“Out and bad”? The politics of homosexuality in Jamaica

A response to the statement by Senior Jamaican police officer Bailey about the role of homosexuals in crime here.

Clovis, Jamaica Observer, July 13, 2011

The news media in Jamaica continues to score high on the #fail scale. Yesterday several media entities reported that Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey had announced that young gay men were behind most organised crime in Jamaica. If you watch the video below you will hear Bailey explaining that what he said was that 80-90% of the culprits arrested for the infamous lottery scam which has generated an alarming number of murders in recent years were homosexuals.

Bailey never said anything about organized crime. He was very specific, he was talking about the Lottery Scam and the high number of homosexuals implicated in it.

“I have empirical data to support that. We have the responsibility to investigate these cases (and) we’re not targeting any specific group or saying people should go and attack anyone. All I’m talking about is the profile of the individuals (involved in the lottery scam) just like we talk about the profile of persons who are involved in child sexual exploitation,” SSP Bailey stated Tuesday evening, July 12, on RJR’s daily current affairs discussion programme Beyond The Headlines.

What empirical data is he talking about? According to an interview Bailey gave on Newstalk 93FM this morning the criminals self-identify as homosexual when they are charged so that they can be protected from hostile, gay-hating inmates in prison. Bailey said there was even one ‘area leader’ or don who declared his sexuality openly when arrested. For some reason this puts me in mind of something Marlon James told me in an interview I did with him on The Silo six or so months ago–that he was fascinated by the idea of balletic young [Jamaican] men dancing, machine gun in hand as it were. Here’s a few outtakes from that interview:

–you need the person firing the short sharp shots–the jackhammer–but you also need the person who can survey coz jackhammers can’t heal–

–you need the nuanced take as well…the nuanced take is just as important as the polemic…

–my new novel is about killers, in fact its about the killers of killers…something i’ve always been fascinated by–the people who do the actual killing, not the ones who decide on a hit–

–its funny–you go to Passa Passa (the most hardcore event on the dancehall calendar), there was one guy–you know jamaican dancehall moves are very sort of graceful,  almost effeminate, i know i’m going to get killed for this but its very  ornate and very delicate…and somebody pointed him out to me and said y’know that’s one of the biggest gunmen out here–this whole idea of the super graceful killer, i find it fascinating, you know? almost like a ballet dancer who kills on the weekend…

So its not true that Bailey’s statement, abhorrent as it may seem, was based on observing such superficial tendencies as clothing, mannerisms and speech patterns on the part of the criminals the police had apprehended in the Lottery Scam or the credit/debit card scams–it was based on the high number of those arrested who told the police that they were gay! And as Bailey further explained this was not surprising because if gay prisoners are not kept separate from the straight prisoners it could result in tragedy as it did in 1997 when 16 homosexual prisoners were brutally killed in anti-gay prison riots.

This morning I recieved an email from an old friend. I quote it verbatim for what its worth:

Remember that 60s slogan “I’m Black and I’m Proud?”
Its back with a twist.re: Policeman’s statement that gays are open about their orientation and not hiding it. He said they are major players in lottery scam and Credit Crad/Debit card scam. Also said last kidnapped victim was tortured:

I do believe that the gays are “Gay and Proud” and not afraid to flaunt it.

They are not hiding anymore, at least not the younger, effeminate ones.

We had a couple in our community who would flaunt it in your face, sat on verandah in female panties and bra, ran down one another with machete, had female names for each other, had male only parties, cross dressed, made passes at the census taker and the male teens, prostitution.

Anyway they were sent on their way.
Sure others are still here, male and female but those behave without violence toward one another nor threats to the neighbours.
They moved nearby and started the whole thing all over again so the neighbours marched on their residence.

The situation has changed so Gomes/Jamaicans for Justice must keep up.

