The Politics of Crime Control

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Photo Credit: RJR News

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Gleaner column 7/2/18

Late last year I had occasion to read Tony Harriott’s Police and Crime Control in Jamaica: Problems of Reforming Ex-Colonial Constabularies, a fascinating study of police culture and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, of extreme relevance right now. Published in the year 2000 and written a couple of years before that I wondered if I could safely quote it in a document on crime I was then writing . Surely by now some of the excellent suggestions made in the book must have been implemented?

Accordingly I emailed Tony to find out and had to laugh at his wry reply. “Regarding the books, it is very frustrating for me to revisit them and to learn that they are still relevant.  I wrote the police reform book in the hope that it would assist the reform process at the time and thus be outdated very quickly.  Actually I wrote it in 1996-98.”

Well, twenty years later it seems the political will has finally been found to force the Force to reform. After a series of revolving door Police Commissioners, with no one in sight to fill the current vacancy and crime spiraling out of control, the political directorate seems to be ready to take on the task of cleaning the Aegean stables.

According to Harriott the JCF is more than 150 years old, a colonial institution the primary function of which was to maintain order and control using paramilitary tactics. Despite its stated motto, “To serve and protect” it does not function as an organization geared toward servicing or serving the public. The force is highly centralized, overwhelmingly male-dominated, profoundly authoritarian and values seniority over performance and experience over education and training. Dismissal from the force is rare and requires commitment of the most egregious criminal breaches. Avoidance of work is a chronic feature of the police force with the discouragement of reports or complaints from victims who are often treated as nuisances. People coming to report on domestic disputes were often chased away as were women complaining of rape especially if they were considered ‘disreputable’.

The rank structure of the JCF is pyramidal with 11 levels of rank. Even by ex-colonial standards the JCF is extreme, says Harriott, with more ranks and levels than India. The JCF practices differential policing against the poor, especially the urban poor who are stereotyped as being irrational and incapable of deferring self-gratification or of acting in their own self-interest —in short their view is at one with the way European colonizers viewed ‘natives’.

With the departure of Police Commissioner Quallo Jamaica may be entering territory familiar to citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, another crime-ridden Caribbean island. That country’s acting commissioner, Stephen Williams, has had his term extended 12 times since his appointment in 2012.  Even if appointed Commissioner, were Williams to take the 27 months’ leave he has accumulated, by the time he came back it would be time for him to retire.

The situation regarding the police in both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago suggests a deep malaise that we haven’t even begun to address yet.

“Why, then, have we not taken steps we know would have some effect? The answers are complicated, but chief among them is that for every proposal that might be made to reduce crime, there is a powerful, organized interest that opposes it. These obstructive groups often include the most influential force of all, the middle-class interests that so frequently complain about the threat of crime.”


“Every effort at improvement in the criminal justice system will seem either helpful or threatening, depending on the perspective of some political-interest group. Thus an increase in the number of policemen means more protection to some, more bullying to others. If, for example, the staffs of prosecuting attorneys are increased so that they can diligently prosecute armed robbers, murderers, and dope peddlers, they will also be available to ferret out consumer fraud, anti-trust violations, and political corruption.”

And of course the latter would be a threat to the middle and upper classes here who then have little incentive to improve the justice system or the Police force. The problems we’re facing in the Caribbean in regard to crime control are not new or unique to us. The two quotes above are taken from an article titled “The Politics of Crime: Why governments don’t do what they could to reduce violent crime” by Richard Neely. It was published in The Atlantic in August 1982 and pertains to the situation at the time in New York City.

It’s high time we adopt solutions from countries that have overcome similar problems as  ours as well as the recommendations of our own criminologists.

Jamaica Constabulary Force under Pressure

“Constables have been besieging members of the house of representatives with requests to be given tickets as soon as the call comes for labourers for American farms. Mr. L.W. Rose, St Catherine MHR, mentioned the fact this week in a debate in the house. The action of the constables is similar to that taken in the early days of farm labourer recruitment during the war years. (quote runs on in next para)

“Resignations from the police force were not as easily granted as they are now, and some constables, it was reported, actually misbehaved in order to be sacked, and thus get a chance to leave. It was then reported that a number of men who got out of the force in this and other ways were prevented from leaving the island by the action of officers of the CID.”

