Garvey’s Lesson

 

IMG_3243
Latoya Nugent

My Gleaner column of March 29, 2017 which i wrote in sympathy with human rights activist Latoya Nugent, arrested under the controversial new Cyber Crimes Act in Jamaica is presented below the following commentary on her arrest and detention.

For a relatively minor action (naming three alleged sexual predators online)  that could have been tried under civil libel laws, the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch descended on Nugent and fellow activist Nadeen Spence in a massive show of force, arresting Nugent and keeping her in jail for the night. After attempts to set an unreasonably high bail of over a million Jamaican dollars failed, the police reduced the amount to station bail of J$100,000 and released Ms. Nugent the following day. On a point of comparison, the bail for 64-year old Moravian pastor Rupert Clarke who was caught in flagrante delicto with a 15-year old girl, was only J$800,000. 

Ms Nugent’s case has been postponed twice now with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) taking a personal interest in the matter. The DPP has ruled that the Cyber Crimes Act does not permit criminal prosecution for libel and defamation. With the case now slated to return to court in May we await the outcome of what is looking very much like an attempt by the police to intimidate activists and freedom of speech in cyberspace. Noteworthy is the fact that the new date scheduled for the  case — May 17th — happens to be the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia when Ms Nugent and others were planning to hold a pride march.

In the meantime a forum has been organized to discuss the Cyber Crimes Act at the University of the West Indies this Wednesday, April 5. Appearing on the forum will be Dr. Canute Thompson, who is suing Nugent for defamation regarding her allegations that he has sexually abused girls.

IMG_1348

The sympathy of the public and the media in Jamaica too often seems to lie with the perpetrators of rape rather than the victims or as Ms. Nugent prefers to call them, the survivors. For instance a Jamaica Observer article covering the statutory rape case of Ruper Clarke headlined the article thus: “Court to hear case of girl in Moravian pastor’s plight tomorrow.”

One radio station kept referring to Ms. Nugent as ‘the controversial Latoya Nugent’ every time they reported on the case. But by that token they should also say ‘the controversial Marcus Garvey’ or ‘the controversial Sam Sharpe’ every time they mention the names of those national heroes because till very recently both had  criminal records. The media of the time vilified them but that hasn’t prevented them from taking their rightful place in the pantheon of Jamaican heroes.

In that sense Latoya is in excellent company…she is a latter-day Nanny, a heroine for our times, a contemporary warner woman. She is exactly the kind of leader Jamaica needs today–independent, uncompromising and fearless. An inspiration. Let the Jamaican state try to arrest or detain that. In fact the powers-that-be should be wary of inadvertently creating a martyr who could easily metamorphose into a new leader. They should learn from history and Mr. Garvey himself.

Below is my column Garvey’s Lesson:

“Real leaders don’t care whom they offend, if in offending they are serving the cause of humanity and working for the good of their country. Jesus Christ was the greatest offender when he was on earth, and we ought to take a leaf out of his book in this respect.”

Marcus Garvey, arguably Jamaica’s premier national hero, certainly knew what it meant to be considered offensive for when he wasn’t being sued for libel he was being denounced as a villain by powerful interests both at home and abroad. One of the more frivolous lawsuits he faced was in 1930 when a Mrs Barnes-Haylett, a dressmaker who lived at the corner of Church and Beeston Street, sued Marcus Garvey’s newspaper The Blackman for libel, demanding damages of £1000, a small fortune in those days.

At the time Etheline Marjory Barnes-Haylett earned only £3 a week yet was represented by none other than his learned counsel, Norman Manley, while Marcus Garvey, in an effort to save money, as he did in the US, represented himself. The Gleaner carried blow-by-blow accounts of the trial with some of the in-jokes traded by Norman Manley and the judge at Garvey’s expense reminding me of the virtual heckling of the lawyer representing Tivoli victims by lawyers for the state at the recent West Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

The offending article in The Blackman described the formation of a new club at premises occupied by Barnes-Haylett, suggesting it was a place that might offer opportunities for whist drives and games of poker and twenty-one. Appearing under a section called Night Life the article said that the club had enlisted a large number of female members and that this itself should contribute to the club’s success promising ‘crazy’ times ahead. The writer of the article, one Thoywell Henry, who affected an American slang style of writing, said he had acquired this information from Clifford Parker, a customs officer, and a member of the club whom he described as a ‘spree’.

