Every Now Has its Before

In Jamaica it should be #Poorlivesmatter not #blacklivesmatter coz some black lives do matter here and the police doing the killing and maiming are just as black as their victims…

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The column below from a couple of weeks ago about the need for a #poorlivesmatter campaign in Jamaica has been getting some attention. #Blacklivesmatter as a rallying call has little traction in Jamaica where if you’re black but middle class or upper class you’re–for all intents and purposes–an honorary white. Social blackness is reserved for those who are black and poor, not just those who may be dark-skinned, regardless of class.

I thought as much when I saw Fabian Thomas’s ‘Black Bodies’ almost a year ago–a play that aimed to “tell the stories and honour the memories of four Jamaicans (Vanessa Kirkland, Jhaneel Goulbourne, Michael Gayle, and Mario Deane) killed by the police or while in police custody” while attempting to draw a somewhat facile connection with the US’s #blacklivesmatter campaign which was then just beginning to gain momentum.

And in a move to rival the truth in strangeness, a very bougie, uptown Kingston nightclub named Fiction invited patrons to come and show their support for #Blacklivesmatter by partying the night away. Fittingly they aroused the wrath of social media with tweeters like Matthew McNaughton @mamcnaughton saying “Never been more disgusted with Jamaica UPT Culture than when I saw this @FictionJamaica flier.” The flier is at the top of this post, my column is below:

Gleaner, July 13, 2016

The #BlackLivesMatter campaign has rightfully been hogging media attention worldwide with American Police being shown up as less respectful of human rights than you would expect from a nation that regularly monitors and penalizes other countries for their alleged violations of these universally agreed on rights. Superficially there appears to be a resemblance to the way Jamaican police behave except for a crucial difference.

Here it’s the intersection of class with race that arouses the savagery of the Police and seemingly gives them the right to detain, imprison and on far too many occasions murder a ‘suspect’ whereas in the US the detention and deaths in question seem to be largely racially focused. In 2009 for instance the very distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was detained and imprisoned by police after forcing open the stuck door to his own house. A neighbour, misconstruing the scene, reported a robbery in progress, the police arrived, and despite the erudite Professor’s explanations he was carted off to jail.

This would never happen In Jamaica. Here you might be black and suspect until you display your rightful ownership of certain markers of privilege—and therefore legitimacy–of which the ability to speak English fluently is one. This is another stark example of how Patwa-speakers are discriminated against in their own country. Many parents tell their sons that when stopped by police they are to speak perfect English, and mention that they ‘come from somewhere’—that is, an uptown community rather than a downtown or inner city one. Almost instantaneously this frees them from suspicion.

There is no direct way to relate the #BlackLivesMatter campaign to police abuse in Jamaica without acknowledging or starting a local “#PoorLivesMatter campaign. Less than two weeks ago policemen shot a schoolgirl in the head when they wantonly fired bullets at a taxi downtown. Do you think this would have happened in Liguanea or Manor Park? And then to add insult to injury the initial response of the Police was that they had no evidence to suggest that the shooters in question were police officers. What could be more alarming than a possible scenario involving five men disguised as policemen firing their weapons at taxis? Well, actually, duh, a scenario involving five POLICEMEN firing at a taxi which is what in the end it turned out to be.

These are the same police the Attorney-General, in the wake of Lotto-scam generated crime ramping up in Montego Bay, wishes to endow with more leeway to abuse citizens by  insisting that “To successfully tackle the murder problem, some of the fundamental rights and freedoms which we have guaranteed to people may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed.” In fact she forgot to mention that this has been the state of affairs for so-called downtown people forever; the outcry now is because the warning is addressed to English-speaking, uptown-dwelling, middle-class bodies.

I adapted the title of this column from Kei Miller’s novel The Last Warner Woman. “Every now have its before”, she warns, although few heed her. Police Commissioner Williams has rightly said that the problems in Montego Bay are not something harsher policing measures or a state of emergency can solve. They are systemic and need social intervention, for what gone bad a-morning, can’t come good a-evening. Imagine the scene in the United States if President Obama used the current crisis to give American police even more draconian powers than they already enjoy. Wrong move. Racism in the USA has a long and troubled history just as the virulent classism in Jamaica does. There’s no moving forward without addressing either.

