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.”

See and blind, hear and deaf…

IMG_1343

The following is my unedited Gleaner column of March 22, 2017. Because it goes directly against the anti-Latoya Nugent and anti-#saytheirnames position adopted by the Gleaner this column wasn’t even shown in the Commentary lineup today (the sidebar showing columns published on a particular day), and you would have had to search hard to find it, very odd considering the number of views it has attracted. Anyway, thank the various gods for blogs…i can easily remedy the situation by posting it here.

The latest is that Nugent’s case which was to have been heard today has been postponed to March 31 because DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) Paula Llewelyn has announced ‘an interest’ in the case. We shall see when the time comes what this ‘interest’ means for issues of libel and defamation in cyberspace. Meanwhile the fate of Latoya Nugent aka as Stella Gibson on Facebook (the name of a hardcore police detective who’s an unapologetic feminist from the British show The Fall) hangs in the balance.

As I pointed out in an earlier column, Jamaican men cry rape every time women say, “Yes, let’s say their names.” A kind of hysteria breaks out because somehow they hear this as women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them. But this is not what women are demanding at all, particularly in the new activism around violence against women.

According to Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Tambourine Army, most of what has been said in both traditional and social media about the#saytheirnames movement is a damaging and gross misrepresentation. She clarifies that the movement is emphatically not about recklessly calling names without any context:

IMG_3243IMG_3250

When we encourage survivors to say the names of perpetrators we are not telling them where to say that name, when to say that name, we are telling them that if they are ever ready to say the names of their perpetrators in private and/or in public that support is available. Whether you want emotional support, psychological support or legal support, it is available for you. I want folks to appreciate that this is about facilitating the empowerment of survivors and about shifting the blame and shame away from survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators and institutions which have allowed folks to abuse their positions of authority and trust because they are aware that we as a society silence our victims and our perpetrators. Our first response when a woman or girl says to us that they have been sexually assaulted or raped is that we don’t believe them and #Saytheirnames is about saying to such women, ‘we believe you, if you decide to come forward we believe you, we will provide the support that you need and if we can’t provide it, we will point you to the entities, or the agencies or the individuals who can give you the support that is needed.’ (Transcribed verbatim from an interview with Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes the day before Latoya Nugent was arrested)

Basically there has been a ‘see and blind, hear and def’ or “see not, hear not, speak not” policy in place in Jamaica for decades. There is widespread buy-in from civil society, the media, the Church, the University, the legal fraternity, you name it. It is enforced by an army of prim citizens, whose first reaction when you speak out about an injustice is to raise their finger to their lips in the universal gesture that means ‘halt your speech’ or ‘stop your noise’ as they say here.

People are socialized to believe that it is fundamentally wrong to ‘call someone’s name’ in public, especially in the media. This should only be done after accusations have been proved in court they say. But court cases take years to be completed in Jamaica and even when they do, often fail to deliver justice. Take the case of the Reverend Paul Lewis, accused of raping a 14-year old girl in Sav-la-Mar, in the presence of another 14-year old girl who testified in court to the rape. Despite the Reverend’s semen being found on the child’s underwear, despite the testimony of an eyewitness, a Jamaican court saw fit to hand down a ‘not-guilty’ verdict.

More often than not rape victims don’t report the crime or give up during the extremely painful, invasive process of going to court to prosecute their attackers. A senior lecturer at UWI says: “I’ve watched helplessly while one of my (now former) students went through 4 years of appearances, delays, and postponements in the courts for the prosecution of two young men whom she had been able to identify as being among her assailants in a gang rape. She eventually decided to pull out of the case. As she put it, they had taken enough of her life, and every time she was required to make another court appearance, she relived the experience. She needed to move on. Justice denied. I wish the perpetrators could be named.”

“Every year, an average of 5,500 people are reporting sexual violence to Canadian police, but their cases are dropping out of the system as unfounded long before a Crown prosecutor, judge or jury has a chance to weigh in,” reports the Globe and Mail. The use of the term ‘unfounded’ to describe cases that the police have dropped due to the inadequacies of their own methods of interviewing victims, taking statements etc has been identified as highly problematic. The article goes on to state:

“True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.”

