Much Law, No Order

We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning #dobetter”.

At Daggers Drawn: The Broadcasting Commission and Jamaican Popular Culture (updated)

Below is the unedited version of my Gleaner column of Aug. 10, 2016. It seems ever more relevant today now that news has broken that five senior members in Jamaica’s Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) have been fingered in a campaign funds misappropriation scandal. At the same time the police are belatedly continuing an  investigation into the alleged involvement of a senior Jamaican politician from the ruling party in a murder plot years after evidence was provided of wrongdoing.  Meanwhile the Police continues to harrass and arrest citizens for using profane language. The concept of obscenity takes on new meanings in such a context. See my column below:

It’s high time the law against using ‘indecent language’ in public is taken off the books. In a society which acknowledges widespread abuse of power by the Police, the state must remove any unnecessary pretext  lawmen might have for arresting citizens, especially when the so-called crime is absolutely no threat to public order. People should have the right to curse when they are upset, and if Police are breaking the law by cursing at them for no rhyme or reason, yes, citizens should have the right to curse back without being manhandled on the pretext of being arrested.

Had this inane law not been on the books Kay-Ann Lamont and her child would be alive today, the latter all of 4 years old. Her two older children would not have to be passed around from relative to relative like hot potatoes as was reported in the news a few days ago. According to a  newspaper account:

“The summer holiday is a bittersweet period for sisters Gillian Senior, 13, and nine year-old Sabreka Salmon, daughters of Kay-Ann Lamont…For the first time since last Christmas, the sisters played together two Thursdays ago, having become accustomed to a choppy routine after being separated to live with relatives following their mother’s death.”

Lamont’s crime? A policeman overheard her using an expletive after her wallet was stolen on Orange Street where she was shopping for back to school items for her children. In the tussle that followed his decision to arrest her he ended up shooting the 8-months pregnant woman in her head, killing both mother and child instantly. If that isn’t obscene, i’d like to know what is.

Meanwhile criminal charges have been pressed against the Gordon Town woman who greeted profanity from a policeman with profanity but “NO CHARGE FI DI POLICE WHEY DID A BATTA UP DI WOMAN FI NOTHING”. This despite the fact that the policeman involved was caught on video dragging the woman by her hair and generally manhandling her with the kind of gusto and  abandon one has become used to seeing from American police, prompting a #Blacklivesmatter movement in that country.

As an online commenter once said “the culture we have developed seems to be one where there is much law yet no order”. Yet we refuse to reconfigure the legal system inherited from our colonizers, keeping alive archaic laws that have long been consigned to oblivion in the countries where they were first devised. We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning  #dobetter”.

This is the same spirit in which the government pays lip service to the Paris Agreement it signed some years ago to stick to a Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to Wikipedia, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) is a term used under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries that signed the UNFCCC were asked to publish in the lead up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France in December 2015. Jamaica did so in November 2015.

Along comes an investor with deep pockets, promising thousands of jobs, and the government is willing to abandon the Paris Agreement and sign on to a 1000MW coal-fired plant to be built by a Chinese company, Jiuquan Iron and Steel (JISCO). As Diana McCaulay, head of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), often a lone voice in the wilderness, points out:

“A modern coal-fired plant emits 762 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, if there is no CO2 capture. This plant alone would emit roughly 6.7 million tons of CO2 per year, just over half of our 2025 target. Meeting our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement would become highly unlikely.”

A multitude of sins creep in under cover of blandishments of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. For the government ‘job creation’ translates to votes which must constantly be mustered no matter the cost. What could be more indecent than that? In an eloquent article published by Commonwealth Writers called ‘Giving up on the earth’ McCaulay details the price we are paying globally for reckless abuse of the environment in the name of progress:

“As I write, the world faces 14 straight months of global record breaking warm temperatures, described on many websites in the dispassionate language of science. Disease vectors like mosquitoes are spreading outside their previous latitudes and so are the diseases they carry. Wildfires rage earlier and longer. Land cracks in droughts and is washed away in floods. The largest living structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia had its most serious bleaching event ever – roughly 22% of this wonder of the world is dead. All over the world, the people most vulnerable to extreme climate events are displaced, impoverished and die. You think there is a refugee crisis now? Wait until large areas of the globe are uninhabitable. And yet real reductions in greenhouse gases have not been achieved, despite decades of international meetings, agreements and stated good intentions.”

Its high time we paid attention to the spirit of the law and agreements we sign on to, instead of obeying them in letter only. And take that #$%^@ law against indecent language off the books! There is much to curse about.