I think that before we can proceed all sides need to be heard. The gay rights position has been articulated loudly, clearly and frequently, bolstered by the muscle of international gay rights organizations. It’s time to listen to what some Jamaicans are saying about why they are often driven to hostile thoughts and actions. The fact is that the behaviour described in the email above would attract the same reaction were it heterosexuals who were causing such problems instead of homosexuals.

I end by quoting the kind of nuanced take Marlon James probably had in mind when he mentioned it in that interview. It’s by my dear friend Kei Miller, whose sharp new blog Under the Saltire Flag  has considerably enriched the blogosphere in recent times:

Elephant Man’s 2001 hit ‘Log On’ has always seemed to me to contain contradictory instructions. On the one hand he encourages us to ‘log on’ – to actively participate in the new virtual world of the internet, and perhaps more broadly, to sign up to the future (quite literally, for the act of logging on often requires a name and a password). On the other hand he asks that we ‘step pon chi-chi man’ – that we continue in a posture of virulent homophobia, a regressive attitude which most will agree is incompatible with this other idea of progress.

Unsurprisingly, the song drew the ire of international human rights activists. Yes yes – that again! If you’ve begun to roll your eyes, I can forgive you, because it truly is a tiresome issue. About this, I have always been conflicted. On the one hand I support the idea that basic human rights should be extended to each and every citizen, and wherever this is culturally ambiguous, the law should be made to underline these rights clearly.

On the other hand I feel that a lot of the international human rights campaigns have been compromised by a deep contempt for the societies on whose behalf they campaign.

Look – people are not idiots. There is what a man says, and then again, there is what he actually means. Most people are fully capable of hearing beyond the noise of the first, to the subtlety of the second. So when an activist, in London for instance, says, ‘Oh this is outrageous! Jamaica really ought to protect the rights of its most vulnerable citizens, especially members of the glbt community!’ … what Jamaicans actually hear (and they are usually right) is:  ‘Oh Jamaica, how I pity you! You primitive, savage and barbaric people! Also, I would like you to know that I am better than you!’

You know, it really is contemptuous that a country that took a few hundred years to ‘progress’ in its own attitudes should feel that the rest of the world (very often her former colonies saddled with her discarded laws and her old ideas of morality) should be ‘up to de time’ as soon as she is. And it is a very hard thing for the people of a former colony to accept lessons in human rights from people who for centuries had denied them theirs.

Jamaican attitudes towards homosexuality are shifting. Those who militate on behalf of gay rights here and elsewhere need to respond to this, rather than to non-existent straw men.

True or False? Verifying internet reportage

Report on my appearance on BBC World Have Your Say, the Shirley Sherrod case

Yesterday was a busy day and there was more than one reason i was glad  i had the good sense to turn back from Reggae Sumfest and return to Kingston the day before. The following tweet should give you some idea of the first good reason:
endzoftheearth Organisers need to do something abt the mud! Stones, grAvel, cardbord boxes, plywood – something #sumfestismudfest.
Being rained on all night long in a mud lake i can do without.

The other good reason was that i got a good night’s sleep and was able to compile the first report on Reggae Sumfest Dancehall Night by anyone anywhere by 9 am on Friday morning. And the reward for that came in the number of hits i got on this new blog platform I’ve been trying so hard to get people to visit.

Shirley Sherrod

The third good reason was that i was able to accept the BBC World Have Your Say programme’s invitation to participate in their globally aired discussion on internet rights and wrongs emanating from the firing and subsequent re-hiring of American civil servant Shirley Sherrod. Sherrod had allegedly made ‘racist’ remarks in a two minute video clip that later turned out to have been edited in a way that removed the context of her 43 minute speech. Whose responsibility is it to verify the reliability of material such as this? On whom should the burden of proof fall and thereby the penalty for purveying such misinformation? Is information transmitted via social media such as YouTube or Twitter making us ‘jump the gun’ as Obama said when the White House was forced to apologize to Sherrod and offer her another job?

As Obama put it “we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles.” The word for this is ‘blogswarm’.