In my latest trawl through the Gleaner archives I came upon an article dated March 5, 1951  titled Policemen in Farm Labour Rush (from which the quotes above are taken). The brief report astonished me because it suggests that what we’re experiencing today has roots that go back almost 70 years. Wasn’t it only last August that the selfsame Gleaner reported changes to the Constabulary Force Act requiring sub-officers and constables to give six months’ notice of their intention to resign or face a possible fine of $250,000 or three months in prison?

The reason for imposing such draconian regulation is the continuing high attrition rate in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, an organization slated for modernization in 2010. In that year a Gleaner headline announced Cops Quit, Close To 900 Policemen and Women Resign in Less Than Five Years. 

The most recent edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica gives more current  data on the dwindling size of the JCF:

The strength of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as at December 31, 2016 was 20.3 per cent below the establishment size of 14 091. During the year, 643 persons (13.1 per cent female) were enlisted while 549 persons left the Force. This was mainly due to: resignation (71.4 per cent), retirement (18.2 per cent) and death (5.1 per cent).

Incidentally, of the 11,233 members of the JCF only about 2,570 are women. Clearly recruitment and retaining of policemen and women has been a persistent problem since long before independence. 70 years later is it any wonder that serious crime is slowly but surely engulfing the country starting at the Western tip?

Isn’t it high time we started paying members of the JCF a living wage? I think it was Jaevion Nelson who posted the following on Facebook and I completely agree:

JFJ says if the country is to demand accountability and professionalism from the police, then it must also demand that the government reasonably provide for their welfare. It says poorly paid and frustrated cops are less likely to be effective at crime fighting or compliant with human rights. In addition it says low wages also create an environment for corruption, exposing police to the daily seduction of bribes.

Let’s remember this as we helplessly watch Western Jamaica self-destruct. Let’s also heed the searing words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who invoking the late great Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, said more than a year ago:

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…

Some problems are just not the Police’s responsibility or in their capacity to solve, even if they are paid well. There will be no peace without justice and just remuneration for all. Nuff said.

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. 
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” @YourAnonNews
Wow…A man picks up burning tear gas can and throws it back at police @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
Look at these black men be heroes RT @jonswaine: Police “This is your final warning.” Protesters at front
It’s like a law of nature. Marginalized people protest the senseless killing of one of their own. Face a brutal, militarized police machine.
Oh Twitter. People in #Gaza following #Ferguson events tweeting like ‘Hope you’re OK, don’t stop resisting’


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. #mikebrown
Got folks in #Gaza tweeting tips to help people during the #Ferguson protest…wild. #mikebrown
The oppressed stands with the oppressed. #Palestine stands with #Ferguson.
The oppressed stands with the oppressed. #Palestine stands with #Ferguson.
#MikeBrown shooting; 'War zone' in #Ferguson. Photos and story:
#MikeBrown shooting; ‘War zone in #Ferguson. Photos and story
MORE BREAKING PHOTOS: After Aljazeera crew was directly hit with tear gas, their cameras were disassembled: #Ferguson
MORE BREAKING PHOTOS: After Aljazeera crew was directly hit with tear gas, their cameras were disassembled: #Ferguson
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.

Red Alert: Yet another Police killing in Jamaica

Noting with alarm another tragic and completely avoidable police killing in Jamaica.

I was just getting ready to write a rare pro-Police post, after listening to Police Commissioner Owen Ellington on one of the morning programmes; he was describing in detail the gang structures the police are trying to dismantle and what a Sisyphean task they face. Listening to the calm, rational voice of Commissioner Ellington I actually wondered if sometimes we aren’t unfair to the Police when we protest so vigorously against their unnecessarily life-threatening tactics. Then I listened to the 5 pm news on Nationwide Radio and found myself seething with rage at yet another wanton, vicious police killing.

Two 16-year old cousins in Hanover were riding a motorbike when police ordered them to halt. Afraid because they weren’t licensed to ride the bike the boys took off with the police in hot pursuit. Having blocked them successfully after a chase the police are alleged to have beaten them to a pulp. How dare they disobey the Police? This would teach them to do such a thing again. Well if there’s one thing the Police seem to excel at, its the application of violence to hapless youths (not the apprehension of real criminals judging by the 5% conviction rate for murders and the rising number of kidnappings, robberies and murders we hear about daily). So soundly were the boys beaten that one of them succumbed to his injuries yesterday and the other remains critically injured.