 

The Night of the Iguana: Goat Islands Logistics

A brief look at the University of the West Indies forum on the proposed logistics hub at Goat Islands

I didn’t actually make it to UWI’s one day colloquium on the proposed Goat Islands logistics hub today but tried to keep track through those who were live tweeting it. Below is a selection of tweets from the event, unfortunately all the tweeters seem to be critics of the project. I’m no environmentalist myself but am sympathetic to arguments on behalf of preserving its integrity against rapacious ‘developers’. It’s unfortunate that such projects inevitably portray environmental activists as ‘anti-development’ or ‘anti-economic growth’. In fact what we need to do is look at the last 10 projects that environmentalists protested about and see whether the claims of economic developments, ‘job-creation’ etc actually stand up to scrutiny now that those projects have steamrolled ahead. Can the cruise ship terminal at Falmouth be called a success? For whom? Have the big Spanish hotels been good for the economy? or are local tourist interests hurting and unable to keep up with the cheap rates they offer? Is anyone doing the cost-benefit analyses needed?

What i found amusing was Nature being invoked by the developmentalists when someone said ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’ in arguing the urgency of pursuing the hub. Hopefully Nature’s potential wrath will also be taken into consideration when turning the proposed Iguana sanctuary into a logistics hub, so that it is done with the least amount of damage to the surrounding areas. One can hope, can’t one?

PS: Nov 10. Top journo Dionne Jackson-Miller’s takeaways from the forum under discussion at which she actually chaired a panel, give a fuller picture of the day’s discussons. Check her post out.

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Beautiful Sat morning – heading to all day UWI session on the logistics hub billed as economy vs environment? Sigh

Damien King @DamienWKing
At UWI forum on the logistics hub. Still don’t know if hub will be a facilitator for the broader economy or an enclave that will burden it.

@DamienWKing when we hear special economic zone it means enclave of no taxes that everyone else will have to pay taxes for #LogisticsHub

@DamienWKing : we nd to know why ja has bn worst performing economy over past 40 yrs so we can know if #LogisticsHub will solve the problems

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
100% all male panel at the head table for opening session. Does UWI not have a Gender Studies Dept??

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Am musing on what Easton and Conrad Douglas talk about over dinner..

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
World can’t wait for opening of Jamaica’s logistics hub – nature abhors a vacuum. Folks have options – will make other plans

Jherane @Jherane_
Wow. After showing the massive harbours that will be built they show pretty pictures of the local beaches we have…

Jherane @Jherane_
There’s only one female panellists today. Out of 24 panellists, only one female. Wow.

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Usual story: Since we’re running late, Q&A will be shortened

Jherane @Jherane_
“[Jamaica] has a stable political and social culture” –> hysterical laughter from the audience.

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Logistics hub task force has 12 sub committees – none on the environment

Jherane @Jherane_
Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) lists storm surges, tsunamis, flooding, sea level rise amongst the climate change risk.

Dog Paw/Dog-Heart

Most wanted fugitive from justice in Jamaica, gang leader Dog Paw, and his family were the inspiration for Diana McCaulay’s 2010 novel Dog-Heart.

The cliche that truth is stranger than fiction is true. It turns out that one of the main characters in Diana McCaulay’s 2010 novel Dog-Heart was inspired by none other than Christopher ‘Dog Paw’ Linton, who was taken into custody by the security forces on January 24th after topping the most wanted list of the police for several months. Day before yesterday Jamaica Defence helicopters hovered in the air for hours during the operation that netted Linton. After the first hour their incessant buzzing receded to the background like a dull but persistent headache. The University of the West Indies, where i’m based is right next door to Elletson Flats where Dog Paw was eventually found and arrested. We are squarely in the middle of the Dog Paw Gang’s turf which covered Kintyre, Papine, August Town and its environs.

I knew that the novel which i got to read in manuscript form way back in 2006 had been inspired by several street youth that McCaulay, an environmental activist, had tried to rehabilitate in the 1990s. She had written about that experience in her Gleaner columns, detailing her despair when the young boys she had tried to send to school eventually reverted to the streets. There are several co-incidences: the names Dog-Heart and Dog Paw for instance; also one of the illegal operations Dog Paw has been accused of is sand-mining. In the novel sand-mining is what sustains the young boys.


Diana McCaulay

In March 2010 on the eve of the Kingston launch of Dog-Heart I had interviewed Diana on my blog:

AP: How were you able to get into the head of an impoverished street youth? I know you had tried in the nineties, when you wrote a Gleaner column, to help one or two such youth? Is this novel inspired by those attempts? And did you have any success with the boys you tried to rescue from the street?