There is no reason the numbers would be markedly different in Jamaica. Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not a similar outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?

Police Personnel Wanted: Humans Need Not Apply…

A look at the Mario Deane case in Jamaica, the Michael Brown case in the US and the fundamental questions they raise about the Police as a viable, functional arm of governance globally.

Video above features Mario Deane’s parents and Jasmine Rand,one of the lawyers representing the family of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, now on the legal team representing Mario Deane along with Michael Baden, an internationally known forensic pathologist who examined Michael Brown’s body in Ferguson.

On the 6th of August, Jamaica’s 52nd anniversary of independence, a young citizen named Mario Deane died while in the custody of Jamaican police. A Montego Bay construction worker, Deane had been detained by Jamaican police for possession of a Ganja spliff or joint on August 3rd. Despite a relative arriving to bail him within a few hours, the police, in what can only be interpreted as an act of malice, denied him bail–a decision that would cost the young man his life. Deane ‘s crime? Supposedly he had insulted the force by saying that he didn’t like the police.

Deane’s death by savage beating–exactly at whose hands is unclear since the first police report said he had died of injuries sustained from a fall from his bunk. This story was later amended with police now reporting that two mentally ill cellmates had administered the fatal beating. From Sunday to Wednesday Deane remained in hospital under heavy police guard, finally succumbing to his injuries on Independence Day.

Jamaican media carried shocking images of Mario lying in hospital with his face swollen beyond recognition and TV and radio interviews with his family members roused the country as no other death in police custody had done before. It wasn’t as if Mario Deane was the first person to lose his life due to the callousness or viciousness of the police, but he was the first to galvanize the nation into a loud and angry refusal to accept what the state was offering in the name of policing.

What makes a particular case pivotal in inciting public protest is always somewhat of a mystery. In India the boiling point was reached in December 2012 with the gruesome gang rape of young Jyoti Singh. The fury with which the public reacted, with middle and upper class women flooding the streets with placards and processions, took everyone by surprise. Foreign commentators mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that the victim must have been middle class, hence the unprecedented public rage. But she was nothing of the sort. What infuriated urban women was the fact that they identified with her, they all had taken buses at one time or another, nothing could have been more innocent than a young woman’s desire to get home safely and her violation hit home like no other case did. It reminded women of how fundamentally unsafe they were, of what a savage and uncaring society they lived in.

Similarly I think the Mario Deane case is one that resonates deeply with many Jamaicans who are moved to think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Two decades of campaigning by Jamaicans for Justice, an NGO that militates on behalf of human rights, had never achieved such a unified response although they must be given credit for having prepared the ground by their systematic highlighting of police abuses.

In the public’s view Mario Deane was no criminal, never mind that ganja possession is a crime on the books here. It is so much a part of Jamaican culture that no one views it as a serious infraction. In fact the government is about to decriminalize possession of small amounts such as the spliff Mario was carrying. Identification with Deane was therefore high, he was merely a hard-working construction worker going about his business whose life had been rudely, and permanently, interrupted by the police.

Mario Deane died on August 6. On August 9 an American teenager named Michael Brown was shot down by police in Ferguson, Mississippi.  He was black. The city erupted in fury and for days US news channels focused on little else but the teenager’s death. The fallout from the Mario Deane case was now reinforced by this surprising evidence of virtually identical police brutality in the land of the free and the brave. As Kellie Magnus @kelliemagnus tweeted “sad and odd that this case and mike brown case in US happening same time. Black in US = poor in ja.”

For once the USA found itself on the back foot, promoting human rights globally, but practicing the opposite at home. Critics such as Amnesty International were quick to point this out tweeting that the US couldn’t tell countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it didn’t clean up its own human rights record. “Your work has saved far fewer lives than American interventions” shot back The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) which was soon forced to withdraw its snarky retort. “Our sincerest apologies to @amnesty & our followers. Our last tweet was sent in error. We’re reviewing internal policies for social media,” it tweeted.

