Lynchings are NOT just any other murder…#DwayneJones

A riposte to the suggestion that Dwayne Jones’s killing was no different from the 1000+ murders that happen each year in Jamaica.

Watch incredible CVM video footage of Dwayne Jones, 2 months before his lynching, talking about his fear of being killed at the hands of the police, the difficulties of being homeless and demonstrating his awesome dancing skills for the camera crew. Horrific to think that society could not protect him from his worst fears.

On August 13, after a weekend during which Jamaica got a lot of bad press in the international media over the Dwayne Jones case, BBC Radio’s highly acclaimed programme World Have Your Say, held a half hour discussion on the subject of being gay in Jamaica, triggered by the violent killing of Dwayne Jones on July 22nd. I was invited to be on the show along with local BBC rep Nick Davies, Jalna, convenor of a group called Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, who identified herself as lesbian and Bishop Alvin Bailey from the Portmore Holiness Christian Church. I was invited because the producers had read my blog, Active Voice, and the two posts I did on the Dwayne James murder.

The discussion was quite robust although Bishop Bailey seemed not to realize that this particular gender war is about the freedom of gays/homosexuals to be open about their sexuality in Jamaica. His comments suggested that much ado was being made about nothing and he even asked if he was living in the same Jamaica the rest of us were talking about. His contention was that there are many homosexuals living and working in Jamaica peacefully and that most of the murders of gay people were by fellow gays. When Jalna talked of the fear she felt at having threats directed at her when she had to walk on the street he asked how people knew she was a lesbian (!). This suggests that the good Reverend  is unaware that the debate is about gays in Jamaica being able to ‘come out’ (of the closet) without being threatened with bodily harm, something not one of those hundreds of professionals feels comfortable enough to do. Conform to gender norms of dress and behaviour he seems to be saying, and every little thing’s gonna be alright. Three Little Birds…

Here’s an MP3 of the BBC World Have Your Say discussion on being transgender in Jamaica in case you want to listen to it yourselves. There’s a general introduction dealing with international news and then the discussion begins:

Nationwide’s Emily Crooks having listened to part of the BBC discussion, mentioned it on her radio programme the morning after, saying that the world didn’t realize that the lack of reaction to Dwayne Jones’s murder was not to be read as homophobia but as the sign of a population inured and calloused to murder in general…as if a lynching is equivalent to the random murders that take place daily. According to her the lack of outrage at his death was hardly exceptional for a population accustomed to 2-3 murders a day and he wasn’t the only child who had been murdered recently either, she added, just look at the shooting of 11 year old Tashanique James, in the west Kingston community of Denham Town on August 1.

I found this interesting. In an earlier discussion I’d had with the intrepid Simon Crosskill, a prominent TV journalist here, he made a similar point, claiming that he didn’t understand why Dwayne’s murder was any different or more deserving of attention than that of Tashanique James. Both Crosskill and Crooks claim like many others that there is simply no difference between Dwayne’s murder and all the other horrible murders that happen regularly in Jamaica. This view is also very widespread on social media and for that matter in traditional media.

Human rights campaigners tried to point out that Dwayne Jones’s murder qualified as a ‘hate crime’ but this didn’t help either.  Many Jamaicans on social media were adamant that Jones’s death merited no special concern or attention. In the next paragraph I quote a few tweets that illustrate this sentiment.

A couple of days after the lynching former deputy police commissioner Mark Shields, who came here on loan from Scotland Yard 10 or so years ago, and is now resident in Jamaica, tweeted the following:

Mark Shields @marxshields: 
The lack of condemnation by political & church leaders re#DwayneJones murder is sending a message to Jamaica that it condones hate crimes.

And he received what now seems to me to be the standard party line in Jamaica from my good friend @Grindacologist. To wit:

Grindacologist @Grindacologist: 
RT @marxshields: lack of condemnation by political & church leaders re #DwayneJones murder ¤ 1000+ murders a year…why this one special?

The two following tweets came weeks later, during or immediately after the BBC show, but they express almost exactly the same view:

Dat Mawga Bwoi @MrKritique
What is different about this 17 year old that has been killed tho why this much publicity? 17 year old die everyday in JA @anniepaul

Dennis Marlon @dennisbroox
…The retired Priest was killed too. That was sad too. Jamaicans moved on too. Not that special in the indifference dept

So what’s going on here? Surely even an imbecile can see that there’s a difference between an ordinary murder and a lynching. Neither Emily Crooks nor Simon Crosskill could ever be mistaken for imbeciles. What is the blind spot that makes top Jamaican journalists and others oblivious to this difference? On the grounds of that fact alone the Dwayne Jones killing is immediately in a separate category from shootings like that of Tashanique James who was killed by a stray bullet in a gang war in Denham Town.  Everyone is in agreement that killings such as that of young Tashanique are wrong. Gangs have been targeted by police for years now and there are policies in place (as ineffectual as they may seem) to remedy this situation.

There are no such policies in place to deter mob killings, which have been on the rise in the last few years. It’s barely a year since that horrific attack by a mob on a man and his daughter in Trelawny, in which the father was chopped to death, his daughter left severely injured and their house burnt to the ground. Their sin? They had the misfortune to be related to a young man suspected by the mob of having ‘sodomized’ two young boys who had drowned in a nearby river. The man who was killed was the young man’s stepfather, not even a blood relative. But here’s the clincher: Police reports said that there was no sign whatsoever that the drowned boys had been sodomized (buggered). Yet this mob descended on the house of a young man they insisted had violated the boys and when they didn’t find him there put to death his stepfather and slashed his sister with machetes.

