Today is Malcolm X’s birthday; he would have been 88 years old. Tragically, his young grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, was murdered on May 9 at a Mexico City nightclub. But here’s a little Caribbean connection: Malcolm X’s mother Louise was born in Grenada - but she had a very sad life, too.
Well, with that useful and important fact stored away, let’s look at the last few days in Jamaica…
The voice of morality: Our pious Minister of Education, the Reverend Ronald Thwaites, told Parliament this week that he is not going to allow young Jamaican students to be “groomed” towards homosexuality (demonstrating his own mistaken beliefs on the subject); and that although he approves of (the right kind of) sex education, condoms in schools are out. None of us were surprised at this, were we – after all, the Minister’s Catholic faith strongly influences his prescriptions for our youth. The television program All Angles confronted the issue of condoms in schools last week with youth activist/commentator Jaevion Nelson, retired school principal Esther Tyson and the head of the guidance counseling association. The latter two both toed the Minister’s line as expected; were confused by the statistics Mr. Nelson produced to strengthen his case for contraceptive assistance in schools; and clumsily tried to catch him out, once or twice.
But a big, big silver lining: The same Minister folded his hands, turned his eyes to heaven and announced a change in government policy towards pregnant teens in school. Amendments to the Education Act and Regulations attached thereto will ensure that schools will keep open a space for a child who has had to leave due to pregnancy, so that she may continue her education afterwards. Huge kudos to Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith for her strong lobbying on this issue; and to the Minister for seeing the sense and fairness of it. The Minister also announced a couple of pending measures that have ruffled the feathers of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association; more on that, probably, later. I don’t always agree with our overly preachy Minister; but at least he is trying to right some of the hundreds of wrongs afflicting our education system, one by one. He has some tricky issues to tackle, indeed.
“I’m so frustrated by this experience”: A quote from CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company Kelly Tomblin on the seemingly very long and slow deliberations by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) on who should receive the contract for a new 350 mw power plant. I can imagine how she feels. I often fail to see whether government agencies like the OUR, the Bureau of Standards (of toilet tissue infamy), the Urban Development Corporation and others do any good for the Jamaican people. I guess they provide jobs. How else do they serve our interests?
The truth is swimming away: In an enlightening radio interview with a frequently stuttering Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies on Thursday morning, it transpired that Davies’ junior minister Richard Azan told him two different stories about whether or not he knew that rental money was being collected at his (Azan’s) own constituency office for illegally constructed shops. There actually appear to be three different versions of this conversation, all aired on broadcast media. However, clearly Minister Davies seems to think that his junior minister means well, even if he has broken the law. He is eager to do good in the community, so let’s “give him a bligh,” nuh. The grammatically challenged Junior Minister had told Nationwide in an earlier interview, “Yes, I make a mistake for building the shops” (sic). But saying “My bad” sometimes has consequences, right?
This is a true patriot, Rev. Redwood: As I noted in my last blog post, the now-departed-on-a-jet-plane Senate President Reverend Stanley Redwood only dug a deeper hole for himself by responding to the cutting criticism of a Gleaner column in a letter to the newspaper. He actually called himself a patriotic Jamaican. The acerbic columnist Gordon Robinson today gives us a better idea of a patriotic Jamaican – one who has no choice but to struggle through our ramshackle health, justice and education systems with no special privileges, but who tries to help his fellow Jamaicans and ensure his family thrives.
Fresh face: Members of the 51% Coalition (including myself) are delighted at the appointment of a young attorney-at-law, Sophia Frazer-Binns. Great to see another woman in the Senate, and we look forward to her contribution. We note also that Ms. Frazer-Binns has some experience of working with youth. Good, too.
Two key meetings: J-FLAG and the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) had two key meetings this week: in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia, J-FLAG held a forum on homelessness and forced migration among the LGBT population; and the JCSC launched two publications arising from its lengthy series of consultations with communities on “People Participation in the National Budget Making Process.” Congratulations to both organizations for their efforts to keep seeking solutions to some of Jamaican society’s most intractable problems. I will be writing more on these meetings in the next week – in particular, on the “disconnects” between Jamaicans and Jamaicans. Need to overcome these…
Rooting for the children: Huge big-ups to the JN Foundation for providing desperately-needed funding for the Spanish Town-based non-governmental organization Children First. I had the honor of working with this organization on several occasions and have always been impressed by founder Claudette Richardson-Pious’ deep understanding of and clear-eyed focus on the complex and difficult lives of youth at risk. Since it is still Child Month, here are two other individuals who are quietly working on behalf of children: Deika Morrison of Crayons Count; and youth advocate Kemesha Kelly, who works with young people in St. Ann. Great role models.