The discomfiture of the Americans resonated in Jamaica where only a few weeks ago the Police Commissioner had been forced to step down, it was widely believed at the behest of the USA. How could the Americans tell Jamaica how its police force should be staffed without putting their own house in order?

Meanwhile on Facebook a friend, Olu Oguibe, wrote a punchy update, pointing out the comparatively similar behaviour of police everywhere. “…cops are a united nation unto themselves,” he said:

A Murder in Ferguson

One of my favorite movie moments of all time is in Shrek 2 when police pull over Donkey and Puss in Boots, played by Antonio Banderas, and a police officer puts his hand in Puss’s pocket and comes up with drugs. Realizing he’s just been framed, Puss moans helplessly. “That’s not mine, officer”, he begs, “I swear it, that’s not mine.” You never can win against the police, can you? It’s a policeman’s world.

No sooner it became clear that the officer who choked Eric Garner to death in New York last month might be charged than the guy who recorded the incriminating viral video was suddenly arrested for drug dealing and his girlfriend booked for possession. Now, as Ferguson police reluctantly name the cop who shot young Mr. Brown, under obvious pressure from Washington, they simultaneously tell us the youth was recorded a short while earlier robbing a Deli. He isn’t that nice, innocent lad y’all are shouting about, Police Chief Jackson seems to be saying: he’s just a common criminal and that gives us the right to murder him in cold blood. Sure!
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, cops are a united nation unto themselves. You never win against cops.
8.15.14

New York Mayor de Blasio’s stipulation following Eric Garner’s death “When a police officer comes to the decision that it’s time to arrest someone, that individual is obligated to submit to arrest,” gave rise to derisive responses such as this one from writer Marlon James:

I think he should go further and give a live demonstration on how a black person, whether it be a robbery suspect or a female University professor should not resist arrest, because clearly the original model, dropping to your knees, holding your hands up, and/or screaming “I’m not resisting,” isn’t working so hot. Perhaps his wife can volunteer to demonstrate it.

Regarding Michael Brown’s murder Marlon James had the following to say:

And yet we all know how this is going to play out, or are we waiting for The Onion story to confirm it? It worked before and will work again and again. Put the black kid on trial for his own murder.

Meanwhile back home in Jamaica the Sunday Gleaner published an expose on what exactly goes on in police detention centres. The description seems to lend credence to police claims that Mario Deane was beaten to death by inmates. Which inmates though? After reading the following account it seems highly unlikely that two mentally challenged inmates would’ve undertaken to beat a fellow inmate to death. And of course it still doesn’t exonerate the police and the country’s justice system. Why are Jamaican citizens being made to risk their lives in such death traps? Why is the police looking the other way while such brutal behaviour goes on under its nose? Whatever happened to the notion of restorative justice?

Detained in a death trap
Gary Spaulding, Aug 31, 2014
According to Brown, the obvious ‘Don’ in the cell instructed the other inmates to, “show dem how we welcome visitors in here”.
“What took place was known as ‘feathering’ or a beating. A horrendous activity any first-timer must face,” said Brown.
“The feathering beating continued throughout the night, but there was no police personnel coming to my rescue. After the welcome, the don instructed the others to give us time to settle in as ‘we ago try dem case lata’,” recalled the still-shaken Brown.
“We – the other newcomers and I – stood there for another 35 minutes hoping that the awful experience would end, but no such luck,” said Brown as he noted that the respite was because the don was on his ‘bird’ or telephone with his girlfriend.
$10,000 to sneak in a phone
Brown said he later learnt that it had cost $10,000 to have the phone sneaked into the cell, one cigarette cost $100 while a small bag of ganja which would sell for $50 on the streets was sold for $300 in the cell.
“With the telephone conversation done, we were asked why we were in jail … the first guy scuffled his way up to the front of the cell and explained, he was feathered to the point of tears. He was later kicked, slapped in the face, and beaten by the cellmates for showing emotions.” All that time, there was no response from the police who are mandated to keep prisoners safe.
Then it was Brown’s turn to ‘take the stand’ and the first question from the don was if he had ever killed anybody. “I said no and was asked why are you here then”.
As Brown explained why he was behind bars, he was instructed to stand before being hit in the chest. Six pairs of hands then started to beat him before they were ordered to stop by the don.
Attention turned to another of the newcomers who told the inmates that he was involved with guns and knives during a robbery in his area.
“He immediately gained some amount of respect and was not feathered during my time there,” said Brown.
“There were 19 of us at the rear of the cell where we slept. It was like an organisational chart in a workplace and you had to work our way to the top.”