So does the internet make us too quick to judge? Or is there wisdom in the blogswarm? asked BBC WHYS and the discussion that followed was a rich one that i was glad to be a part of. Also participating were former journalist Nigel Morgan of Morgan PR from Redding,UK, UK Guardian columnist, American Mike Tomasky, who is also  editor of Democracy journal. Other participants included Andrew Keene, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values, blogger Lola Adesioye from the US and Owais Ehsan, student of mass media and a blogger at Pro-Pakistan, in Islamabad.

The discussion was a lively one and was further enlivened by a caller from Jamaica, Omar, who made the point that it’s not only national media or internet bloggers that are guilty of posting misinformation but also international corporations; in Jamaica’s  2007 general elections, he claimed the BBC attributed something on their website to then Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller without verifying the accuracy of their source.

It’s true that the rapidly proliferating use of social media frequently lends itself to distortions and misrepresentations. For instance in my blogpost on Reggae Sumfest yesterday in which i was relying on tweets from the location for information i think i misinterpreted a tweet about Bounty’s ‘state of urgency utterance, and presented it in a particular way because of that. I thought he was castigating the government for the prolonged State of Emergency and recommending that they have a state of urgency instead about other crucial unmet needs when it turns out that he supported the SOE and was urging the government to go further by declaring a ‘state of urgency’ “towards correcting the ills that had been meted out to the people of Jamaica by successive governments” to quote Gleaner writer Janet Silvera in her article Bounty preaches change.

Rodney ‘Bounty Killer’ Pryce displays his award at the Sumfest show at Catherine Hall in Montego Bay on Thursday, which was designated Dancehall Night. The organisers of the event gave Pryce the award for his contribution to Reggae Sumfest. – Photo by adrian frater

The point i want to make is that while social media may sometimes tend to be less than reliable, it also allows faulty information to be corrected before serious damage is done provided the source is above board,  has no ulterior motive and is willing to make the necessary changes. This surely would be the case with most bloggers, tweeters and others whose popularity depends on the quality of what they put out.

For the others, that is those who deliberately put out misinformation for propaganda purposes, and have no intention of retrieving the situation–in this case, Andrew Breitbart— a blacklist or some other form of aggressive disincentive should be developed.

Click on the following link if you want to hear the whole discussion. Does the internet mean we’re too quick to judge?

Introducing…The Diatribalist

His is the most arresting, momentuous, invaluable blog i think i’ve ever come across. Dwight Dunkley describes himself as “a highly opinionated alien, a Jamaican living in New York” with “a stated mission to improve Jamaican media”. Calling his blog “My View of Jamdown from Up So” Dunkley also goes by the name ‘Diatribalist’. He’s only been blogcasting since May this year but trust me he’s spot on–a sharp, analytical critique of the Jamaican media is just what we need–and Dunkley provides this in his penetrating, often devastating commentary reviewing the major news media here. So what if he lives in the diaspora and not here? The detailed scrutiny he offers is all the more remarkable for that. Dunkley’s questions are hard and probing and clamour for answers. Finally someone else has noticed how shambolic the Press in this country is and has figured out a way to intervene. Kali, Jesus and Allah be praised! Please read, this is how his latest blog begins:

This is an open letter to tell all editors, journalists, columnists and stenographers calling yourselves journalists:

This blog is not your enemy.

This blog is a fan, a friend. This blog wishes you well.

This blog follows your work closely, reads your lines and then between your lines. Can this blog not be forgiven for thereafter scribbling in the margins?

For standing up for those mostly marginalized by the pigmentocratic power you wield and challenging the kleptomaniac clique your silence shields.

This blog is not your enemy.

For more click here.

As a postscript i also want to note the passing of Tim Russert of NBC News. Described as adept at conducting “the prosecutorial interview without a sharp edge” he was definitely one of the better, more congenial American TV journalists/talking heads around and will be missed by many all over the world.