Collecting: And Help JA Children, the lobby group formed one year ago, is busy collecting items for children in state care this month. Take your food, toiletries, clothes, books, magazines and other goodies to Kia Motors c/o HJC, 2 Chelsea Ave, Kgn 10. Tel: 920-5000. It will be hugely appreciated!
Kudos to Vaz: It’s Labour Day on Wednesday, when people undertake all kinds of tasks to make life better for their fellow-Jamaicans. One of former Prime Minister Michael Manley‘s better ideas, I think. Across the island, the infirmaries that are funded by local parish councils are in a terrible state of repair – often colonial-era buildings that have seen much better days. Now, a couple of months ago Member of Parliament for East Portland Daryl Vaz announced that he was going to give up five per cent of his salary, as a gesture of sacrifice in these tough times. He was praised in a half-hearted way by some. But now he has met with Port Antonio’s Mayor and decided the money he gives up will be earmarked for the Portland Infirmary, which is in a bad state. I really do like this. Did any other political representative follow Mr. Vaz’ example? I think not…
A waste of space: I am sometimes baffled by the sheer inanity and trivia that gets published in the newspapers each week. The random thoughts of commentators with nothing meaningful to say; the grinning men and women with wineglasses in their hands at an uptown party; yet another PR piece about some reggae/dancehall singer who is “making waves” overseas (playing in tiny clubs in the suburbs of big cities). If it’s online, at least with a click you can forget/delete it. But good trees are chopped down for this worthless nonsense.
Jamaican bloggers, sharpen your keyboards! Wednesday, May 23 – the third anniversary of the Tivoli Gardens Massacre – is Jamaica Blog Day, a “Day of Action for Jamaican bloggers on police and security force abuses.” The great little (growing) blogging community on the island, including myself, will be researching and writing and photographing on this subject. It’s going to be meaningful stuff. Do read and support our bloggers!
Coming up fast and not to be missed! The Fulbright Academy of Science and Technology will hold its 2013 Conference on Global Health in Montego Bay from May 24-27. It is open to the public. Important themes covered will be: Public Policy, Law and Economics in healthcare; Public Health and the Impact of Technology and Social Media; Emerging & Reemerging Infectious Diseases; Education, Sport and Wellness; Environmental Health (Global water supply & safety, Climate Change, Urban planning, engineering); and Human Sexuality. Visit the conference website at http://www.fulbrightacademy.org/page/HealthSummit/index.v3page;jsessionid=4j4dleqsqk0m4 And while I’m at it, big shout-out to all the fabulous Jamaican Fulbrighters (including Marcia Forbes, who will be presenting at the conference)… You make us proud!
I am relieved that the week, which started off so badly with homicides, has ended (hopefully) on a more peaceful note. However, my sympathies go out to the families and friends of Kenneth Kerr and Abasco Foster, who are grieving at this time. I hope that Mr. Foster’s companion recovers from serious injuries.
Kenneth Kerr, 54, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Abasco Foster, 27, George’s Plain, Westmoreland
Related articles/links and local blogs in purple:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130517/business/business4.html Economy contracts in March quarter: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/lead/lead6.html Kelly speaks her mind: Urges speedy decision on new power supplier: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Stadium-built-with-Chinese-money-in-ruins_14278481 Stadium built with Chinese money in ruins: Sunday Observer
http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=20784 Jamaica: Three years on, state of emergency still an open wound: Amnesty International
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130518/lead/lead1.html ”Act on Tivoli”: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/cleisure/cleisure2.html The methods of war have failed: Claude Clarke column/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130518/letters/letters1.html INDECOM needs more power: Letter of the Day/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130517/lead/lead2.html Cops to be charged for schoolgirl’s murder: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cop-dodges-court-as-DNA-shatters-lie-that-arrested-man-had-spliff_14284218 Cop dodges court as DNA shatters lie: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-122/33915 Senate elects first visually impaired President: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-122/33919 Attorney-at-law appointed to the Senate: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/33909 Contribution to 2013 Sectoral Debate: Mikael Phillips, MP: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/cleisure/cleisure2.html Of patriots and sellouts: Gordon Robinson column/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/focus/focus6.html Saying goodbye and diaspora relations: Christopher Tufton op-ed/Sunday Gleaner
http://chatychaty.com/2013/05/jamaica-not-grooming-students-for-same-sex-unions-marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman/ ”Jamaica not grooming students for same sex unions, marriage is between a man and a woman”: chatychaty.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o2el_Gw8O8 Stop being naïve about sex! Jamaican high school students speak: YouTube
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/teen-mothers-to-be-reintegrated-in-school-system?utm_source=rjr&utm_medium=news Teen mothers to be reintegrated in school system: RJR News
http://keimiller.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-little-wine-that-hurt-somebody-or-soca-and-the-bad-behaving-gays-of-jamaica/ The little wine that hurt somebody; or, soca and the bad-behaving gays of Jamaica: Under the Saltire Flag blog