On the eve of a new police commissioner being appointed in Jamaica the public must ask if he or she will put a stop to such barbaric behaviour at precincts under control of  the police. Do police personnel here and elsewhere realize what human rights are? Nix that, do they even know what it means to be human?

 

 

From #Gaza with Love #Ferguson

As police in the USA intensify anti-protest action in Ferguson tweeters start sending advice and sympathy from Gaza, especially on how to withstand armed forces’ terror tactics…

  • WesleyLowery
    But the residents have not been “rioting.” It just isn’t true. Protesting: yes. Outraged: yes. Clashing with police: yes. Rioting: No
     
There are Americans who think a black teenager reached for a cop’s gun, from 35 feet away, but demand further proof for global warming.
 
When @KristinFisher approached our protest, she immediately went to the white woman for details. Ignoring the Black faces who organized.
 
This is the WaPo piece @WesleyLowery filed not long before he was arrested in Ferguson.  http://wapo.st/1nQtysv 
 
 
People in #Gaza are tweeting information on how to handle tear gas to the citizens of #Ferguson. Mind blown. #MikeBrown
 
Crowd in #ferguson now chanting “End the occupation from Gaza to St Louis!!!”
 
An American army is attacking unarmed Americans. Who is willing to invade America to protect Americans? Isn’t that our logic when we invade?
 
Wow! People from Gaza are tweeting to the people in #Ferguson on how to protect themselves from tear gas. Think about that! #Maddow
 
 
Whole world is watching #Ferguson & every dictator who sets his police like attack dogs on protesters shrugs & says “See, the US does it.”
 
That sound cannon that the police is using in Ferguson was used in Iraq and Somalia and causes permanent hearing loss
 
So weird to see reporters covering the Midwest tweet tips on now to handle tear gas, police violence, etc. What is happening out there?
 
 
Stun grenades and tear gas in #Ferguson now. Police rioting in the streets against calm protesters.
 
 
Tip learned in Bil’in, Palestine on tear gas: use onion peels to breathe easier. #Ferguson
 
Do not expect Obama to travel to #Ferguson, unless it is to show solidarity with the police.
 
“@manofsteele: Wow...A man picks up burning tear gas can and throws it back at police. #ferguson  http://t.co/qiLwujczqr” @YourAnonNews
Wow…A man picks up burning tear gas can and throws it back at police  pic.twitter.com/qiLwujczqrwujYourAnonNews @YourAnonNews<Not just a man…a dread! Jah RASTAfari!!!!
 
Look at these black men be heroes RT @jonswaine: Police "This is your final warning." Protesters at front not nudging http://t.co/Kp2O4qEGWZ
Look at these black men be heroes RT @jonswaine: Police “This is your final warning.” Protesters at front nopic.twitter.com/Kp2O4qEGWZKp2O4qEGWZ
It’s like a law of nature. Marginalized people protest the senseless killing of one of their own. Face a brutal, militarized police machine.
 
WHERE IS ANDERSON COOPER?????
 
Oh Twitter. People in #Gaza following #Ferguson events tweeting like ‘Hope you’re OK, don’t stop resisting’

<p>

You know it’s a bad situation when the people of #Gaza are empathizing with you and seeing parallels #Ferguson
 
