Crime and Punishment in Jamaica

In the wake of the Vybz Kartel murder trial other cases shed light on the quality of justice dispensed by Jamaican courts.

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Comparing and contrasting is always a useful exercise. This morning when I read the abbreviated article shown above i thought, really? Two men, Claytoday Dunkley and Garfield Litchmore, falsely accused of killing lawmen, lose 6 years of their life due to police bungling or worse, and the most the Gleaner can do is run a brief two-column report on page 2 with skeletal details of a case that seems to be a flagrant violation of human rights.  Not only that, you would only have read this article if you subscribed to the hard copy or the ePaper of the Gleaner, it wasn’t available on its website. Why not? Is it because the two concerned are labourers from Trench Town and not from Upper St. Andrew? What recourse if any do they have? Will any members of the Police be held accountable for this travesty of justice?

Buju Banton might have smiled and called this low-budget justice for low-budget people…aside from this the admission that the police apparently falsely charged the two men raises doubts about the reliability of evidence they presented against Vybz Kartel and co which as we all know ended in the conviction of the superstar DJ and three of his co-accused last week.

Juxtapose this for argument’s sake with the 2007 trial of former UWI student Rodney Beckles, accused of stabbing one  Khalil Campbell to death over a chillum pipe. On that occasion the story occupied the Gleaner’s front page, seen below, no doubt because the protagonists were both sons of ‘high-society officials’ as the headline pointed out. Rodney is the son of Sir Hilary Beckles, Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus. The young man he killed was none other than the son of Justice Lennox Campbell, yes you read it right, the very Supreme Court Judge Lennox Campbell who presided over the Kartel trial. The murder took place in January 2007 and by the end of November the same year young Beckles had been acquitted, much to the relief of his parents.

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Killed over ganja – Feuding sons of high-society officials
published: Friday | January 5, 2007

AN ARGUMENT over ganja has left the son of Supreme Court judge Lennox Campbell dead and the son of principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, facing a charge of murder.

Rodney Beckles, 21, whose father, Professor Hilary Beckles, was en route to Jamaica from Barbados yesterday, is now in police custody after stabbing to death Khalil Campbell, 28, of Daisy Avenue, St. Andrew.

The accused Beckles, a student at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, allegedly stabbed Campbell 21 times after an argument over the illegal substance.

Police sources say Beckles is alleged to have denied Campbell the opportunity to smoke his chillum pipe, claiming Campbell was not mentally capable of ‘handling the weed’. An altercation developed during which Beckles allegedly stabbed Campbell several times despite attempts by two other persons to restrain him.

Despite the fact that the 18 injuries were all found on the body of the victim, none on the body of the killer Beckles, a jury which deliberated for two hours (shades of the Kartel trial!) decided that the victim had been the aggressor and Beckles was acting in self-defence when he stabbed Campbell through the heart. The Star’s account of the trial described the scenario:

The jury found that Beckles was not guilty of murder or manslaughter.

Beckles who was represented by defence lawyers Patrick Atkinson, Deborah Martin and Robert Fletcher gave sworn testimony in his defence and was thoroughly cross-examined by prosecutors Caroline Hay and Ann Marie Feurtado -Richards.

Beckles said he acted in self defence after Campbell who was known to be mentally ill, rushed at him like a raging bull and held onto his foot. He said he began hitting him and when his foot was released, he saw blood on his clothes and blood on the deceased’s chest.

He said he and a friend were smoking ganja from a chalice and it was after they denied Campbell’s request for a smoke from the chalice that the incident took place.

The prosecution led evidence that there were 16 superficial injuries to the body and two stab wounds. The fatal injury was a stab wound to the chest which penetrated the heart. The pathologist said he saw defensive injuries to the body and it was his definition that the deceased was the victim and the attacker was the aggressor.

The defence brought medical evidence to show that the deceased was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and cannabis abuse and was aggressive when he did not get his medication.

So what do you think? Is the second a case of high-budget justice for high-budget people in contrast to the case of the Trenchtown labourers, Claytoday Dunkley and Garfield Litchmore? Again what does this indicate about the quality of justice meted out by Jamaican courts?

Finally was Kartel found to be guilty or was he to be found guilty by a police force and judiciary determined to make an example of him?

