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.”

The only Jamaican paper with balls–The Sunday Herald

Answers some questions about the owner of the BMW X6 whose driver killed a 17 yr old Jamaican and why his identity is being protected by the media, police, church and government.

November 6, 2011

UPDATE! For readers searching for information about the Sunday Herald you can tune in to my interview with the chairman of the board Rev Garnett Roper  about what’s happening with the Sunday Herald at 9 am Jamaican time on Newstalk 93FM, it streams live on the internet at http://newstalk.com.jm/LiveStream.htm. Back to my July 10 post below….

I’ve been very irregular with updating this blog. Largely this is because in February this year I started doing two weekly radio programmes, Double Standards and The Silo, on Newstalk 93. Coupled with my full time job at the University of the West Indies this leaves me with very little spare time. Something had to give and alas, its been Active Voice…

Double Standards, which I co-host with Yvette Rowe, a BBC-trained radio and TV broadcaster attempts to give listeners a more in-depth, analytical sense of issues in the news, both locally and globally. We also look at media coverage in general, pinpointing where we think it’s biased or employing a double standard, or just plain inadequate, leaving the public ill-informed, in the dark or providing it with little more than a succession of press releases. In the last week or two there’ve been so many instances of this that we can barely keep up.

For instance the cover page headline in today’s Observer, one of the two main daily newpapers in Jamaica, blares ‘Who is the X6 Killer?’ The question relates to the leading article in the paper, illustrated by the image below, about a killing that has shocked the country.

About two weeks ago Khajeel Mais, a 17-year old schoolboy travelling in a taxi, was shot dead by the driver of a BMW X6 which the taxi had accidentally grazed. In an apparent act of road rage the BMW driver leapt out of his vehicle and proceeded to fire at the taxi, which turned and tried to flee. One of the bullets entered the head of the unfortunate 17-year old killing him immediately.

Since then it has emerged that the owner of the luxury car is a highly connected businessman with ties to top policemen as well as politicians. No doubt this is why its driver felt empowered enough to attack the taxi in the brazen way that he did. No doubt this is why the major media houses here are scared to name either owner or driver. We don’t even know if they were one and the same or different.

Twitter was abuzz with the news and jokes about the X6, like this tweet: @afflictedyard: For Sale: BMW X6 #migratingmustsell #minordamage

All week long rumours have been flying about the murderous X6 driver to the effect that the man had left the country within hours of the shooting and that a senior cop with connections to the driver had been caught concealing information pertinent to the case. Although the policeman’s name has been mentioned at least once in a television news broadcast I saw, the alleged shooter’s identity, as well as the name of the owner of the car, have carefully been kept from the public in much the same way that the name of a Chinese restaurant in Mandeville, whose fried rice sickened at least 14 patrons, sending some to hospital, has been punctiliously withheld from the public.

What’s the deal here?

According to the Observer:

While the name of the alleged shooter cannot be published because he has not been charged with a crime, there are some things the Sunday Observer can report about him, based on interviews with persons who have intimate knowledge of him.

Clearly the newspaper IS in a position to divulge the name of the suspect, or the ‘person of interest’ to use a technical term, judging by the wealth of detail it goes on to provide about him. He’s “of dark complexion”, is a Canadian citizen and “has deep ties with both major political parties, though he is said to have greater loyalty to the Opposition People’s National Party”.

The murder suspect — who is a real estate developer and who is said to have enormous wealth — is also linked to other major local figures from the criminal underworld, while maintaining “very deep” connections with senior members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The suspect, who over the years has kept a low profile, is said to have real estate developments in several posh St Andrew communities, including Liguanea and Norbrook.

Additionally, he’s said to have developments along Red Hills Road and owns several other multi-million-dollar properties in the Constant Spring area of St Andrew, among others.

He’s also the owner of a private jet.

The claim that the paper can’t publish the name of the suspect because “he has not been charged with a crime” is a crock of shit; this has never kept them from trumpeting the names of other less influential ‘suspects’ who have yet to be charged with a crime. In the very same paper there is another story: Security guard sought in mother-daughter murder:

A security guard is being sought by the Savanna-la-Mar police following the killing of two women and the injury of their neighbour during a dispute in Farm District, Westmoreland yesterday.

The accused has been identified as 25-year-old Roche Tomlinson.

The guard who is on the run, is yet to be charged with the murder, yet the paper boldly tells us his name! (omg! news has just broken that the security guard was killed and dismembered, then set ablaze by vigilantes, wonder if this has anything to do with his name being called?) Similarly some months ago Jamaican media, including the Observer had no qualms about bandying about the names of Vybz Kartel and Mavado when the two were taken in by the police for questioning as ‘persons of interest’ in crimes we are yet to be informed about. Mavado even complained of the resulting damage to his reputation but its not clear what compensation if any he has recieved. The same goes for Kartel who was kept in the lockup for two weeks prompting him to appear on stage at last year’s Reggae Sumfest in handcuffs and prison uniform.

Photo of Kartel: Marcia Forbes
spraggabenz

And only a couple of months ago we heard all over the media that DJ Spragga Benz was wanted for questioning by the police in connection with a triple murder. Apparently nothing came of it because he’s out and about. Has he been compensated for damage to his reputation?  The answer is a resounding NO. Talk about double standards!

Well, guess what? The Sunday Herald names the owner of the car, calmly and without any fanfare, in a short news item titled “Police awaiting forensic tests on BMW X6”. It’s Patrick Powell. Of course we don’t know whether this was in fact the car that was involved in the accident, nor do we know, even if it was the car,  that the owner was driving it at the time of the shooting.

But why is it only the Herald that had the balls to come out and name the owner of the car which is being investigated by the police? That’s what i want to know. More power to them! Again from Twitter: RT @JustSherman: Jamaica Observer and Gleaner couldn’t cross it, but the Jamaica Herald can swim #onlyrealjamaicannewpaper