THAT was a good occasion to talk about homophobia but did we? NO. We shoved it under the carpet, pretended that all was normal in good old Jamdown, and moved right along. We certainly never got to hear the kind of details about the victims of that mob killing we’ve seen about Tashanique James, the 11 year old girl mentioned earlier.

Similarly we know far more about Dwayne Jones, the family he came from, the circumstances of his abandonment at their hands, who his friends were, the kind of person he was, from international media who were able to glean all this from as far away as Canada where the Toronto Star devoted the entire front page of last Sunday’s paper to this story. None of the media houses here considered it worth their while to humanize him by letting us know these details about him. Contrast this with the killing of Tashanique James which prompted the Gleaner to devote its senior-most journalist, Arthur Hall, to the story, in which he proceeded to do just that. His front page story, Outspoken child becomes victim of gunman’s bullet,  showed us the human face of the little girl who had been so brutally cut down and then did a follow up story on the gang warfare that had resulted in her death.

No such consideration for Dwayne Jones. Not even though he died in extraordinary circumstances which in themselves merited front page coverage. But oh no, how dare you say this lack of media attention was because we’re homophobic? It’s just that the media can’t keep up with all the murders that take place here everyday.

In a sensational posthumous scoop CVM TV announced on its main newscast two days ago that they had just realized that in covering another story in the St James area two months ago, their reporters had actually met Dwayne Jones and done an in-depth interview with him. Not only that, he dances for their camera, extraordinarily lithe, bouncing with life–so hard to imagine such vitality snuffed out for nothing at all. It’s a measure of the dysfunctionality of our main media houses, and the class and gender biases they suffer from, that it took them three weeks to realize they had this stunning footage. You can watch it in the video below. The TV host is none other than my good friend Simon Crosskill, mentioned earlier in this post. This is how Jamaican media should have covered this terrible killing from the beginning.

In case anyone thinks I harp too much on the shortcomings of the media let me point out one of the dangers of local press not recording a murder in all its gory detail especially when you know that it’s likely to attract international attention. Look at this conversation I came across on Facebook, posted on the wall of a group calling itself I AM JAMAICA, the day the Associated Press story hit the news all over the world about a week ago. A woman named Greta asks if anyone’s seen the story which appeared on Yahoo.com and posts it. Another person named Dean reassures her that the foreign media has made all this up pointing to the lack of eyewitness accounts, photographs and generally coverage of the murder by local media to make his argument(!):

Greta Mellerson: I AM JAMAICA
Did you hear about this, got this from yahoo
http://news.yahoo.com/jamaica-transgender-teen-murdered-mob-070446416.html

In Jamaica, transgender teen murdered by mob
news.yahoo.com
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (AP) — Dwayne Jones was relentlessly teased in high school for being effeminate until he dropped out. His father not only kicked him out of the house at the age of 14 but also helped jeering neighbors push the youngster from the rough Jamaican slum where he grew up.

Greta Mellerson: Even though I am anti-gay, I don’t think we should go as far as to kill people for what they want to become or do in life. As long as it does not hurt anyone in the interim.

Dean Strachan: its false reporting generated by the gay lobby similar to how the republicans and Faux news creates stories that doesnt relate to the real events.
the gay teen was shot to death and dumped by his friends.
then they made up this story about him being attacked by a straight mob in a dancehall on** a monday night at 3 am.
Yet there is no eye witness report nor pictures.
with all the cellphone cameras in jamaica and cheap phone credits.
not even the owners of the dancehall.
moreover permits have to br issued to have dance.
and no permit would be issued by the police for a monday night dance.
it also have the teen beaten and chopped.
Only he was killed by the bullets or five gun shots.
its just another murdoch type entertainment for news.

Greta Mellerson: You see de now Dean Strachan, people reading this would believe it and don’t have somebody like you fe straighten out de story! Now this is coming from yahoo (USA), that means lots of people maybe cancelling their trips to the island because of this, that means less $. So it could be a political move! thanks for straightening out dis story ya!

Dean Strachan: the story has been all over the place, but the government dont think it is important enogh to deal with it before it start affect the revinues. then they wiill spend millions to mop up it.

Incredibly the group’s catchline says “I AM JAMAICA is responsible for attracting and developing foreign investments. We will guide you throughout your decision making process.” Not sure why they think investors would be attracted to a country where occasional lynchings take place, homosexuals are told they’re not wanted, there are so many murders the media can’t keep up and the justice and police system are shambolic.

Are we ever going to give up the fondly held myth that Jamaica is an English-speaking, heterosexual, devoutly Christian nation of polite people who run fast and make great music? Your guess is as good as mine.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

7 thoughts on “Lynchings are NOT just any other murder…#DwayneJones”

  1. Thanks, Annie. The lynching analogy certainly helps to confront Jamaica and its journalists with the contradictions of their willful indifference. But the reported actions of Dwayne Jones’ family in disowning him and not even being willing to claim his body in death, suggest an even deeper social pathology than lynching. In the case of lynch mobs in the United States in most instances, at least families and members of the victims’ communities didn’t abandon their slain brethren and recognized that the injustice done to them threatened all.

    1. Val, you raise a valuable point which I hadn’t even thought about…they’ve finally claimed the body incidentally. I wonder if their hesitation might have had to do with fear of repercussions from neighbours. Certainly families putting their own children out also probably has to do with this immense pressure and social disapproval. Sigh.

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