Tell me how this is acceptable Commissioner Ellington? How can you expect the rest of us to sit idly and watch this brazen brutality continue? If the police involved in this boy’s death are allowed to go unpunished aren’t you sending a message to other cops with no respect for human rights, especially the rights of the poor, that they have a license to behave like this? how many other youngsters will meet their deaths at the hands of uncontrollable policemen? Why are none of them ever found guilty and punished?

I’ve met so many really good police men and women over the years. Especially officers, some of whom are or were students at the University. I’ve always been amazed at how civil and considerate most of them seem. But where are they now? Why aren’t they speaking up when these atrocities happen? Why aren’t they stopping them? How much longer will this wanton bloodletting be allowed to go on? If you, the good police, don’t put your collective foot down you surely will be considered to be aiding and abetting in some of the most inhumane policing tactics in the region. Please. Say something. Do Something. Stop the killing.

Iconoclasm in Babylon: Jamaican Police vs the Murals

Jamaican Police’s war against murals and memorials exemplified by the destruction of the Glenford ‘Early Bird’ Phipps murals at his brother, Zeke’s bar in Matthews Lane.

A policeman paints out the mural of Glenford ‘Early Bird’ Phipps which was on a building at the intersection of Beeston Street and Matthews Lane in west Kingston in February.-Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer, The Gleaner
The mural of Glenford ‘Early Bird’ Phipps, seen being painted out above, photographed in 2004

In a bizarre twist on community policing lawmen in Jamaica have embraced iconoclasm–the erasure of painted memorials in this case–as a strategy. The photograph accompanying Honor Ford-Smith’s article in the Gleaner today (see above) pleading for the Police to be more sensitive to the social role images play in the communities that produce them is a case in point. What its caption doesn’t tell you is WHO Glenford ‘Early Bird’ Phipps was, or his relationship to Western Kingston and Matthews Lane in particular. It’s just another example of how Jamaican media occludes rather than reveals information.

“For some years now, the Jamaican police have been painting out murals in working-class communities in a symbolic battle with residents,” begins Honor’s article, a longer version of which she had sent me a week ago:

Judging by the public silence, many agree that destroying the murals will somehow help to obliterate donmanship. Perhaps this is understandable, given the fact that we’re all tired of living in fear and we’re tired of the global media marketing the idea that all Jamaicans are pathologically violent. It is hard then to ask what other meanings the police ‘clean-up operation’ might carry, or to suggest that we have much to learn from the murals themselves.


The destruction of the murals is an act of violent censorship of a popular street-art movement in Kingston in the guise of law enforcement. It is a violation of the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed in the Jamaican Constitution. We may not like the murals. We don’t have to. That is not the point. Not liking them is not the same as denying the right of self-representation.

Just how much history is packed into murals and images produced by street artists can be seen by looking at the history of the very image the policeman is painting out in the Gleaner photograph  above.

It happens to be a mural that I photographed a bit in 2004 during a close encounter with Zekes, the notorious Don of Matthews Lane, who brought Kingston to a standstill in 1997 when the police briefly arrested him. Glenford ‘Early Bird’ Phipps was Zekes’s beloved brother, brutally murdered in 1990 and memorialized by Zekes in an extensive series of murals on the walls outside and inside his bar (see below).

In this photo you can dimly see Zekes behind his bar. He actually tended the bar himself and poured me a portion of John Crow Batty, a powerful white rum the likes of which i’ve never encountered since.
Inside the bar there were more images of Early Bird, flanked by humming birds. You can also get a better look at Zekes with one of his lieutenants. On the left behind his camera is Julian Henriques, film-maker and lecturer at Goldsmith College in London.
Zekes was initially hostile, incensed at my taking photographs without his permission, though he soon became very friendly, even posing for photos and sending his lieutenant, who had previously ripped the film from my camera, to accompany me while i took photos outside.

But even better than this, Early Bird was memorialized by none other than the famous poet Kamau Brathwaite in his long poem Trenchtown Rock. I’ve taken the liberty of photographing and reproducing below relevant portions from that poem so that you get a better sense of who Glenford Phipps was (“was a young Dreadlocks, [later I was to learn that he was known as “Early Bird”/catching his first too early worm of death that early All Souls Morning] his beautiful long hair like curled around his body making snakes like dance“), his sensational slaying outside the very building Brathwaite lived in, in which Phipps had also been resident, and his importance to the community he came from, to whom those murals would have been of great significance.