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130517/lead/lead1.html ”I give up!” Some parents no longer care about their runaway children: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/news/news1.html Cruel by choice: Thousands of Jamaican children intentionally injured by adults annually: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/lead/lead2.html Young and loveless: Teenage prostitute pushing for a fresh start: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/focus/focus3.html Condoms in schools: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130516/news/news1.html Ananda Alert to be displayed on billboards: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/lead/lead8.html Rescue for Children First: JN Foundation comes to the assistance of charity set up to help Jamaica’s most needy youths: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/news/news5.html Portland infirmary to get Vaz salary cut: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130517/lead/lead Suspected dengue cases climb to 475, two confirmed deaths: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130517/news/news1.html Moneague Primary & Junior High cops LASCO environmental award: Gleaner
http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2013/05/16/3012766/caribbean-talks-conservation-on.html Caribbean talks conservation on Branson’s island: AP
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130516/news/news7.html Public gets say in Cockpit Country boundary debate: Gleaner
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130516/news/news1.html Eleven-year-old escapes croc attack, reptile snatches dog instead: Jamaica Star
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130516/news/news3.html KSAC, handcart men agree on registration fee: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130519/ent/ent1.html Balancing the act: Crawford seeks compromise between “want to eat” and “want to sleep”: Sunday Gleaner
An IDAHO State of Mind (petchary.wordpress.com)
May 15, 2013 (petchary.wordpress.com)
And I am not talking about the American state!
IDAHO is the acronym for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This afternoon in Jamaica, J-FLAG will host a discussion in Kingston on the issue of homelessness among the gay community – forced out of their homes, living on the street, harassed, abused, assaulted, despised, often in fear of their lives. The local media have made much drama out of the situation; and always the fact of their homelessness and subsequent (often defensive) “bad behavior” is linked to their being homosexual or transgendered.
If you are in Kingston, do try to join us for this discussion; we should also be streaming it live and I will share that link when I have it on Twitter (@petchary).
J-FLAG is seeking solutions. Not finger-pointing. Not hatred and intolerance. There is too much of that in the world already, isn’t there?
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdPmbLflqNtiAzOd-Cxtffg ”We Are Jamaicans”: series of videos produced by J-FLAG in which Jamaican members of the LGBT community and their allies (including myself) speak about their experience and their views. Please do watch! These are powerful.
http://www.jflag.org J-FLAG website includes news, videos, much more…
http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/activists-worldwide-target-homophobia-jamaica-ukraine-and-south-africa-2013-05-16 Activists target worldwide homophobia in Jamaica, Ukraine and South Africa: Amnesty International
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/freedom-house/international-day-against_b_3287305.html International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia: Article by Freedom House
http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/05/17/william-hague-marks-international-day-against-homophobia-and-transphobia/ UK Foreign Secretary William Hague marks International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia: pinknews.co.uk
http://www.euronews.com/2013/05/17/georgia-clashes-on-international-day-against-homophobia/ Georgia: Clashes on International Day Against Homophobia:euronews.com
http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia-lgbt-equal-rights/24986492.html Georgian Prime Minister says sexual minorities have equal rights: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/jamaican-press-ignores-ground-breaking-gay-rights-video-campaign/ Jamaican press ignores ground-breaking gay rights video campaign: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/i-admire-this-young-man/ I admire this young man: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ Op-ed: Fighting injustice in Jamaica: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/lay-down-that-burden/ Lay down that burden: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-lgbt-gay-homophobia-petersburg-moscow/24988036.html St. Petersburg LGBT activists test “propaganda law” with tolerance event: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- J-FLAG, Jamaica’s gay rights group, launches YouTube video campaign, ‘We Are Jamaicans’ (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Prominent Jamaicans Speak Out Against Homophobia in Powerful New Video Campaign: WATCH (towleroad.com)
- Video campaign pushes respect for LGBTs in Jamaica (76crimes.com)
- Gay Jamaican: “I contemplated suicide.” (perceptualpost.wordpress.com)
- Christmas is a state of mind: On respect, love and understanding (petchary.wordpress.com)
- ‘We Are Jamaicans’ Video Campaign Against Anti-Gay Discrimination Launches (huffingtonpost.com)
- J-FLAG Launches New Video Campaign (perceptualpost.wordpress.com)
- For Human Rights Day 2012; A Challenge, an Invitation, and an Anniversary (petchary.wordpress.com)
It is with great pleasure that I bring you greetings this holiday.