Mrs. Haylett complained that this account had damaged her reputation and that of the Amateur Choral Union which she had founded at her home. The word ‘female’ suggested prostitution, she said, and there had never been any mention of whist drives or poker or ‘sprees’. The organist of the club confessed that the mandate of the Choral Union may have been extended somewhat. “We…may have…sung secular songs but the original intention of the organisation was to sing hymns and songs in church, and not on the stage.”

I was struck by the following exchange between Garvey and Mrs. Barnes-Haylett who argued:

“…that false statement about me should not be in the Blackman making attacks on my character and reputation. My character is priceless.”

“Mr Garvey: We know that and would not take that away from you under any circumstances.”

Another striking thing about the reported exchanges is that it seems in those days witnesses were allowed to answer back and even question the lawyers cross-examining them.

Mr. Garvey: You know that Mr. Mends is a politician, don’t you?

Witness: What is a politician? (Laughter.)

Mr. Garvey: A person who indulges in politics.

Witness: And what is politics? (Laughter.)

Mr. Garvey: The science of Government.

Witness: I don’t know about that: I am only a dressmaker (laughter).

Clifford Parker too tried to claim damages of £100 but didn’t get very far with this. Marcus Garvey suggested that the entire libel suit was concocted by a group of people, including Barnes-Haylett and Parker, who thinking that “Mr. Garvey of Somali Court” was a man of means, had planted the story on one of the Blackman’s reporters.

What is curious is that the lawsuit did not allow time for the Blackman to publish an apology before proceeding to court. When a clarification was published after the fact Barnes-Haylett complained that it had caused her more grief, as the police had come to her premises to investigate. She therefore was claiming aggravated libel. Marcus Garvey challenged her to provide evidence of the visit of the police.

After much court time was taken up deciding whether Garvey was even liable for the damages or not, as he insisted he was not the managing editor of the publication, the judge awarded the plaintiff damages of £30, a considerably smaller sum than the £1000 she had demanded.

How interesting that today no one remembers Mrs. Barnes-Haylett or her “priceless” character while the ‘libellous’ Marcus Garvey is a national hero and widely acknowledged as a global leader whose influence far exceeds the shores of the country he was born in. The fact that we keep repeating history suggests we’ve yet to learn from it. Perhaps as someone once said “The only lesson you can learn from history is that it repeats itself.”

Every Now Has its Before

In Jamaica it should be #Poorlivesmatter not #blacklivesmatter coz some black lives do matter here and the police doing the killing and maiming are just as black as their victims…

vveXIQjBQbPG_1WTm10uBIuLEPhgPwTiJ_YGohH81TI

The column below from a couple of weeks ago about the need for a #poorlivesmatter campaign in Jamaica has been getting some attention. #Blacklivesmatter as a rallying call has little traction in Jamaica where if you’re black but middle class or upper class you’re–for all intents and purposes–an honorary white. Social blackness is reserved for those who are black and poor, not just those who may be dark-skinned, regardless of class.

I thought as much when I saw Fabian Thomas’s ‘Black Bodies’ almost a year ago–a play that aimed to “tell the stories and honour the memories of four Jamaicans (Vanessa Kirkland, Jhaneel Goulbourne, Michael Gayle, and Mario Deane) killed by the police or while in police custody” while attempting to draw a somewhat facile connection with the US’s #blacklivesmatter campaign which was then just beginning to gain momentum.

And in a move to rival the truth in strangeness, a very bougie, uptown Kingston nightclub named Fiction invited patrons to come and show their support for #Blacklivesmatter by partying the night away. Fittingly they aroused the wrath of social media with tweeters like Matthew McNaughton @mamcnaughton saying “Never been more disgusted with Jamaica UPT Culture than when I saw this @FictionJamaica flier.” The flier is at the top of this post, my column is below:

Gleaner, July 13, 2016

The #BlackLivesMatter campaign has rightfully been hogging media attention worldwide with American Police being shown up as less respectful of human rights than you would expect from a nation that regularly monitors and penalizes other countries for their alleged violations of these universally agreed on rights. Superficially there appears to be a resemblance to the way Jamaican police behave except for a crucial difference.