DM: In a sense, Dog-heart was inspired by my relationship with a family of boys and their mother in the 1990s, my attempts to help, but the events and people in Dog-heart are entirely fictional – nothing in Dog-heart really happened and the people are quite different from that family. But during that period I did observe many aspects of their lives and realized how difficult their circumstances were. It was humbling – people of my class tend to dismiss people like Dexter and his mother, Arleen, as, I don’t know, wasters, wut’less, stupid. But what I saw was something different – I saw people, children, trying their best to survive situations that I was sure would have defeated me. So I started thinking about it, imagining what it would really be like. Dog-Heart also had its genesis in a writer’s workshop at Good Hope, back in 2003 – we were asked to write a short piece from the point of view of someone of a different age, class, race, background and sex – and I wrote what became chapter two of Dog-Heart. I sent it as a short story called Car Park Boy to Caribbean Writer, they published it, and I decided the seeds of a novel were in there. So I kept working on it.

As for the boys I did try to help, that’s a fairly sad story, one I am not sure I am ready to talk about, because it is their story to tell too. I often wonder about what THEY thought at the time. I lost track of the family when I went to study in Seattle in 2000 – but when I came back to Jamaica in 2002, I learned from one of the boys’ teachers that the eldest boy had been killed by the police in a prison riot. And funnily enough, recently a friend encountered the youngest boy – who is now a man – and we are to get together – hasn’t happened yet.

Yesterday, I learnt that the elusive Dog Paw was one of the boys Diana had tried to rescue. I assumed that he was the model for Dexter, the protagonist of Dog-Heart, but i was wrong. His older brother Jeffrey, since brutally murdered, was the inspiration for Dexter. It is Marlon, Dexter’s younger brother in the novel who was modeled off Christopher Linton. Marlon is a lovely young boy, brimming with hope and wonder and trust, not unlike the child who became Dog Paw and who was eight years old when Diana entered his family’s life. Please read on for my interview with Diana today about the Dog Paw she knew and Dog-Heart, her novel.

DM: Hi Annie, I will try and answer your questions, but I want to tell you a few things before I start.  First, obviously I have known Christopher Linton was one of Jamaica’s most wanted men since just after Dog-Heart came out in March 2010.  I have never talked publicly about it, though, for various reasons — mostly respect for his privacy and that of his family, and not wanting to use a tragic story for opportunistic book publicity.  So when people have asked me about this– Jamaica is a small place, after all — I have answered truthfully, I really didn’t want to lie about it, but have also asked them not to discuss it in public.  I’ve decided to talk about it now because I have seen such horrible comments about Christopher on websites, Facebook, and heard them in conversation – things like, the police shoulda kill him, him is worse than a dawg and the like.  I’ve decided to speak because I knew this young man, Christopher Linton –- Damien was his pet name -– from he was about eight until he was nearly fifteen or so and he was a sweet, very intelligent little boy with great potential and he was failed in every way by our society.

We need to stop pretending that such men are merely irredeemably evil and are simply to be exterminated.  We need to understand what made the boy Christopher Linton become the man he is.  I want to state clearly that I am appalled by the crimes he is accused of, and if he is guilty and convicted, he should be incarcerated.  I want to say that like most Jamaicans, I am deeply concerned about the levels of crime in our society, I am as afraid as the next person especially as I get older, and I  do not want to face a young man with a gun who is prepared to take my life without thought, but also, I want to challenge us as a people to examine the reasons for, the genesis of a young man like Christopher, one of our own sons, now effectively facing the fact that his life is over at 24, even as he and others must deal with his probable or certain role in ending the lives of some of his fellow Jamaicans.   It is all an unspeakable tragedy.

AP: You’ve said that the protagonist in your first novel Dog-Heart was loosely modelled on Christopher ‘Dog Paw ‘Linton whom you had tried to rescue from the streets in the 90s when he was an adolescent. When did you find out that the young boy you knew had become a wanted gang leader and was none other than the Dog Paw the police have been searching for since last May?

DM: No, Dexter – the protagonist in Dog-Heart – was not modelled on Christopher Linton.  What I have said is that I was involved in the education of four boys from the August Town area, beginning in the early 1990s and ending in roughly 2002.  One of them – the second oldest – was Christopher Linton.  His elder brother, Jeffrey Jones, was beaten to death while in prison during a prison riot in roughly 2002 or 3.  None of the characters in Dog-Heart are the real people – I guess the best way I can put it is that the actual experience of becoming involved with these four boys started me thinking about the whole situation I was witnessing, experiencing, living through and I sat down to write a novel inspired by these real events.  But the people in Dog-Heart, the events that occur in the book, I sat at my computer and made them up.   As soon as Christopher’s name was mentioned in the newspapers, I knew who he was – I can’t remember how long ago that was, but probably more than a year.