Wherever you are, I send my warmest compliments with every good wish for Christmas and the New Year.
Friends, 2012 has been a very challenging but successful year. Despite our many problems as a community and nation, we continue to show that as a people we are able to respect our friends, families, classmates and coworkers, regardless of our differences.
Close to one million Jamaicans believe the government is not doing enough to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people from violence and discrimination. That is about a third of the population who believe our community deserves to be treated with equity like all Jamaicans. This is remarkable.
As we pause to reflect on our accomplishments over the year and consider our goals and expectations for 2013, let us remember our brothers, sisters, loved ones and friends who sadly are no longer with us.
I implore you to use this festive season as a reminder that regardless of our the color of our skin, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, geographical location and other priceless unique qualities that we are all one people — we are one Jamaica. Our motto couldn’t be more perfect —out of many, one people.
This Christmas let us endeavor to be even more respectful to everyone. It is only with respect and embracing our common humanity that Jamaica can be a safe, cohesive and just society. Together, we can put aside the grievances that lead prejudice, inequality, crime, violence and intolerance to build Jamaica land we love. All of us belong here no matter how unique we are. And I believe that if we accept this, it can be of immeasurable benefit to us as a people.
We have encountered many challenges this year. Some of our own still do not have a place to sleep at nights, many are without work, food or their family. While many of us are relatively unscathed by the ways in which inequality manifests itself to the LGBT community, some of us still live in great fear for our lives and that of our loved ones.
Above all of this, we must continue to be courageous. We must commit to rebuild this great nation on the principle of understanding ourselves and fellowmen and women. Each of us should invest in promoting equality regardless of our unique circumstances. Let us cultivate mutual respect and understanding among each other. Gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian, JLP or PNP let us use our talents and resources for the betterment of our country. If we can achieve this with humility, with courage and with generosity, then surely we can be the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
At J-FLAG we remain committed to working with government, the LGBT community, our allies, donors, the police, civil society, entertainers and any person who wishes to lend their voice to further protect and promote the human rights of all Jamaicans.
As Calvin Coolidge once said,
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.’
Executive Director, J-FLAG
- For Human Rights Day 2012; A Challenge, an Invitation, and an Anniversary (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Sneezes: December 23, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sizzla rejects overtures by gay rights activists (repeatingislands.com)
- Sunday Stupor: December 16, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/they-always-come-at-christmas-the-jn-foundations-acton-volunteers/ (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/we-are-family-on-blog-action-day-2012/ (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121221/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Homophobia exposed! Peter Espeut column/Gleaner)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/My-message-to-all-gays–et-al_13263472 (My message to all gays, et al: Letter to the Observer)
So noted a fellow-blogger from Jamaica, Annie Paul (check out her lively blog on Jamaican matters large and small at http://anniepaul.net). Yes, just as I was about to write another short, chirpy post-Sandy blog post, the “episode” or “incident” occurred. It popped up on Twitter around eight o’clock last night, in fact.
Let me backtrack a little first: Cliff Hughes is a local broadcast journalist, whom I have praised before for his strong focus on democracy and human rights – and for his probing, tough interview techniques. And UTech is the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, where this all took place. All what, you may ask? Well, a video appeared on YouTube and almost immediately went “viral,” as the saying goes. The video was entitled “Beat di Fish 2!” - using the latest hate-word for gays in Jamaica. The video appears to show security guards beating up a young man in an enclosed area (the guard house of the aforementioned University) while a mob of mostly young men outside jeered, laughed and encouraged the guards to give the young man a good beating. Some of these young men begged the guards to turn him over to them so they could deal with him.
Why was he being beaten? The student was accused of having sex with another young man (who escaped – I hope he is very safe, somewhere).
The video was withdrawn from YouTube today as it violated their code. It was very hard to watch, and to listen to the baying of the crowd, like hounds when they have cornered a fox in a hunt. That eager yelping sound, that cry for blood. And many of the supporters of the video added their virulent, sickening comments (although thankfully there were more “dislikes” than “likes”). But another shorter, different version was posted on CNN‘s iReport today.
There were many expressions of genuine shock and despair, locally. “I am ashamed to be Jamaican” was a common refrain among those with compassion for their fellow Jamaicans. Civil society groups, notably Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition, have issued statements condemning the incident. Some comments in the social media were more ambivalent, saying the two young men should have been more careful, and “this is how gays are dealt with in Jamaica, right or wrong.” Other comments were more vicious. I will not repeat them.