 
Got folks in #Gaza tweeting tips to help people during the #Ferguson protest...wild. http://t.co/HNH0nlAouk #mikebrown
Got folks in #Gaza tweeting tips to help people during the #Ferguson protest…wild. pic.twitter.com/HNH0nlAouk #mikebrown
The oppressed stands with the oppressed. #Palestine stands with #Ferguson. http://t.co/hxK94VqfsO
The oppressed stands with the oppressed. #Palestine stands with #Ferguson. pic.twitter.com/hxK94VqfsO
#MikeBrown shooting; 'War zone' in #Ferguson. Photos and story: http://t.co/ZUSuL3tLjr http://t.co/XhekatA2F6
#MikeBrown shooting; ‘War zone in #Ferguson. Photos and story ibt.uk/A00685n  http://pic.twitter.com/XhekatA2F6
MORE BREAKING PHOTOS: After Aljazeera crew was directly hit with tear gas, their cameras were disassembled: #Ferguson http://t.co/j1Xxk93CVU
MORE BREAKING PHOTOS: After Aljazeera crew was directly hit with tear gas, their cameras were disassembled: #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/j1Xxk93CVU
I respect law enforcement. I have issues with the political classes who use them. #Ferguson #Gaza
 
When the words “NEW CEASE FIRE TAKES HOLD” appear on the screen, one wonders if the report’s on #Iraq #Ukraine #Gaza or #Ferguson.

A Hate Story: Reflections on the Death of Dwayne Jones

Jamaican society’s contradictory responses towards its own Trayvon Martins.

gullyqueen2

The Trayvon Martin case has been keenly followed in Jamaica with people vociferously expressing outrage over the not guilty verdict that allowed Zimmerman to walk free. How could there be no legal penalty for unnecessarily taking a human life? How could the law protect Zimmerman’s right to stand his ground but not Trayvon’s? This was madness. Many Jamaicans keenly identified with Trayvon and his family, imagining that this was something that could easily happen to them or their loved ones in racist North America.

All over the Caribbean those with a human rights perspective were eager to point out that similar outrage was rarely forthcoming in numerous local instances of flagrant injustice, often involving victims of police and vigilante killings where the perpetrators are almost never held responsible for their crimes. Why were such folk, unmoved by the wanton killing of fellow citizens in their own backyard, so willing to take such an interest in a case so distant from their immediate lives and localities?

Clearly we must attribute some or most of that interest to the intense coverage of the case by mainstream media in the United States. Channels such as CNN, MSNBC, ABC and others are available via cable and voraciously consumed in Jamaica and many other parts of the world. It’s not difficult to get sucked in by the wall-to-wall coverage of a murder trial for weeks on end, particularly when its racial component resonates locally. This was the case with the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Let’s also give credit where credit is due. American media excel at focusing attention on the human interest in a story; at laying open the lives and personalities of those concerned, at making the viewer identify with the principals of a high profile news item. This is why the world cares more about 500 victims of a natural disaster in the US as opposed to 150,000 deaths caused by a Bangladeshi cyclone or an earthquake in Turkey.  American media puts faces on the victims, details their losses, personalizes them. The 150,000 victims of a distant cyclone remain just that—faceless, lifeless, abstract ciphers.

Not many countries have the sheer heft of media muscle that the USA can lay claim to. Our media in small places like Jamaica lack the infrastructure, the traction and the reach of American media. We also have far more deaths, murders and killings per capita than the media can possibly keep up with even if they had the will and the ability to do so.

Even in the United States there were complaints that cases just as heinous as Trayvon Martin’s or worse had received little or no visibility and thus generated little or no outrage. What makes a particular story a media sensation depends on the number of people who feel affected by it. Can they can identify with it?   But this is also a function of how much airtime and column inches the story receives.

In Jamaica the media almost never gives you enough information or gives it to you after the fact as in the case of the Brissett Brothers accused of the vicious rape of 4 women and an 8-year old girl. Now that DNA evidence has proven that they couldn’t have been the perpetrators the media has interviewed them at length, along with their family members who had given them a cast iron alibi, and basically got the story out. Had there been no DNA evidence the brothers would have been wrongfully convicted raising uncomfortable questions about how many such innocent people there are in prison.

The ongoing saga of Vybz Kartel raises similar questions. One murder charge has completely crumbled and the other may do the same, yet Kartel has been held without bail for more than a year now.