This magnificent painting of Early Bird was on the outer wall of the bar.IMG_8969

Many will say the murals are merely ‘a glorification of criminals’ and should be defaced for fear of their ‘grave effects’ on ‘poor Jamaicans’ etc. I quote from a Facebook response to my posting of Honor’s article. Frankly I’m always amazed at how many Jamaicans talk as if everything is black or white, easily distinguishable, devoid of ambiguity or nuance. Many of Jamaica’s national heroes were on the most wanted list of the colonial government in power at the time. How does a profoundly corrupt state determine criminality? If/When so many police personnel behave like criminals and in effect ARE criminals how do they determine whom to punish? And should the public support them in this? These are hypothetical questions but ones worth pondering. One of the interesting things brought out in Honor’s article on censorship is the fact that also memorialized in many of these communities are the fallen policemen belonging to them:

Some of the murals can be read as covert statements against police impunity and against police methods. But this doesn’t mean communities are against the police per se. If this were true, police from inner-city communities would not be memorialised. But they are. They, too, are mourned and remembered. Nevertheless, it is well known that Jamaica has a high rate of police violence that undermines public confidence in law enforcement.

Do we really have a right to erase the social history of communities in the name of hard policing? Really? What next?

 IMG_8973 IMG_8974  IMG_8986 IMG_8987IMG_8999 IMG_8991 IMG_8992 IMG_8994 IMG_8995 IMG_8996 IMG_8997 IMG_8998

What the Police Can’t Do…

Jamaican Police’s power to stop and search is challenged by a Supreme Court judge.

Poster by Michael Thompson, Freestylee
Poster by Michael Thompson, Freestylee

In Jamaica its so normal for the police to stop your car and search it if they want that the ruling of a judge saying there is no legal basis for such police action comes as a thunderclap. According to Barbara Gayle, writing in the Gleaner:

A Supreme Court judge has ruled that the police have no power, under the Road Traffic Act, to arbitrarily stop and search motor vehicles, opening the door for a flood of lawsuits.

The police have repeatedly argued that the law gives them the power to stop and search vehicles, and that this has resulted in the apprehension of criminals, the recovery of stolen vehicles and stolen farm produce.

But Justice David Batts says the police are abusing this power.

Batts made the ruling when he ordered the Government to pay $2.8 million in damages to a motorist who was assaulted by the police when he was stopped in St Catherine in May 2007.

The judge’s statement has been refuted by the Police Commissioner who insists that the Police do have the power to stop and search members of the public. On the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Facebook Page the laws as the Police understand them are set out:

Police Powers to Stop and Search
by Jamaica Constabulary Force (Notes) on Monday, 1 July 2013 at 20:07

The Police High Command takes note of public reaction to comments attributed to High Court Judge, Mr. Justice David Batts on the powers of the Police to conduct stop and search operations, which were published in the Sunday Gleaner on June 30, 2013. The Judge’s remarks will be examined by the High Command, to determine whether they have implications for how personnel operate on the front line.

In the meantime, the High Command wishes to remind the public and members of the Force of powers given to the Police to conduct stop and search operations as part of their effort to control criminal activities, especially in instances where public thoroughfares are used.

Powers to Stop and Search Vehicles and Occupants (Broad Powers)

Section 19 of the Constabulary Force Act empowers the Police to stop and search, without warrant, vehicles and the occupants thereof, known or suspected to be carrying stolen or prohibited goods, as well as any dangerous or prohibited drugs and gambling materials.

Powers to Stop and Search for Firearms

Section 42 (1) and 42 (2) of the Firearms Act empowers the Police to, without warrant stop and search any vehicle and its occupants on reasonable suspicion that firearms and/or ammunition is being unlawfully conveyed therein.

Four more instances are laid out under which the Police have the power to stop citizens and search them: to verify agricultural produce was legally reaped; under the Customs Act; for goods unlawfully possessed; and under the Offensive Weapons (Prohibition) Act.

By a startling coincidence, the very day after this was made clear to the public the Police stopped a van on the North Coast of Jamaica and found that it was stuffed with lethal weapons, allegedly imported from Haiti. This reinforces the rationale for giving police such extra-judicial powers, a move supported by many citizens on the grounds of security. The problem is that there seem to be no checks and balances for the many occasions on which the police abuse these powers.