Another Jamaican broadcaster noted the following on her Facebook timeline: “I am sad and sickened tonight. Security guards at one of our universities beating up a young man because he was allegedly found engaging in homosexual acts. I also continue to wonder at my friends with their heads deep in the sand insisting that we are not a homophobic society. Really? This young man is hit and kicked by a “security “guard” while excited crowds gather outside. And for those who will wilfully twist my words – you are adept at that – this has nothing to do with approval of or belief in a lifestyle. This is about a society that winks at barbarism and turns its head away insisting it is not happening, apparently all the reports of abuse are made up!!! And you wonder why we are seen as homophobic?”
Let us not deny this any more. Jamaica IS a homophobic society. It has been said by many outside and some inside Jamaica. And it is true. It is staring us in the face.
So, what are we to do about it? Allow the mob to take over? After all, there have been several instances of mob attacks recently, under various circumstances. This is not only yet another example of human rights abuses against gays in Jamaica. It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.
Have you ever stared into the eyes of a hate-filled mob? We once knew someone who did – a young Jamaican. It was the last thing he saw, as he did not survive the attack. None of us could save him. We read his name in the papers the next day.
Where is this leading us? Are we prepared to slip and slide down this slope? Or are we prepared to dig our heels in, right now? Are our leaders going to speak up, or remain silent? I remember not long ago, our elected representatives were sniggering and making jokes about “fish” in Parliament (the derogatory word for gays currently in fashion). Can we expect real, responsible leadership from them? What about our Prime Minister, who during an election debate last year signaled a softer approach to the issue? She has certainly avoided the topic ever since she was elected. And what about the churches? After all, the homophobic bigots frequently use a certain passage in the Bible to justify their hatred. What a lovely thing religion is! How it unites us!
I will end with a quote from someone who did know a great deal about bigotry and discrimination. He faced it fair and square. (Somehow, the deniers of our homophobia hate comparisons between gay rights and the American civil rights struggle; but I see quite a few parallels, myself). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Jamaica’s burden grows heavier each day.
- Jamaica Anti-Gay Attack On Student Allegedly Caught On Tape (huffingtonpost.com)
- Gay Man Beaten By Guards, Mob At Jamaica University: VIDEO (towleroad.com)
- Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gay Jamaicans launch legal action over island’s homophobic laws (guardian.co.uk)
- Landmark Case Seeks To Abolish Jamaica’s Colonial-Era Anti-Gay Laws (queerty.com)
- A small step forward for LGBT rights in Jamaica (pri.org)
- Help Jamaica please?!? (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ (End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/ (Rights and Wrongs: petchary)
- Gay Jamaican Man Caught Having Sex Brutally Attacked By Guard, Mob (queerty.com)
- Gay student beaten at Jamaican University (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ (Op-ed: Fighting injustice in Jamaica: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ (Dark: petchary)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Marksman-fires-security-guards-involved-in-Utech-beating (Marksman fires security guards involved in UTech beating)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mob-beats-man-accused-of-killing-pregnant-girlfriend (Mob beats man accused of killing pregnant girlfriend)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UTech-plans-counselling-session-for-beaten-student (UTech plans counseling session for beaten student)
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3819 (JFJ condemns act of violence against allegedly homosexual young man on UTech campus)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40922 (UTech, Marksman condemn beating of alleged gay student)
- http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20121102/news/news1.html (UTech student beaten)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110504/letters/letters1.html (“Mob rule is no rule” – another UTech incident)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure3.html (“Put an end to jungle justice” – a recent op-ed)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/ode-to-freddy-and-david/ (Ode to Freddy (and David): petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/jamaican-maurice-tomlinson-is-the-first-winner-of-the-david-kato-vision-voice-award/ (Jamaican Maurice Tomlinson is the first winner of the David Kato Vision Voice Award: petchary)
I like “we” better than “us.” It is more active; it is strong. In case you are wondering what I am rambling on about, dear reader, I am referring to the theme of today’s Blog Action Day 2012 – an annual event. It is “The Power of ‘We.’” A little corny, I agree, but let’s go with it. If you think about it, “we” is the most significant personal pronoun of all.
I had something else to write about today, but let me put it on one side, temporarily. Let’s talk about “we” (not good grammar but you know what I mean) – or “wi” in Jamaican patois.
The essence of blogging is, or should be, creating a community in which to share ideas, agree, disagree. It is not supposed to be an ego-boosting, self-aggrandizing exercise, as a Guardian blogger suggests in the article below. It should be about “we.” But which “we” are we talking about? How large is the collective “we” – how vague, how amorphous is it? Can we reach out and embrace the “we” and if not, why not?