Britain’s Black Debt: The Logic of Reparation

An account of the launch of Hilary Beckles’s book, Britain’s Black Debt, in Jamaica

The launch of the book Britain’s Black Debt by historian Hilary Beckles, Principal of the Cave Hill Campus on May 2 was as solemn and grand an event as the weight of reparations from Britain for the crime of slavery demanded. The auditorium of the New Medical Sciences Building on the Mona Campus of the University was full, with ushers politely showing attendees to their seats. Here and there you could see clumps of Rastafarians equipped with small drums and instruments which they shook and beat whenever a speaker said something they approved of.

Kellie Magnus @kelliemagnus
Beckles: 300 years of salt pork has led to chronic illnesses. Rasta man shouts out: fire bun!

@kelliemagnus I find huge flags waved at high speeds right by the ear more dramatic #strategiestosurvive3hourbooklaunch

Kellie Magnus @kelliemagnus
Gonsalves calls for intl conference on reparations. Offers St Vincent and the Grenadines as host #britainsblackdebt

anniepaul @anniepaul
Sigh RT @kelliemagnus: After 67 minutes Gonsalves says, “I turn now to part two of the book.” #britainsblackdebt

RT @keimiller: Gonzales has moved on to 2nd topic: slavery. Hope its not as long as Roots.

@touchofallright to @BigBlackBarry

dude–you shld be at this launch for “britain’s black debt: reparations for caribbean slavery and native genocide”

BigBlackBarry @BigBlackBarry
@touchofallright nobody doan invite me to these jiggy functions. How it can name black an Barry nat dere?

The flippancy of the tweets I’ve chosen to quote above are no reflection on the subject of the book itself but more the outcome of a captive audience equipped with social media and able to chafe publicly at the undue length of the ceremonies. Lord Anthony Gifford who has researched the subject of reparations extensively and campaigned for it, was short and incisive but by the time the guest speaker, the Honorable Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, finished his expansive official speech many of us had to leave without hearing the author of the book respond. This was a pity because I had come mainly to hear Beckles on a subject that I’ve thought and written about myself.


In fact the event reminded me that one of the earliest columns I wrote for the Sunday Herald (March 10, 1996) was titled The Logic of Reparation. I remember being stunned at the time when Rupert Lewis congratulated me on being the first columnist to tackle this troublesome issue in the mainstream media (Jamaica’s come a long way since the mid-nineties). My own interest in Reparations was sparked by my conversations with a family friend, Ras Makonnen, aka George Nelson, a feisty Rastafarian public figure who had he not succumbed to cancer would probably have been Mayor of Portmore today. Big George as he was known, founded the Committee on Reparations in Jamaica in 1991 and had attended the First Pan-African Conference on Reparations held in Abuja, Nigeria, April 27-29, 1993, out of which came the Abuja Proclamation, part of which i quote below.

…Fully persuaded that the damage sustained by the African peoples is not a “thing of the past’ but is Painfully manifest in the damaged lives of contemporary Africans from Harlem to Harare, in the damaged economies of the Black World from Guinea to Guyana, from Somalia to Surinam.
Respectfully aware of historic precedents in reparations, ranging from German Payment of restitution to the Jews for the enormous tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust to the question of compensating Japanese-Americans for injustice of internment by Roosevelt Administration in the United States during the World War II.
Cognizant of the fact that compensation for injustice need not necessarily be paid only in capital but could include service to the victims or other forms of restitution and readjustment of the relationship agreeable to both parties.
Emphatically convinced that what matters is not the guilt but the responsibility of those states and nations whose economic evolution once depended on slave labor and colonialism, and whose forebears participated either in selling and buying Africans, or in owning them, or in colonizing  them…
Well, I missed what Professor Beckles had to say on the occasion of the launch but at least i can buy the book and read it. It was only the other day that a conversation on Facebook about Reparations inevitably led to the argument by a ‘Jamaica white’ that s/he was a mixture of both black and white. So which part was going to pay which part? This kind of trivialization of reparative justice is quite common but the fact is that reparations need not be thought of as individual payouts such as the former slave-owning planters received, but as investments in public goods, like education, health and infrastructure. This would go a long way toward repairing the historical injustice Britain benefited from and inflicted on the Caribbean islands it once controlled.
English historians have recently uncovered the links between prominent British public figures and their slave-owning antecedents. From David Cameron, the Prime Minister, to highly regarded writers such as George Orwell and Graham Greene, the list is a long one. According to Nick Draper from University College London, who along with historian Catherine Hall and others studied the compensation papers “… as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.”
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