Meanwhile let’s go back to Justice Batts for a moment. Interestingly he had once wanted to join the police force but decided against it, becoming a lawyer instead (see quote below). His ruling which in effect is a move to police the police, has not gone unnoticed and unappreciated by those of us who demand that the wanton killing and maiming of innocent citizens by the Police be stopped forthwith.

Law was not my first choice at all,” Batts said.

“For a long time, and up to the time I entered Sixth Form, my desire was to serve my country as a police officer or in the military. But I never joined the cadets because they required a clean haircut and in high school I sported an afro,” Batts said.

Please note that clean haircuts are highly over-rated and don’t necessarily  go hand in hand with ethical behaviour. See photo below of two eminent Nobel prize winners, Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein, who clearly didn’t bow to the cult of  ‘clean haircuts’.

Girls, Interrupted…No City for Women…

Padma began to scream. Then Anu began to scream. As if in slow motion Madhu saw that like boxers in a ring they were in the middle of a crowd of men with avid eyes, yes, it was the eyes that she always remembered, that Padma was bent over, her hands covering her breasts, that Anu lay crouched on the ground in a foetal position, her legs curled, her hands tight around her body. As Padma screamed Madhu saw the thick ring of men around them move back smoothly like a receding wave, then smoothly, in perfect accord, the wave flowed back towards them and they were engulfed. The hands at Madhu’s breasts squeezed and pinched, between her thighs the fingers probed and prodded, they slid down her bra and below her waist under her petticoat, she heard a groan as a hand rubbed her bare bottom up-down, as if it were sandpaper, she struck out with her bag and hit someone and her long nails scratched someone else’s hands, she bent down, her elbows out and hit someone’s stomach and as she did she felt a body moving hard against her back, both his hands holding her thighs, she heard her own scream as she fell on the ground, her head hitting the ground. There was silence. The loudspeaker began its next song from the latest Hindi film. She opened her eyes. It was as if nothing had happened, no one was around them, a few yards away four policemen with lathis stood grinning, and beyond them everyone stared.

Listening Now, Anjana Appachana


The above quote from Anjana’s 1998 novel, Listening Now, set in Delhi, captures the horrors faced by women in India’s capital city where packs of predatory men regularly terrorize women and have done so for decades. Anjana, who was at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) with me (in the Emergency-prone 1970s) and later at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), right next door to Munirka where a young woman’s innocent decision to board a particular bus interrupted her forever, was always incensed by the overbearing male gaze that ruled our movements, the way we dressed, the way we spoke…what we could and could not do.

Rape statistics from National Crime Records Bureau's Crime in India 2011 report plotted on an interactive map of India. Hover over the map for detailed stats.
Rape statistics from National Crime Records Bureau’s Crime in India 2011 report plotted on an interactive map of India.

The recent fury in India over the gutsy, hard-working  optimistic young woman whose life was so rudely, abruptly,  interrupted by six predatory males in a bus who literally gutted her in the process of sating their lust and rage reminded me of Anjana’s novel and her simmering rage about the traumas and  injustices regularly faced by women in India. I hadn’t read it since 1998 but I knew it wouldn’t take me long to find the relevant passage.  Note that the passage ends by highlighting the indifference of the police to the women’s plight, their grins even signalling a kind of pleasure in what they were witnessing.

And that is what astounds the most; that the Indian Police, those assigned to protect the public from criminals and gangsters, seem not to see anything wrong with sexual predation and rape. Exactly 10 days after the hideous gang rape in Delhi, on December 26, another gang rape victim in North India ended her life, unable to cope with policemen who were more interested in getting her to drop rape charges and marry one of her rapists than uphold law and order. As a New York Times article detailed:

The family of Paramjeet Kaur sat huddled in the dusty courtyard outside their house on Monday afternoon as a stream of senior police officers, politicians and villagers arrived to pay their condolences after Ms. Kaur killed herself on Dec. 26, nearly six weeks after she was raped by two men.

The family kept asking: Where were all these people when their 18-year-old daughter had sought justice from the village council of Badshahpur and the police, only to be humiliated and pressured to strike a deal with her rapists?

“They are all here now, but nobody helped us then,” said Charanjit Kaur, 28, Ms. Kaur’s sister, as she sat against a whitewashed wall, her knees drawn up to her chin. “If the police had done something, she would be alive today.”