Alexis Goffe,  a spokesperson for the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice, recently observed that another reason there is little or no outrage about the legion of local Trayvons is that in these situations most educated Jamaicans identify with Zimmerman rather than Trayvon. Jamaicans are not Trayvon Martin, Jamaicans are George Zimmerman said Goffe.  After all Trayvon’s profile fits that of the ‘idle youth’ most gated and residential communities in Jamaica remain wary of and police zealously. They want the Jamaican equivalents of Trayvon Martin to be kept in their place, on pain of severe punishment and even death. Since the start of the year Jamaican Police have killed 114 citizens, yet it’s business as usual in this tourist paradise.

For most Jamaicans such deaths when they happen are non-stories–like the slaying of young Dwayne Jones aka Gully Queen a few days ago near Montego Bay. 17-year old Jones was at a party on the night of July 22 dressed as a female and dancing when he was outed by a woman who knew he was cross-dressing. Details are sketchy but early reports said that Jones was killed by a mob that stabbed and shot him to death, flinging his body into nearby bushes.

In most countries a lynching such as this would be front-page news but not in Jamaica, known far and wide for its hostility towards homosexuals. The police have said that they can’t prove that there is a link between Dwayne’s cross-dressing and his murder and the media has barely taken note of the gruesome slaying. Judging by comments made on social media most Jamaicans think Dwayne Jones brought his death on himself for wearing a dress and dancing in a society that has made it abundantly clear that homosexuals are neither to be seen nor heard.

Attempts to portray the mob killing as a hate crime have also been futile. “Dwayne Jones chose to tempt fate” seems to be the popular feeling, “and he got what was coming to him.” Which is like saying Trayvon Martin tempted fate by lingering in the wrong neighbourhood; he got what was coming to him. Dwayne Jones decided to wear a dress and dance and for that he was put to death by a motley crowd. Most Jamaicans seem to think there is nothing at all wrong with this judging by the lack of outrage, scant media attention and silence from the political directorate.

Gay Bashing in Jamaica a national policy?

There is no agenda for change in relation to attitudes towards homosexuals in Jamaica, in effect this resulted in the beating of allegedly gay student on the University of Technology campus.

Clovis, The Jamaica Observer

Personally i think the right punishment for the University of Technology (UTECH) students so eager to lynch an allegedly gay student should be a year’s community service at JFLAG…that’s the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays. I also think that all of Jamaica’s major institutions, its leaders and its citizens are responsible for the beating the unfortunate UTECH student received. I’ll explain in a minute but first for anyone who doesn’t have the requisite background on this latest episode of homophobic violence in Jamaica please read Petchary’s Blog and the post titled Sticks and Stones for details.

Here’s why i say almost everyone is to blame for the violence that exploded on the UTECH campus this Thursday. The Education Minister Ronald Thwaites was on air yesterday righteously denouncing the episode and calling for the mob of students to be expelled. Yet only a few days before that he was in the media talking about a ‘gay agenda’ which had apparently had a sinister hand in the reform of the health and family life education curriculum for high schools in Jamaica.

Las May, The Gleaner, March 4, 2011

To quote the Gleaner article which reported on this at the time:

The Sexuality and Sexual Health: Personal Risk and Assessment Checklist segment of the third edition of the curriculum geared at grades seven to nine was what caused the uproar.

Contentious Questions

Among the questions posed to students were: Have you ever had sexual intercourse? Have you ever had anal sex without a condom? What caused you to be a heterosexual? When and how did you first discover you were heterosexual? If you have never slept with a member of your own sex, is it possible you might be gay if you tried it? Why do heterosexuals seduce others into their lifestyle?

The book also instructed students to perform a number of exercises to better understand their sexuality.

Yesterday, Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites ordered the curriculum pulled, saying some of the material was “inappropriate”.

“I have been made aware of widespread public concern about certain sections of the health and family life education programme curriculum used in Jamaican schools. There is strong objection to some of the questions on sexual behaviour and the commentary on heterosexuality/homosexuality,” the minister said.

“I consider sections of the material inappropriate for any age and certainly for the grade seven and eight students for which it is designed.”

He added, “I have instructed that the material be withdrawn from all schools and rewritten then redistributed so as to prevent disruption of the health and family life education instruction.”

