“Colour and the Tourist Trade”

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Gleaner column 21/4/18

In an interesting postscript to my last column “Modern Day Plantations”, I was sent a response from tourism mogul John Issa saying that my account of Evon Blake’s plunge into the Myrtle Bank Hotel’s pool was “not quite accurate”.

Apparently the story as told to John Issa by Evon Blake himself, went as follows.

“After my grandfather, father and uncle purchased the Myrtle Bank hotel in 1943, Evan (sic) Blake wanted to test if it still discouraged black guests, which it had done when it was owned by the United Fruit Co, now that it was owned by Jamaicans. He went to the front desk to buy a pool ticket and it was sold to him, he then proceeded to the swimming pool and was given a changing room and towel. He then proceeded to dive into the pool. He told me at all times he was welcomed.

“He however added, with a smile on his face, that when he dived into the pool it was like watching a movie in reverse as all the foreign guests who were in the pool came out.”

Issa went on to say that he was proud that his family had “removed racism” from the Myrtle Bank. He had also personally appointed the first black General Manager of a major Jamaican resort hotel when he appointed Willard Samms as General Manager of the Tower Isle Hotel in the early 1960s.

These details are interesting and also a perfect illustration of how deceiving appearances can be when they are decontextualized. On the face of it we might be inclined to buy this narrative of benign racial inclusiveness yet the incident involving Blake occurred in 1948, when Jamaica was still a colonial society and racism was even more pronounced than it is today. Thus you could very well have no explicit colour or race bar and still control the entry of Black people to your property. Heck, their entry is still being discouraged today, which was the point of my column.

Issa himself says that Blake told him as soon as he plunged into the pool all the foreign guests jumped out, a clear indication that it was NOT the norm, stated policy or not, for Blacks to swim in the Myrtle Bank’s famous pool. Likewise we might note that the appointment of a black general manager in the 60s while admirable, likely made no difference to the treatment of black guests, as indeed continues to be the case, more than 60 years later when it is the norm for hotels to have black managers.

Despite being managed and staffed by Blacks in 2018 too many Jamaicans who attempt to sample their country’s world-renowned hospitality find that it doesn’t necessarily extend to them. That was the gravamen of my column last week. So the fact that Evon Blake bought a ticket to the Myrtle Bank pool without hindrance is neither here nor there. The list of black guests I quoted complaining about their treatment had also paid for their stays at the hotels in question, yet it didn’t insulate them from the racial profiling they suffered. I’m sure those hotels have no explicit policy barring the entry of dark-skinned folk either. They don’t have to. Centuries of racial ‘grooming’ so to speak, cannot be undone overnight; the racism is internalized and practised by Blacks against Blacks.

Add to this the potent poison of class prejudice, something we all systematically practice in this day and age and you realize how complex the situation is. If you’re black and poor there are hardly any pools or beaches available for you in Jamaica.

As art historian Krista Thompson notes in “An Eye for the Tropics” Evon Blake was very concerned also about how Jamaicans were portrayed in tourism campaigns. He deplored the fact that in these representations black Jamaicans always appeared in menial positions, or as boys climbing coconut palms or diving into the sea to retrieve coins. Middle class Blacks were rarely featured. Blake pointed out that in contrast, neighbouring Haiti emphasized the fact that tourists would be visiting a ‘Black Republic’ where you would be expected to fraternize with ‘Negroes’.

According to Blake the unwritten message in Haitian tourist publicity went something like this: “If you object to associating with Negroes go somewhere else.” Americans who went to Haiti forgot the colour prejudice practised back home:

“They chin and chum with Negroes, and they appear to love it. They sit next to Negroes in swank hotels and clubs, bathe in swimming pools with Negroes, dance with Negro men and women, and consider themselves privileged when offered the opportunity to pay their respects to officials of the ‘Black Republic.’”