The practice of getting rape victims to marry their rapists strikes me as an extremely dangerous one. In effect it acts as an incentive to men to rape women if by doing so, they can expect the woman in question  to legally become theirs. What a bizarre version of crime and punishment. This principle certainly wouldn’t be applied to property would it? Hard to imagine a gang attacking a private home and having terrorized the owners, being allowed to acquire the property for themselves? But that, in effect, is what this complete perversion of justice amounts to.

What makes Delhi such a charming city and one that I keep returning to are the splendid ruins of old tombs and temples that irregularly interrupt the bustling city scape. Reluctantly I’ve come to believe that there are correspondingly ancient, if unlovely, mindsets –steeped in feudal, patriarchal logic and incompatible with the demands of contemporary life in cities such as Delhi. And they occur much more frequently than the occasional picturesque ruin in the postcolonial landscape. What we are confronted with in the case of these violated girls, are archaic psyches interrupted by the postmodern, themselves no doubt the victims of class-based iniquities,  reacting to the assaults with savage violence and cruelty. The failure of the  Police to do the right thing by women is also symptomatic of this time-worn  hoary mentality. We are in the midst of a cultural crisis of no mean proportions. I don’t believe we can legislate our way out of it.

Gay Courage

Alright, so Active Voice wasn’t such a good choice of a blog title considering it’s been more than a month since my initial posting. How active is that, right? Its one thing to celebrate being rid of editors, but what’s hard to cope with is the accompanying loss of deadlines. It’s a terrible thing to admit but I’ve discovered how abjectly dependent I am on deadlines to get the words flowing.

Anyway, this morning I’m cracking the whip on myself so let’s see how far I can get. Try as one might it’s hard to get away from the subject of the police in Jamaica and the lamentable excesses they can’t seem to help perpetrating in the course of discharging their duties (the latest is that an 11-month old infant was killed by a police bullet yesterday while in another part of the country a number of legit farmers lost their crops after a fire set by police officers in a neighbouring ganja field got out of control). Some weeks ago the nation was convulsed by the confession of Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue, who admitted to falsification of witnesses and evidence and on the heels of this came another cop confession—this time from Constable Michael Hayden, announcing that he was gay and proud of it and that he was suffering active discrimination and abuse from his colleagues because of this.

I had started a blog on the subject some weeks ago but then the New York Times carried a substantive article on both Hayden and the abuse and harassment of male homosexuals in Jamaica (February 24, 2008) so I thought it redundant to express my views on this vexed issue right then. Suffice it to say that far more education and honest debate on the subject needs to take place here. At the same time international gay rights organizations also need to educate themselves on the very complex reasons for what is being termed Jamaican homophobia.

What I mean by this is that just as white feminists realized gradually that they could not determine the feminist agenda for the rest of the world because of differing social, cultural and historical conditions elsewhere so must organizations such as GLAD, Outrage and others develop a more modulated and nuanced strategy when trying to intervene in the sexual politics of places such as Jamaica (in this context they could start by reading Marlon James latest blog ). A ‘one size fits all’ approach is bound to fail; in the process it also makes the terrain that much more dangerous for the most vulnerable homosexual of all, the impoverished, working-class male.

The climate of terror and violence towards homosexuals is to be condemned unequivocally. I had the opportunity to talk with both Andre and Michael Hayden, two of the principals mentioned in the NYT article on a local radio show that I was co-hosting. Andre was among a group of men in Mandeville whose home was stormed by a mob of cutlass-wielding men who proceeded to beat and ‘chop’ them for nothing more than their sexual orientation. It was hard to look at Andre, a gentle, dreamy-eyed youth sitting in front of me covered in ugly scars and bandages and not want to reach out and hug him and apologize for the barbaric treatment that he had recieved.

Likewise it was impossible not to admire the courage of young Michael Hayden who decided to come out and defend his rights both as a police officer and as a human being. According to him it was rumours spread by policemen at the station he worked at who knew that he was in the habit of visiting the house that may have incited the mob attack (According to Hayden female police officers–perhaps he reasoned, because they go through the experience of childbirth–were far more sympathetic to him and the gay cause in general). It is refreshing to see such fierce and forthright outspokenness in someone who has finally decided that he’s not willing to remain silent any more. If only more of the rich and powerful gays here could find the courage to speak out too it would make all the difference; it’s hard to see the situation here changing anytime soon unless this happens.

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