Our local politicians seem to like the concept of “we” – when it suits them. When fingers are pointed at them to seize the initiative, to lead, to deal with a specific problem, the cry often goes up, “Well, we are all in this together… We can fight crime together… We can generate jobs together…” etc, etc. The Jamaican citizen, staggering under the weight of poverty, growing inequality, joblessness and all the other social ills, hardly feels empowered, one suspects. He/she feels like the “us” in “them and us.” And if he/she does get up and assert him/herself, with fellow citizens, as the collective “we,” the powers that be may not support you whole-heartedly.
One small example: I felt a little sad when I read that a group of rural residents were prevented from continuing a peaceful march of several miles from the birthplace of National Hero Paul Bogle (Stony Gut, St. Thomas) to Morant Bay. It was simply a re-enactment of Bogle’s historic march during the rebellion of 1865 (Bogle was hanged at the end of it). Yesterday was National Heroes Day. The people were also concerned about a number of current social problems afflicting Jamaica – the increased incidence of rape and other crimes, for example. So they had a lot on their minds; but they were peaceful. A van-load of police prevented them from completing their march because they did not have the “necessary permit.” The colonial apparatus of bureaucracy appears to be alive and well (yes, you must get a permit to stage a demonstration, and you cannot stage any kind of demonstration anywhere near to the Prime Minister’s office, the Governor General’s residence or the Houses of Parliament, or you will be arrested).
A sad little episode, and an example of the powerlessness of people who are not the right class and who are not people of influence. Who could be more powerless in Jamaica than the rural poor? Besides, the Governor General (the Queen’s representative) was in the neighborhood on an official assignment, and he must not be disturbed in any way by such a rabble! (No, rabble was certainly not the word for this group…)
Thus, the desire of “we the people” to express themselves peacefully in countries like ours is often thwarted by those in authority. So, where can, and must, the collective “we” assert itself, also peacefully and perhaps more effectively? I can only point to the incredible number of non-governmental, private sector, faith-based and community organizations in Jamaica that somehow manage to engender this feeling of “we.” They hint at the potential the citizenry has to really make changes for the better, if only we were to work together.
I have often mentioned these organizations in my Sunday blog posts, and I am in constant awe of them. I admire their dedication and their sheer determination. Many of them operate on a shoestring budget, sometimes having to fall back on their own personal resources to keep things going. There are so many that I know I will surely miss out many who are doing incredible work across the island, but here are a few examples:
Eve for Life supports women and children living with HIV – young mothers and families – offering counseling, social support, youth support, after-school programs…and a whole lot of love. Pat Watson and Joy Crawford are knowledgeable, sensitive, down-to-earth and caring.
Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica, founded by former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Sue Cobb, quietly gets on with the job of empowering inner-city youth in several Kingston communities, nurtured by the Office of Social Entrepreneurship at the University of the West Indies. It is great to see young people such as Edward Dixon and Marlon Moore working so hard with teens who are growing up in highly stressful environments, guiding and encouraging.
Another guide and supporter of Jamaican youth is Omar Frith, the quiet and effective manager of the Stella Maris Foundation. Omar is young and has “been there, done that.” He knows what the young people are going through – he understands, but makes no excuses for them. He is calm, thoughtful and full of belief. The Foundation offers all kinds of training, and brings hope, through mentorship and support for those who want to help themselves, in the relatively small but often-volatile community of Grants Pen in Kingston.
The Trench Town Reading Centre, incorporating a community classroom, is a bright, glowing and energetic little oasis in the heart of Trench Town – just over the road from the “government yard“ where Bob Marley lived as a young man. Children’s eyes light up as they enter. There are books, and more books – for adults and children. There are activities – art and crafts, spelling bees, poetry competitions, you name it. There are activities throughout the long summer days when young children often wander on hot inner-city streets. It is a wonderful place of hope. And learning.
Jamaicans for Justice is high-profile, and so it should be. Founded by Dr. Carolyn Gomes – who gave up her lucrative pediatrician’s practice to lead the lobby group – JFJ fights for the rights of all Jamaicans, young and old, uptown and downtown. It lobbies for improvements to the justice system, which is limping along. It supports democratic ideals and practices – that real “we” in action that we should all support.
A number of women’s organizations understand the “we” and are working towards women of all ages and backgrounds to play their full part in it. The 51% Coalition is a relatively new grouping that seeks to redress the balance in society by strengthening women’s voices in public life. Woman Inc has for many years sought to protect and shelter the victims of domestic violence. Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre is an amazing group that advocates for and supports Jamaican women in the town and in rural areas, and understands their important role in society.