And while this was going on in Haiti, in Jamaica tourism interests were assiduously keeping tourists from meeting locals, on the grounds that they wouldn’t like to hobnob with black folk, a belief apparently alive and well today. Clearly a sea change is needed in how tourism is practised in this Black country.

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.”

Further:

“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.

The Redemption of the Land

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Alligator Head Foundation offices

Gleaner column 17/1/18

“There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” Psalms 104: 25-30

The new year has dawned like a tsunami, rearing high up in the air and threatening to overwhelm us with its ferocity. As it sweeps us along it spins and twirls us about and the trick is to stay afloat somehow, anyhow. The coldest winter up North, the wettest December in these parts, climate change seems to be ushering us along with a firm but clammy hand.

The message is clear, we have to stop our clueless meddling with the environment we inhabit. The redemption of the land is something the Bible talks about quite a bit. Yet for a country proud to proclaim its Christianity far and wide Jamaica has not distinguished itself through its environmental policies or its relationship to the sea.

Over the weekend I attended a powwow in Portland about the redemption of the ocean, another crucial element of our ecosystem. Organized by Francesca von Habsburg’s Alligator Head Foundation the meeting brought together a range of skill sets to think about the problem of ocean conservation and how to make it more of a priority in local agendas.

Von Habsburg’s intention is to create a space where solutions can be found and thinking changed about our stewardship of the ocean. Her internationally renowned TBA21 Academy, run by Markus Reymann and once devoted to ambitious and daring visual arts projects, is now offering its substantial resources towards creative solutions to regenerating and nursing the oceans back to health.

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Holding framed picture is Markus Reymann, to his right Francesca von Habsburg and next to her in blue is Dane Buddoo

 

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Baby mangroves being cultivated

Mere ocean literacy and consciousness is no longer the goal as young people are aware of the need to shepherd natural resources. What is needed are avenues to transform that consciousness into change. Art is still central to the program but art as a lens through which to view environmental issues and a powerful tool to produce socially and politically conscious works.

The TBA21 Academy has already spearheaded three voyages in the Pacific Ocean, twinning artists with scientists to come up with insights into ocean conservation and care. Portland and Jamaica have a central place in the scheme of things because of von Habsburg’s lifelong links to the country. Alligator Head was where she learnt to swim on summer holidays with her father Baron Thyssen.

Around the coast near Alligator Head von Habsburg has created the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, now headed by Dane Buddoo, formerly of the University of the West Indies.

According to von Habsburg “Science provides the knowledge and art creates empathy so this is the first bridge we are trying to create. The second one is bringing a wide range of people with different skill sets together to create a new ecology of thinking. From a very young age young people are taught that they have to specialize, if you don’t specialize you won’t have a career they’re told, but we want to break down those walls.” What has been added to the mix is entrepreneurship and finding entrepreneurial solutions that are creative.

Finding solutions to such vast problems requires collective thinking von Habsburg believes so there are three pillars to the project. The first is science as manifested in the creation of the fish sanctuary and its labs; the second is culinary, creating a restaurant on the property which will feature healthy food, using local produce from farmers in the area and also exploring options from the sea—edible seaweed and other algae.

The third option is art programming. “Artists are the antenna of the world today. They are the ones who see many topics that maybe fly by the radar of journalists. We are so saturated by media, the role of media seems to be to keep us all in a permanent state of shock and horror. If we don’t read about some horrible shithole comment that Trump’s made, it’s something else,” says von Habsburg.

Well, as Ezekial 34:2-4 says, “Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.”

It’s time to learn from the shepherds and grasp this opportunity to use the resources offered by TBA21 and the Alligator Head Foundation.

Lessons from #Sandz

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Man trudging along Palisadoes with suitcase on head trying to get to the airport on time…

Gleaner column of 10/1/18

There was something cruelly symbolic about the gridlock that shut the country down on New Year’s Day. Did it portend an unhappy future where everything slowly ground to a halt and the last person to leave the country couldn’t even reach the airport let alone turn out the lights behind them? What about the key components involved? The spanking new, recently widened  airport road, a new year’s beach party, a police force on go-slow one or two of whose members were principals in the company hosting the beach party, the ‘unruly patrons’ who parked their vehicles along the thoroughfare rather than park at the party location, Gunboat Beach or Seventh Harbour where the parking was ample.