We would do well to heed the words of social commentator Nadeen Althia Spence, who invoking the late great Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff, said:

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…

What the police can do…Ja Blog Day!

A short one to urge bloggers to unite on May 23rd to protest the brutal tactis of the Jamaican police and armed forces.

Gleaaner: Soldiers stand guard at an entrance into Tivoli Gardens during the May 2010 incursion into the volatile community - file photo. Town - File.
Gleaaner: Soldiers stand guard at an entrance into Tivoli Gardens during the May 2010 incursion into the volatile community – file photo. Town – File.

Well, we’re counting down now to May 23rd, the third anniversary of the siege of Tivoli, a military operation in which more than 73 lives were lost, most of them civilian. The Jamaican security forces unleashed a blitzkrieg in Tivoli Gardens, a highly politicized residential community in Western Kingston, using shock and awe tactics, firing mortars, violently entering homes and massacring young male residents by all accounts. Their excuse? That most wanted Don, Christopher Lloyd Coke or the infamous ‘Dudus’, was holed up in the community with an army of gunmen protecting him. Well, they didn’t net the Don, who escaped and was captured almost a month later. Were the men slaughtered by the armed forces actually gunmen and criminals? Could they have been taken alive and arrested using more conventional methods? We’ll probably never know.

To mark the tragic anniversary of the Tivoli incursion and the lives that were lost there, Jamaican bloggers are uniting to draw attention to the scourge of extra-judicial killings in Jamaica and a police force seemingly out of control and beyond restraint, legal or otherwise. We invite all bloggers to join us by publishing thoughtful, well-researched, hard-hitting commentaries on police brutality in Jamaica on May 23rd, which also happens to be Labour Day here.

From Bob Marley’s famous line about waking up in a curfew, surrounded by police all “dressed in uniforms of brutality” to Lovindeer’s comical Babylon Boops (see video below), the police (often referred to as ‘Babylon’ in Jamaica) have been a popular subject for commentary and satire in Jamaica. Please add your voice to ours to make this first Ja Blog Day a meaningful and productive one! Please see further information on Ja Blog Day and how to participate immediately below the Lovindeer video.

Bloggers are not given any directives about how they should post or present on the issue of police and security force abuses. The topic was chosen around the time of marches in Jamaica to remember the 1963 Good Friday Coral Gardens Incident, also known as Bad Friday. Unfortunately incidents similar to Coral Gardens persist in Jamaica, the most recent occasion being the allegations about security force abuses in 2010 during the Tivoli Gardens Incursion to find and capture Christopher Coke. Abuses by both entities happen en masse during events at Coral Gardens, Tivoli, Braeton, and Crawle but also during what should be routine interactions between the Jamaican public and the entities meant to keep the peace, the army and police force. The names that many remember are as a litany – Vanessa Kirkland, Kentucky Kid, Nicketa Cameron, Kayann Lamont, Ian Lloyd. The public often charge that the innocent are killed and that the police or army acted improperly. The army and police often claim a “shoot out,” mistake, or nothing at all. But amidst the back and forth and wondering there is too often no resolution for a community or victim’s family. Too often there is no feeling of justice if indeed there was illegality. Too often there is no search for truth, however uncomfortable or unwelcome that may be.

“Many people may be resistant to speaking up and out about this issue because they’re afraid but the plain fact is that in Jamaica there are far too many and frequent questionable incidents involving the security forces and civilians,”. It is not intended that the posts produced on this first Ja Blog Day will immediately end instances of police and security force abuses. However, for Jamaica’s strong and growing community of Jamaican bloggers to speak up about this issue is important. Ja Blog Day is an opportunity for Jamaican bloggers to strengthen their presence on the Internet and within Jamaican society as important writers and contributors to the public sphere.