Last but not least…the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) understands fully the concept of “we” - although, in the Jamaican context, there would be good cause for them falling prey to the “them versus us” syndrome. But they don’t. They actually do “get it” - to use a contemporary phrase. Sadly, many of their fellow Jamaicans don’t; they prefer division, hatred and bigotry. It’s so much easier not to try to understand, to judge, to condemn. Yes, those are strong words. But when a local television station decides not to air an ad encouraging Jamaicans to love and understand their gay family members, it is a sad state of affairs. What are we afraid of? I guess we hate those whom we fear. Fear divides and cripples society. It renders us powerless. There is no “Power of We.” But J-FLAG still believes in it.
I am ending this with simply one of my favorite songs about “we.” The original, plaintive version of “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas – a song that has been covered by Sade and many others. But there is nothing like that austere, crisp long intro. Listen to the words and look at the pictures in this video. They speak for themselves. By the way, I haven’t a clue how to upload videos, but you may find this in my Music Collection on Lockerz.com at http://lockerz.com/u/petchary/collections/4897223/petchary_s_music?ref=petchary or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhrCMIG53XQ&feature=player_detailpage.
I would also like to point out to you a short, but very important piece published in today’s Jamaica Observer by a young man (of Jamaican heritage, I believe) living in the UK, with the headline “Out of Many, One People.” It sums up the power of “we” - the incredible power of recognizing, supporting, loving each other’s differences.
Here is the link: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Out-of-many–one-people_12732617
Please, please… let us not follow the example of our two political parties, whom our esteemed Gleaner newspaper still describes as the two “gangs.” They bicker at each other and among themselves. They sigh and heckle and shout and grandstand and show every evidence of divisiveness in their daily lives and their work in Parliament (although there is a general feeling that this combativeness disappears when they are at cocktail functions and social events). Instead of cheering them on in their spiteful forays against each other; instead of calling radio talk shows to defend the party we support; instead of accepting their favors, waving flags and abusing our neighbors in their name – let us be the real Jamaican “we.” Our oft-quoted National Motto is “Out of Many One People.”
Let us be that “One People.” For Jamaica, “we” means unity.
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/10/15/its-blog-action-day-celebrate-the-power-of-we/ (from Global Voices, an amazing website sharing blog posts from around the world on real issues)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/oct/15/blog-action-day-power-of-we?newsfeed=true (Blogging – or the power of we, not me. guardian.co.uk)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Disrespect_12746018 (Marchers claim disrespect to Bogle’s memory. Jamaica Observer)
http://www.eveforlife.org (Eve for Life website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110713/lead/lead4.html (Youth to be agents of change: Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica)
http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/organizations/stella_maris_foundation (Stella Maris Foundation: dogoodjamaica.org)
http://www.marciaforbes.com/content/51-coalition-–-development-empowerment-through-equity (51% Coalition: marciaforbes.org)
http://wrocjamaica.org (Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre website)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/allwoman/WOMAN-Inc-wants-end-to-domestic-violence_10869491 (Woman Inc wants end to domestic violence: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com (Trench Town Reading Centre website)
http://www.pri.org/stories/politics-society/a-small-step-forward-for-lgbt-rights-in-jamaica-11667.html (A small step forward for gay rights in Jamaica: pri.org)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/ (Rights and Wrongs: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ (Dark: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ (“End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth” – op-ed by Jaevion Nelson)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ (Fighting injustice in Jamaica – op-ed by Jaevion Nelson/Javed Jaghai)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/we-are-the-51-per-cent/ (We are the 51% – petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/madam-director-madam-chair/ (Madam Director, Madam Chair: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/trench-town-postscript/ (Trench Town Postscript: petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/trench-town/ (Trench Town: petchary.wordpress.com)
On Wednesday morning, just as the rush hour traffic was building up about five minutes away from our house, two dead bodies were found on a scruffy open lot – one of those that is fenced, but does not really keep people out. One man was lying on his back, the other face down with a huge gash in his forehead a few feet away. Someone had attacked them with a machete, and had injured a third man, who reportedly alerted the police. Out came that familiar yellow tape. A long row of curious people lined up along the median in the middle of the road, arms folded, faces glum or completely devoid of expression.
At the time that I am writing this blog, the men had not been identified. They were non-people. No names except two nicknames, Avatar and Jermaine. But we soon realized that these were, in fact, two of those nameless, helpless young men who trail up and down the relatively well-heeled streets of New Kingston in small, bedraggled groups. They are commercial sex workers, they are gay, they are drug addicts, they are homeless; they are in one, two, three or all four of these categories. They may suffer from HIV/AIDS; they may suffer from mental illness.