Meanwhile the Jamaica Observer devoted an editorial, Not Enough Mr. Thwaites, to denouncing the sinister plot to sensitize Jamaican children to alternative sexualities. Here is part of what it said:

WHILE the practice of homosexuality is accepted and considered a basic human right in many other countries, Jamaican law and cultural norms disapprove.

The situation as it relates to Jamaica will perhaps change in time to come; but not yet, and not, we believe, for some time yet.

We should recall that this newspaper is on record — as is the current Prime Minister Mrs Portia Simpson Miller — as saying that the country needs to revisit the archaic, centuries-old buggery law.

However, in the meantime, Jamaican law and culturally accepted behaviour should be respected.

In that respect, we are unsurprised by the suggestion from Minister of Education Rev Ronald Thwaites that at least two persons involved in the drafting of the Health and Family Life Education Programme (HFLEP) curriculum, recently pulled from local high schools because of what can perhaps best be described as ‘gay friendly’ sexual content, “had a particular agenda and were able to embed it in the curriculum”.

For, in our view, loaded questions for teenagers, which were reportedly included in the rejected curriculum, such as “have you ever had anal sex?” and “if you have never slept with a member of your own sex, is it possible that you might be gay if you tried it?” suggest an agenda of sorts. We say this particularly in light of the Jamaican context.

Also, this was clearly not a stand-alone case. The minister tells us that “it does appear that there were previous instances, and there were warnings, and it was a clear intention of some who have very clear predispositions regarding sexual conduct… who got away on this one”.

A look back to 2007 will reveal that the then Minister of Education Mr Andrew Holness felt compelled to tell the country that a book on home economics was not endorsed by his ministry. This followed revelation of a section which claimed that “when two women or two men live together in a relationship as lesbians or gays, they may be considered a family”.

The problems with the withdrawal of the revised curriculum are succinctly stated by Maurice Tomlinson, a former UTECH lecturer, who had to flee Jamaica when he recently married his partner in Canada. In a post titled Countdown to Tolerance Tomlinson points the finger at the brands of Christianity practised in the country for this interference in school curricula.

Previously, in August 2011, to be precise, both Jamaica’s national TV stations refused to air a public service announcement designed to address the problem of intolerance towards gays in this country. To view the PSA in question and for further details read the post i wrote at the time, No Unconditional Love? Jamaica and its homosexuals, part of which i excerpt below (I’m indebted to both Winsome Chambers and Sonjah Stanley Niaah for reminding me of the PSA episode):

The situation in Jamaica concerning the status and well-being of its homosexual citizens continues to evolve in a one step forward-two steps backward manner. The video above,  featuring former Miss Jamaica World (1998) and Miss Jamaica Universe (2004) Christine Straw with her gay brother, Matthew, was launched by the advocacy group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) at the beginning of this month.

The video was designed as a PSA (Public Service Announcement) and was intended for airplay on Jamaica’s main TV stations, CVM and TVJ. Apparently in yet another display of media gutlessness both stations have declined to air the PSA in fear of public reaction.

So the point I’m making is: how is the change so desperately needed to prevent further episodes of violence towards homosexuals in Jamaica going to occur if those responsible for change through education–the Ministry, the media and the Church (in all its multi-denominational glory)–refuse to undertake the dissemination of material designed to change hearts and minds? What are our tertiary institutions going to do about this? In a separate post i will detail the history of similar incidents at the University of the West Indies and Northern Caribbean University to show that although UTECH is now in the spotlight such an episode could well have occurred (and have occurred in the past) at any of Jamaica’s tertiary institutions.

 

Finally Owen Black Ellis has just detailed on Facebook an instance that actually happened in Jamaica which highlights the lethal absurdity of local hostility towards gays:

 

The whole Utech saga has me remembering something that happened couple years ago to a couple I know and their friends. This is a true story. It was valentines day and two couples were having a meal in an uptown fast food joint. The girls were sitting down at the table and the guys were in the bathroom writing up the valentines day cards they bought earlier to give to the two girls who were waiting outside. They were laughing and reading and comparing each other’s cards when a man walked in and assumed they were giving the cards to each other, so he raised an alarm “yow people, two battybwoy inna di bathroom a exchange Valentines day card’. People, in no time a crowd converged, and no amount of explaining from the guys and begging for mercy by the girls could save them. And as they crowd grew and people asked about what happened, some added ‘dem mussi did in deh a have sex’ etc.. etc…so the details got more sensational and the condemnation got more intense, and the beating was wicked…

 

THIS IS THE JAMAICA WE HAVE CREATED!