Then there was the incredibly resonant name of the party—#Sandz (Kindly leave the em dash alone). The #Sandz of time wait for no man. Could the country be likened unto a castle built on #sandz? A #sandzcastle? Or was it just a patty shop after all?  Ladies and gents get your outfits ready and pack your coolers we are going to #Sandz  ALL White on January 1…Get a lil #Sandz between your toes on New Years Day at Sandz Caribbean Music… Walk into New Years 2018 with #SandZ the promotional tweets had said. 

Meanwhile “#NIGHTECONOMY TIES UP NM INT’L AIRPORT“ read the headline on Diana McCaulay’s new blog, Inroads, on January 2nd. One of the earliest reports on the fiasco, it described the nightmare scenario succinctly. People going to the airport to collect travelers on incoming flights were unable to get there, leaving friends and family stranded for hours. Flight crews and therefore flights were delayed. People missed their flights completely. Others had to walk or pay exorbitant sums to bike men to transport them to the airport with their luggage. And some got there only to find out their flight  had been cancelled because the flight crew was stranded somewhere on Palisadoes road.

Talk radio and social media were abuzz with discussions about the likely causes of the Palisadoes gridlock. @Jherane tweeted “Jamaican news is starting to mimic CNN. Hours upon hours of discussing #Sandz. No actual investigation happens, just opinions, “he said, she said”, and I’m left wondering if nothing else is happening in Jamaica.” @TeeOPatra_  captured the absurdity of the situation: “They started to threaten to tow the cars illegally parked at #Sandz but the wrecker was stuck in traffic.”

“Billions of dollars spent to upgrade the Palisadoes road to prevent the airport becoming inaccessible due to a hurricane. But what a hurricane now can’t do, poor governance can,” tweeted the irascible @DamienWKing. Tweeted another: “Am done after this. #Sandz is a mole hill, not a mountain. Plus Mr. Quallo have nuff tings to do other than this. We not like the Japanese police weh a twiddle them thumbs cause crime gone down. Stop it man. Cho!” Police Commissioner Quallo certainly does have more serious things on his plate post-Palisadoes with rumors of his impending departure being bandied about. If only our police had the luxury of twiddling their thumbs.

Meanwhile, the blame game was on in earnest. It was ‘indiscipline at its finest’ and ‘Errant, indisciplined motorists’ and ‘#Sandz unruly patrons’ who were responsible. Others thought the blame lay squarely at the feet of the traffic police who were missing in action. The party promoters it turned out had got all the necessary permits (how is another matter, but do keep in mind that one of them was a policeman himself) so where does the blame lie?

“Sometimes I think the only rules we’re serious about are the ones governing the bare arms of women,” quipped Diana McCaulay pinpointing lack of enforcement of rules as one of the primary culprits in the Palisadoes matter.

It was Deborah Hickling-Gordon who put her finger on the problem in my opinion. According to her policy and operational oversight for elements of the creative economy are dispersed among twelve ministries! Imagine if that were the case with tourism or the financial sector. At what point are Jamaican government and business interests going to wake up to the fact that the new goose laying golden eggs in Jamaica and elsewhere is the entertainment industry and its concomitant creative sector?

Shaggy demonstrates this year after year, yet even now, in 2018, according to Hickling-Gordon, the sector is not a focal point in the Growth Strategy and continues to be treated as incidental. I completely agree with Hickling-Gordon that it is clear that the Gunboat affair was due to regulation gone wrong, or just insufficient governance at many levels. We need to stop scapegoating the Entertainment industry for the failure of regulation to keep up with its growth. What is needed is a drastic revision and rearrangement of the countries’ priorities. That should be the takeaway lesson from the #Sandz fiasco.