They are human beings.
Some Jamaicans, it seems, do not see them as human. First, they dehumanize these groups; after that, it is that much easier to persecute them. Just as Hitler did with the Jews, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and black people. They are not like you and I; they are subhuman, these Jamaicans believe. They are raped, they are beaten, they are chased away. They hide in the corners of these open lots, where the grass is high, and live with the rats and scrawny street dogs, in the open air. They hide there until someone finds out where they are living, and chases them away, or calls the police, or worse. In this case, worse.
One early media report suggested that the young men may have died because of a lovers’ quarrel. This is a common way of explaining away homophobic murders in Jamaica. Once it is established that the victim is gay, it is put out there (with the media complicit in much of this) that “Oh, you know, gays get very jealous and they are very violent by nature, and this was a love affair gone bad.” They enjoy as many lurid details as they can get their hands on – whether backed up by any facts it doesn’t matter too much. I don’t really see how two men can hack and stone each other to death; these are the preferred instruments of mob killers.
Well, a man is reportedly in custody, and in this case we shall see what explanation there is. But nothing will change. This drifting population of the homeless, the helpless, the marginalized will continue on its weary way, hiding where it can, begging for help where it dares.
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) put out a statement today, noting that there have been eight gay murders in the past three months. But listen, does anybody care? No, most Jamaicans are obsessed with politics, with the corrupt and conniving political parties, with taxes, the inflation rate (just on the rise), with the Jamaican Dollar (now slipping), with fashion shows and parties and scandals and online porn and church meetings. Defenders of the Jamaican citizen’s right to life, dignity and respect are seen as whining, or they have a political agenda, or they are trying to drag society down into the mire of a kind of “free for all,” liberal society such as that espoused by President Barack Obama (yes,it is ironic that Jamaicans all profess to support President Obama; but they would never support his policies – if U.S. political parties were . It is the opposite.
If we cannot care for the weakest among us, we are not a civilized society. I could quote some Bible verse from the New Testament for the Christians among us; but I certainly do recall that Jesus sat down by the roadside and talked to prostitutes and others who were considered beyond the pale by the “upright citizens” of society in those days. Am I correct, or not? My husband has witnessed with his own eyes people coming out of church and stepping over and around a man lying on the sidewalk; he was having a fit. Here in “one love” Jamaica.
Meanwhile, there are other horrors, incredible grief, mourning and inconsolable loss. A teacher and the daughter of a Trinidadian Mayor is missing; two farmers found a charred body in a cane field, but it has not yet been identified. That is the high-profile crime story, but there are many others, week after week after week. For example:
- Hundreds of children have been missing since last year; an advocacy group, Hear the Children’s Cry puts out weekly lists and photographs.
- A night club owner was shot dead while playing dominoes outside his club in Montego Bay. An evening game of dominoes with friends is a dangerous occupation, these days.
- A former Kiwanis Club president and Jamaica Defence Force Major was found murdered at his home recently.
- Daily reports of middle-aged men molesting young family members or other young people – nine-year-old girls, a three year-old sexually abused and murdered, etc.
- A man stabbed a woman to death during an argument in the quiet Blue Mountains, nearly decapitating her. It hardly made a headline anywhere, just a quick news item, move on…
- The numerous deaths of young men in inner-city communities, mostly unsolved.
- The deaths of many Jamaican citizens (mostly the above-mentioned young men in inner-city communities) at the hands of the police force, agents of the State.
- http://www.jflag.org/2012/06/gays-saddened-by-recent-murders-call-on-prime-minister-to-act/: J-FLAG press release
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/where-are-they-now/: Jamaica’s missing children
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/innocence-and-loss/: Innocence and loss
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/: Rights and Wrongs
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/: Jamaicans for Justice website
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3444: Too many still dying at the hands of the police
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican Women Write! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica 50 – the dark side (repeatingislands.com)
- Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bodies-of-two-men-found-in-New-Kingston_11695979: Bodies of two men found in New Kingston
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gay-community–saddened–by-recent-murders: Gay community saddened by recent murders
- Listen to the Youth! No, Stop… REALLY Listen, Please! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican cop charged with beheading witness in corruption probe (theprovince.com)
- Reflections on being homeless, Part 3 (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)
- Vulnerable groups claim being denied EU funding (kaieteurnewsonline.com)
- http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=37867#.T9oj7SoiOtI.facebook: HIV positive man arrested for allegedly raping daughter’s friend
- Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com) – a very important article by Jamaican youth activist Jaevion Nelson