgrace When I First Heard It & It’s No Less Now!”

What the Rastafari always wanted was land to live and grow on. If money is in short supply, why can’t the Government make up the shortfall by apportioning land to them? There’s certainly plenty of land lying idle all around the island; this would go much further toward repairing the wounds of yesterday and also prove that the apology is sincere.