Here it’s the intersection of class with race that arouses the savagery of the Police and seemingly gives them the right to detain, imprison and on far too many occasions murder a ‘suspect’ whereas in the US the detention and deaths in question seem to be largely racially focused. In 2009 for instance the very distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was detained and imprisoned by police after forcing open the stuck door to his own house. A neighbour, misconstruing the scene, reported a robbery in progress, the police arrived, and despite the erudite Professor’s explanations he was carted off to jail.

This would never happen In Jamaica. Here you might be black and suspect until you display your rightful ownership of certain markers of privilege—and therefore legitimacy–of which the ability to speak English fluently is one. This is another stark example of how Patwa-speakers are discriminated against in their own country. Many parents tell their sons that when stopped by police they are to speak perfect English, and mention that they ‘come from somewhere’—that is, an uptown community rather than a downtown or inner city one. Almost instantaneously this frees them from suspicion.

There is no direct way to relate the #BlackLivesMatter campaign to police abuse in Jamaica without acknowledging or starting a local “#PoorLivesMatter campaign. Less than two weeks ago policemen shot a schoolgirl in the head when they wantonly fired bullets at a taxi downtown. Do you think this would have happened in Liguanea or Manor Park? And then to add insult to injury the initial response of the Police was that they had no evidence to suggest that the shooters in question were police officers. What could be more alarming than a possible scenario involving five men disguised as policemen firing their weapons at taxis? Well, actually, duh, a scenario involving five POLICEMEN firing at a taxi which is what in the end it turned out to be.

These are the same police the Attorney-General, in the wake of Lotto-scam generated crime ramping up in Montego Bay, wishes to endow with more leeway to abuse citizens by  insisting that “To successfully tackle the murder problem, some of the fundamental rights and freedoms which we have guaranteed to people may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed.” In fact she forgot to mention that this has been the state of affairs for so-called downtown people forever; the outcry now is because the warning is addressed to English-speaking, uptown-dwelling, middle-class bodies.

I adapted the title of this column from Kei Miller’s novel The Last Warner Woman. “Every now have its before”, she warns, although few heed her. Police Commissioner Williams has rightly said that the problems in Montego Bay are not something harsher policing measures or a state of emergency can solve. They are systemic and need social intervention, for what gone bad a-morning, can’t come good a-evening. Imagine the scene in the United States if President Obama used the current crisis to give American police even more draconian powers than they already enjoy. Wrong move. Racism in the USA has a long and troubled history just as the virulent classism in Jamaica does. There’s no moving forward without addressing either.

We would do well to heed the words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who invoking the late great Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, said:

If I could write this with fire I would set ablaze some ideas on this page. I would talk about the black boys in Montego Bay who no longer know the value of life. They don’t know because their black always needed to be qualified for it to become fully ‘smadditized’. It needed land, and money or an accent. When you grow up in communities that are built on captured land, what does it mean for the girls and boys who develop their personhood in a place where land and property and money helps to define your person.

Capture is a legitimate philosophy, because dem nuh own nutten. When Daddy Sharpe led his rebellion, when he set Kensington ablaze the white people in Montego Bay were angry, they punished, maimed and killed, and Daddy Sharpe gave his life in the middle of Sam Sharpe Square Downtown Montego Bay, right across from the Kerr Jarrett’s Town House.

How has Montego Bay changed? Who plans for the children of Sam Sharpe and his soldiers, the Christmas martyrs. Dem used to state of emergency, di blinking city was born in a state of emergency. What they are not used to is justice and equality and rights and development. Give them that Minister, give them justice and mek it stretch back to 1831 and remember Sam Sharpe. Start with the land…mek dem stop capture…because all lotto scam is another capture philosophy…