 

No Unconditional Love? Jamaica and its homosexuals

Jamaican policies towards homosexuals…

 

The situation in Jamaica concerning the status and well-being of its homosexual citizens continues to evolve in a one step forward-two steps backward manner. The video above,  featuring former Miss Jamaica World (1998) and Miss Jamaica Universe (2004) Christine Straw with her gay brother, Matthew, was launched by the advocacy group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) at the beginning of this month.

The video was designed as a PSA (Public Service Announcement) and was intended for airplay on Jamaica’s main TV stations, CVM and TVJ. Apparently in yet another display of media gutlessness both stations have declined to air the PSA in fear of public reaction.

Prominent Gleaner columnist and TV show host Ian Boyne devoted his entire Sunday column to the subject:

It is to our shame that Jamaican gay people cannot come on television, show their faces, debate their homosexuality with heterosexuals, go back home in peace and to their jobs and live normal lives the next day. If we lay claim to being a pluralistic, democratic society and not an autocracy like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, gay people should be free to express their views without fear of violence, harassment or victimisation.

But what about the view that homosexuality is against Jamaican law and, therefore, it would be improper to show such blatant disrespect for Jamaican law by parading gay people on air, or showing an ad effectively calling for a softening of attitudes to these persons engaging in lawbreaking?

Of course Jamaica being the morally upright, unswervingly ethical society it is could never contemplate showing homosexuals who may have breached the country’s antiquated buggery laws on air. No it takes a zero tolerance approach to homosexuals.  In a disturbing inversion of logic serious and serial criminals like David Smith and Christopher Coke have yet to be brought to book  in Jamaica for crimes far more damaging than buggery while the US  subjects them to the full brunt of its justice system. Smith, who has just been sentenced to 30 years in the US was a regular on air in Jamaica, in print and on radio and both political parties willingly accepted donations from him. But can a homosexual openly occupy public office or appear on TV? No way!

To their credit the People’s National Party seems to have started some kind of soul-searching on the matter although the motive in doing this might be a purely opportunistic one. Anthony Hylton, chair of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Policy Commission, was quoted in an Observer article observing that it was time for the country to initiate a dialogue on such matters as the death penalty and homosexuality.

The people in Europe are saying what kind of people are we, why are we so hostile to homosexuals, for example, and yet we know why, because we have a different cultural perspective, but we have to manage that dialogue with them, otherwise they’re going to say why are our taxpayers’ money going to these brutish people?”

According to Hylton, if we don’t deal with the issues, “we are going to be marginalised economically”.

As I said the unprecedented soul-searching seems to be prompted more by fears of not being able to access funding from the ‘developed’ world rather than a genuine desire towards greater tolerance of difference and ‘diversity’.

Meanwhile in the absence of a shelter or any facilities they can access homeless  homosexual males are driven into the  streets of Kingston where they resort to prostitution to make a living.  According to Chairman of JAMAICA Aids Support for Life (JASL), Ian McKnight, “…while the issue might not sit well with a number of taxpayers, the situation transcends personal or religious beliefs and, instead, is a matter that should be tackled by the administration.”

McKnight was quoted in the Observer saying that though  “it would be very costly to house all the homeless living in abandoned buildings and gullies in the New Kingston area…shelter should be provided for those forced out of their homes and communities and onto the streets as a result of their sexual preference.

“Many of them, he said, are vulnerable to being beaten by the police, attacked by men riding motorbikes and stoned by those bent on ridding them from society.”

So despite Jah Cure’s hauntingly beautful song–one of the most outstanding reggae songs in decades some say–there is no unconditional love for all Jamaicans. Cure, a reformed inmate who did time on a rape charge, is another lawbreaker that Jamaicans have more time for than their own children with alternate sexual orientations.