WHAT: First Annual Jamaica (Ja) Blog Day on Police and Security Force Abuses
WHEN: May 23, 2013, all day
BLOG REGISTRATION: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1EkbDJcjQPaUmXcjBFlqdUcLOtqhCEGhVh2HpwKlvXR8/viewform
WEBSITE: jablogday.tumblr.com
TWITTER:@JABLOGDAY
EMAIL: JaBlogDay@gmail.com

Jamaica (Ja) Blog Day will be an annual event for Jamaican bloggers. Each year’s topic will be different but the charge will be the same: a day of action in service to Jamaica, speaking on an important issue in Jamaica. Visit http://www.jablogday.tumblr.com and http://www.twitter.com/jablogday for more information and continuing updates.

The Police Gang

Jamaican police beat and kill Ian Lloyd, a citizen records this on video, providing evidence that Lloyd was unarmed and not dangerous when killed. This also contradicted the police force’s own statement that the shooting was an act of self-defence on the part of the police.

The police in Jamaica are once again at the centre of a maelstrom of criticism after a video surfaced showing some of them beating up and shooting a man in cold blood. TVJ (Television Jamaica), having learnt its lesson in May after deciding not to air its exclusive footage of masked men in Tivoli Gardens getting ready to defend Dudus (later beamed to the world by the BBC which had no such qualms) sent shock waves through the nation by airing the graphic video of the police killing, shot by an onlooker who sent it to them. The Constabulary Communication Network (CCN) had earlier reported that the man, Ian Lloyd, was shot dead after he attacked members of a police party. The video footage, captured by cellphone, however contradicted this story, clearly showing an unarmed and subdued man lying on the ground.

Lloyd was reportedly a drug addict who had just killed his female partner and was generally considered a nuisance to the community, members of which were seen on video cheering the police on as they circled the man beating him and then shooting him. Still, at the end of the day the question remains: is this what the police are paid to do?

This is not the first time i’ve had occasion to write about the excesses and corruption in the police force. The very first blogpost i ever wrote, in January 2008 when i started this blog, was about Detective Constable Cary Lyn-Sue who confessed in the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate’s Court that he had fabricated witness testimony in the trial of 22-year old Jason James, allegedly a member of the Killer Bee gang.

Lyn-Sue openly admitted that it was frustration that had driven him to invent a crown witness complete with incriminating testimony when fear prevented any actual witnesses from testifying. He was aware of various crimes committed by the accused, he said, and thought that getting James off the streets even for a day would be doing society a favour.

In September that year I had occasion to publish a piece called “Pronounced Dead” in which i was discussing the distortions of the English language one frequently hears and reads in local media reports starting with the much abused phrase “pronounced dead”. This term often appears in radio newscasts recounting police shoot outs where “shots were fired”, “the fire was returned” and then “the injured men” (rarely members of the police force) are taken to hospital, where “upon arrival” they are invariably “pronounced dead”.

In December last year I wrote about the police killing of  Robert ‘Kentucky Kid’ Hill, a musician who had predicted his death and actually named the cops who would be responsible. According  to the Sunday Herald, Hill, virtually in tears, said he was convinced that cops were stalking him and he felt intimidated. Within a few weeks Hill was killed during a shootout with a police party on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 causing leading journalist Cliff Hughes to declare on Nationwide radio that this wasn’t the Jamaica Constabulary Force, it was the Jamaica Criminal Force. Virtually nine months later nothing has come of the investigation into Kentucky Kid’s killing by the Police.

My focus on police excesses has not been restricted to the Jamaican police. In January i published a piece called Police states, anthropology and human rights by an Indian anthropologist named Nandini Sundar who had suffered abuse and harrassment at the hands of police in India. At the time I wrote:

Just in case we thought that the Jamaican police were unique in their brand of brutality we are reminded that police forces anywhere can be equal opportunity purveyors of brutality and state terror. This is a depressing way to start the new decade for true. Are police forces merely gangs licensed to torture, bully and kill by the state? Packs of wolves hired to keep rebellious sheep in line?

In the United States many counties do not permit citizens to videotape police in public. I sincerely hope this will not be the recommendation of the committee investigating the killing of Ian Lloyd. If it is i hope they will also recommend that the Jamaican police follow the example of certain police departments in the US which are equipping their members with video cameras so that in case of accusations being made of abuse and excessive force they can provide their own footage to corroborate their stories of killing in self-defence.

More details on this can be found in this pithily titled story: Police turning to self-mounted video cameras to protect themselves from us.