AP: You’ve emphasized that  “the events and people in Dog-heart are entirely fictional – nothing in Dog-heart really happened and the people are quite different from that family” but are there any similarities between them? For instance Dexter, the central character in your novel who grows into the gangster Matrix is portrayed as someone who is loving, sensitive and bright but who ultimately cannot overcome the internecine circumstances of the life he was born into. People have commented on the fact that Dog Paw comes across as well-educated and well-spoken. Did he actually graduate from school? What school did you send him to?

DM: When I say that the entire system failed Christopher, one example of that is the education system.  When I met him when he was about eight, he was completely illiterate – and he was in school – but he could not recognize or spell simple three letter words.  After just under four years in a good prep school – St. Hugh’s – he passed his G-SAT for Jamaica College. So yes, he graduated from St. Hugh’s.   As I said before, he was a very bright boy, I am sure he is an intelligent man.  He floundered at Jamaica College – he was in a very small remedial class at St. Hugh’s and at JC, he was suddenly in a class of 40-plus.  Within a year or so, he was asked to leave as he had not met the minimum academic standard.  The school also reported he wasn’t attending regularly, wasn’t doing his assignments.   We got him into another secondary school, but within less than a year, his grades were so bad that the sponsors I had found were unwilling to continue to fund his education.  I should say that initially myself and my then boyfriend funded the education of the four boys, but when I left my private sector job to work at an environmental NGO, I had to find other help and for many years, the education of the boys was paid for by overseas Jamaicans and local business people.  So think about it, at just over fourteen or maybe fifteen, Christopher was out of school, with no prospects, no programme to learn a trade or anything – and then, his brother was killed – beaten to death – while in police custody.  I imagine the rage and pain he must have been in – his entire family must have been in – and I am sure this event had something to do with the path his life then took.

AP: Linton has claimed in an Observer interview that he knows nothing of the charges the police want to lay against him. Do you think he’s being framed? He is very young—only 24—to be such a dangerous gang leader. Have you talked to him at all since your novel came out? Do you know if he’s read it? Have you been in touch with the rest of his family?

DM: I have no idea if he’s being framed or if he committed the crimes he is accused of.  He IS very young.  I haven’t talked to him, no.  When I went to Seattle in 2000 I lost track of him and his family.  When I came back, I learned of Jeffrey’s death, contacted Jamaicans for Justice, who had spoken to his mother, saw one of the teachers at St. Hugh’s who had been very involved with all four boys, and she told me that Christopher was no longer living at home and was in a gang.  It was then that I started to think about the whole experience, question my own opinions, my own prescriptions that education is the answer, and eventually those thoughts became Dog-Heart.

AP: Linton has made an impression in interviews of someone who is very intelligent, articulate and educated. Did you see hints of this in him when you first met and is that what made you want to try and help him out of the ghetto?

DM: I didn’t meet Christopher first.  It was really his brother, Jeffrey, who impressed me, and it was he we set out to help. To this day, I couldn’t tell you why he touched me in the way he did, compared to the many other children I have encountered in similar circumstances.   I met Christopher and his brothers subsequently – and we then realized that we could not single out one child in the family for help, but had to make sure they all got the same assistance.  I can only say again that Christopher was a sweet little boy with great potential who I remember and think about with fondness and I find the situation now unbearably sad, both for him and if he is guilty, for those he hurt or killed.

AP: I hope that finally Dog-Heart will get the attention it deserves. It is in effect the first document that seriously explores the conditions that influence the formation of characters such as Dog Paw; actually another novel that also does this is For Nothing at All by Garfield Ellis but of course it does so differently. You have tried so hard to change the environment that we all inhabit, in more ways than one, not merely as an environmental activist but by drawing attention to the systemic handicaps children such as Dexter suffer, are you at all frustrated by the lack of real change? What do you think it will take to produce an environment in which children are not exposed to such callousness and cruelty?

DM: Well, I’m not talking about this because of Dog-Heart.  I’m talking about this, because I want to say, look, I knew this man when he was a child, this man who is easy to hate, easy to demonize, but he did not come out of the womb like that, that he was a child who never had enough, ever, not one day of his life.  Yes, I’m very frustrated by the lack of real change in Jamaica, by the weakness and lack of integrity in our leadership, by the lack of thought we Jamaicans ourselves bring to these problems, by the level of national discourse, by the way as Mutty has always said, we trivialize our politics, it’s all a big party to us.  I don’t know what it will take to bring about real change – where this particular issue is concerned, I have no expertise, I’m just a witness, a storyteller.