Policing rape culture

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Gleaner column 3/1/2018

Looking back on 2017 one thing stands out. Jamaica was way ahead of the curve in what would become the most significant social disruptor, globally, in recent years—breaking the silence on sexual harassment and rape culture.  As far back as early 2017 a young local activist, Latoya Nugent, had the gumption to start the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica accompanied by a list of offenders who had been named by young girls and women as their violators. For this she was vilified and treated like an enemy of the state, with six assault rifle-bearing members of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) descending on Mary Seacole Hall at the University of the West Indies to arrest her.

The actions of Latoya Nugent, and her close allies Nadine Spence, Taitu Heron and others gave rise to what is now known as The Tambourine Army because in accusing the then leader of the Moravian Church, Paul Gardner, Nugent tapped him on the head with a tambourine. This caused several senior activists and journalists to harshly criticize the tactics of the younger generation of activists, on the grounds that their modus operandi was too militant and they were using violence to make their point. Never mind the far more serious violence these women were protesting, assault with a tambourine became a thing in Jamaica.

In India too a young lawyer named Raya Sarkar started a growing ‘hall of shame’ list of names of sexual predators leading to a remarkably similar fallout between an older generation of feminists and a younger, more impatient one, tired of waiting for ‘due process’ to trip in. Like Nugent’s list in Jamaica care was taken to ensure that complaints about sexual predation were registered based on evidence corroborating the accusation. The difference was that the Indian list came in the wake of the phenomenally successful US-based #MeToo campaign in October 2017 whereas the Tambourine Army and the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica were already in full swing by February 2017.

The problem of rape in Jamaica is not new. According to artist Judy Ann Macmillan her mother, Vida J. Macmillan, did her best to change the rape laws of Jamaica in the 70s with continuous letters to the Gleaner. The punishment in her day for raping a child was twelve lashes. Judy Ann grew up on the story that her mother had even tried to talk to Edna Manley about it and Edna’s response was “If you are about to be raped dear I think you should lie down and enjoy it.” Mind you those were the days of the ideology wars and Vida and Edna came from opposite sides of that divide.

The sheer number of women and children routinely being sexually violated even today points to a pervasive ‘rape culture’ that is so deeply ingrained and accepted that there is hardly any outcry against it. Most women don’t even bother to report their rapes because of the tortuous procedures involved that make them relive the trauma in the process of being interviewed by police and legal personnel bristling with disbelief and completely lacking in empathy. Nor is this a local problem only. As @LauraOlin tweeted “Why women don’t report: 60 women give the same account of Bill Cosby and a jury still can’t agree that he raped anyone.”

Latoya Nugent was ahead of her time in the stellar championing of victims’ rights to call out their aggressors by name. So important did a similar movement become in the US only months later that Time magazine named as its persons of the year, The Silence Breakers—the women who had the courage to speak to the New York Times about their sexual exploitation at the hands of Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.

Meanwhile I heard a local journalist complaining that he preferred the hashtag #MeToo to #SayTheirNames because the latter was too confrontational. Yet as a vice.com article titled The Trouble With Saying ‘Me Too’ pointed out: “For each of us who have been raped, assaulted or harassed, there is at least one rapist, at least one abuser. These are the people who need to be held accountable, instead of survivors being put on trial to prove their assaults were bad enough to count for something.” In France, the campaign used the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc – roughly translated as “snitch out your pig” a far more hard-hitting and unflattering tag than #SayTheirNames.

Naming those who injure you is important, breaking harmful silences is crucial. Let the Tambourine Army do its work. As an anonymous supporter of Nugent’s said, “Men will hear tambourines shake in their heads anytime they feel tempted to touch a woman or child, and they will think twice. They are the ones who will be afraid.”

Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston

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Gleaner column, Nov 23, 2017

How to “make life in and through violence” in Jamaica is the problem an exhibition at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia ponders. Titled “Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston” the exhibition is constructed around a film called Four Days in May by Deborah Thomas, musician Junior Wedderburn and Deanne Bell, a Jamaican psychologist based at University of East London. Thomas who is a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania initiated research for the film in 2012. The Penn Museum exhibition, unveiled on November 17th, 2017, marked the formal launch of the completed project.

Thomas is known for her books Modern Blackness and Exceptional Violence as well as her first film, Bad Friday, which chronicles the state-sponsored repression and victimization of Rastafari in the wake of events at Coral Gardens in 1963. Both films are examples of the thrust of anthropology in the digital age, visual practices attempting “to witness and to archive state violence, and to give some sense of how the practices and performances of state sovereignty have changed over time.”

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Beautifully designed story boards provide details of the timeline of the 2010 Tivoli incursion mounted by heavily armed security forces in Jamaica to restore law and order in the garrison community and to arrest its leader, Dudus, wanted in the United States for drug running and other crimes. A (Very) Brief History of Jamaica provides historical background while below, a series of numbers are provided, amplifying what took place during the dramatic period of the incursion.

The series starts by presenting an interesting connection to Jamaica. 1682: The year Pennsylvania was founded after William Penn was given a land grant from the British Crown due to his father’s role in winning Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Then it shifts to Tivoli in West Kingston. 75: The number of civilians the state acknowledged were killed. 200: Roughly the number of people the community says were killed 4: The number of days citizens were locked down in their homes unable to leave. 18: The total number of guns found in Tivoli Gardens by security forces. 36: The number of spent casings that were recovered and presented for analysis. 1,516: The number of rounds of ammunition expended by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. 4000: The approximate number of people detained of whom only 148 were not released. 6.5: The number of years it took to produce an official report on the incursion.

The project is intended as a platform for inhabitants of Tivoli Gardens and surrounding communities to talk about what they experienced during the incursion and to publicly name and memorialize the loved ones they lost. 30 oral histories were collected and portraits created which are displayed in the exhibition. Each life size portrait, expertly and empathetically shot by photographer Varun Baker, is accompanied by a recording of the person portrayed speaking, which visitors can listen to through headphones. The direct, unembellished testimony is moving, sometimes shocking. Many who listened were moved to tears.

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One such portrait is that of Marjorie Williams and her daughters, Diane and Diana Barnes. The text  accompanying it says: Marjorie was born in KIngston, on November 14, 1961, her twins were born at Jubilee Hospital in 1997. Marjorie moved to the area that is now Tivoli Gardens at age three. She attended St. Alban’s Primary School, and then graduated from Tivoli Gardens High School. When her kids were younger she worked seasonally in Cayman doing housekeeping work in hotels. Her two sons were killed, execution-style, outside her house on the second day of the incursion. Since that time, the twins have been living in central Jamaica, as they didn’t feel they could stay in Tivoli Gardens.

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Similar texts accompany the other portraits. Also featured is a life-sized model of a Revival Table, and a display of different kinds of drums used in Revival, Kumina and Nyabinghi, “three musical traditions integral to the formation of West Kingston.” At the launch Jamaican musicians and exemplars of each tradition drummed and danced bringing the still, silent museum to life. We joked that the old African skulls and bones displayed in vitrines in a neighboring exhibition “Is There Such a Thing Called Race in Humans?” must have felt invigorated by the rousing African-inspired rhythms and songs filling the air.

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Also on display is a copy of the Report of the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry. An innovative part of the exhibition posed different outcomes depending on what actions were or were not  taken. What would have happened if the security forces had never gone into Tivoli? What if the Government had not signed the extradition order? What if Dudus had turned himself in?

Bearing Witness culminates in a screening of an eight-minute excerpt from the documentary Four Days in May projected onto three screens. The excerpt starts with footage from the American ‘spy plane’ showing aerial images of the community, with what appear to be gunmen staking out rooftops. The exhibition will remain at the Penn Museum till July 2018.