AP: The title of your novel doesn’t necessarily refer to the protagonist Dexter, or does it? I got the impression it more fit his friend ‘Lasco’ who seemed irredeemably ‘bad’. So were you referring to a metaphorical ‘Dog-heart’, a system that turns young children into dog-hearted killers? as an aside i wonder why or how the term ‘dog-heart’ came into being, are dogs really like that?

DM: Dog-Heart doesn’t refer to any particular person in the novel.  It’s a reference to dog-heartedness, that quality that we Jamaicans talk about, recognize and react to with such revulsion.  So yes, the title is more of a metaphorical frame for the subject of the novel.  I don’t actually believe in dog-heartedness.  I have no idea how the term came about – a linguist would have to investigate – and I think the heart of a dog is generally a big warm kind heart – unless, just like people, the dog is mistreated.

Diana McCaulay and the Palisadoes Highway

I find myself torn between Diana McCaulay, who heads the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) and Greg Christie, Contractor-General of Jamaica as candidates for my Man of the Year award.

After the devastating rains we’ve had recently and yesterday’s minor earthquake (could this be the minor before the major as @Marxshields asked on Twitter) we should be even more conscious of the environment we live in and how fragile it really is. Yet how many of us are willing to be activists in ensuring that Jamaica’s delicate ecosystem isn’t eviscerated by ambitious ‘development’ plans with little consideration for preserving the country’s coastal integrity?

Diana McCaulay has almost singlehandedly been taking the fight to the authorities on the matter of the proposed transformation of the Palisadoes spit leading to the airport into a mega highway. We all know the kind of disruption and destruction of the environment this invariably entails. And in case we don’t McCaulay explains it eloquently in her post The Destruction of the Palisadoes Spit:

An environmental victory is in some ways an absence – a road not built, a mine averted, a hotel relocated, a golf course avoided. We are used to the presence of a natural resource – while it persists, it’s unremarkable. An environmental victory is always temporary – no matter how solid the case, how overwhelming the public support – at some point in the future, an attempt will be made to reverse it. The plans for the mine will be dusted off, there will be a new investor for the hotel that wasn’t built and a case will be made for the golf course.

Environmental defeats, though, are glaring – forests razed, rivers “trained,” sand dunes destroyed, beaches scraped clean, wetlands laid waste. And despite the promise of the relatively new science of restoration ecology, such defeats are mostly permanent.

On the doorstep to the city of Kingston in September 2010, you can see an environmental defeat. The Palisadoes spit, that jointed arm that holds Kingston Harbour in loose embrace, has been bulldozed by the National Works Agency (NWA), via their Chinese contractors and/or Jamaican sub contractors, led by the Minister of Transport and Works, with the willing and enthusiastic support of the National and Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). At this point, it appears that the entire spit will be denuded of all vegetation, its beaches compacted, sand dunes destroyed, the few struggling strands of mangroves obliterated in order to construct or expand (it’s not entirely clear which) an utterly unnecessary road.

 

Palisadoes removal of vegetation 14 Sep 10-1

 

It seems that NEPA whose role is to safeguard the interests of the country in matters involving large scale developments which impact on the environment is often toothless when it comes to laying down the law. At a public meeting called on Oct 4 with one day’s notice to stakeholders such as JET, McCaulay delivered a small coffin with the assets of Palisadoes inside it and an RIP sign to Peter Knight, head of NEPA. It was an expression of her frustration with what now seems to be a done deal–the razing of the Palisadoes strip to accommodate a major highway to the airport.

There are plans to also create a boardwalk along the new roadway, which would really be a lovely thing. I visited Barbados in 2009 and enjoyed the beautiful wooden boardwalk the government there had put up along one of the most popular coastal strips there. Why couldn’t we have one like that i remember thinking, so i’m not at all averse to the idea. It’s just that the concerns being raised by the environmentalists here seem not to be gaining any traction and if the price tag is too high, in ecological terms, might we not be exposing ourselves to more violent storm surges and coastal erosion in the future?

It takes balls for a single woman to go up against the state in the way Diana McCaulay has which is why she’s my candidate for Man of the Year.  Below is a video she created to document the proposed changes to the spit, a link to a JET statement about the proposed highway and below that is a link of a University of the West Indies study of the Palisadoes spit done in 1994.

STATEMENT FROM THE JAMAICA ENVIRONMENT TRUST 4 Oct 2010

http://www.mona.uwi.edu/geoggeol/mgu/PALISADOES.pdf