We have had alternate sun and heavy rain for most of the week, and our garden is glowing. The house is full of a) mangoes and b) mosquitoes – the former far more pleasant than the latter of course, and mostly of the slightly tart Bombay variety.
As for the second half of the week, it has been somewhat tense – for several reasons. Firstly…
The teachers get nasty… The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), after many ominous rumblings, went on the attack during consultations with their members in some parishes. There are several issues at stake – all of which, I believe, could be resolved by sitting down round a table with Education Minister Ronald Thwaites. It’s something called negotiation. The JTA is, essentially, a trade union; and that is what trade unions are supposed to do with governments. Negotiate. Admittedly, the Minister’s style is pedantic, and a little condescending at times. His comments on the generous paid study leave and paid vacations that teachers currently enjoy may have ruffled a few feathers. However, that is no excuse for the uncouth, insulting remarks made by some past JTA presidents on public platforms. One referred to a “mongrel dog” - asserting that the JTA is a mean old puss that will not be intimidated – with accompanying aggressive body language. Another suggested that the Minister must be on cocaine, which his audience of teachers found most amusing. And the term “backra massa” used by another leading teacher to describe the Minister has certain unpleasant connotations. Please. Stop it.
…but may lose the PR battle: Let’s face it. There are so many things wrong with the Jamaican education system it’s hard to know where to start. But I believe Minister Thwaites is open to a frank discussion with the teachers on the many complex issues affecting the system and those who work in it. And can we start thinking about the students, please? It’s worth looking back at Jaevion Nelson’s Gleaner column from a few weeks ago. Jaevion is good with statistics, and they speak for themselves. Be careful, teachers (and yes, I know there are many dedicated, hard-working teachers out there). The behavior of some of your leaders is not endearing you to the general public. And many Jamaicans are really not too impressed with the results you are producing. In its latest report, the National Education Inspectorate is none too thrilled by the state of our schools, either. Shape up, please!
Emotions running high: We had back to back anniversaries, on Thursday and Friday, for two extremely painful events that took place on May 22, 2009, and May 23, 2010 respectively: the terrible fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, in which seven young girls perished; and the onslaught on Tivoli Gardens by security forces, during which at least 77 Jamaican citizens died. UNICEF Jamaica did a marvelous job with photo essays and interviews on Armadale, which can be viewed on their Facebook page and which got wide media coverage. As for the Tivoli affair, there is a strange (and to me, really disturbing) ambivalence in some Jamaicans’ attitudes (see the comments on the Jamaica Observer article “Tivoli still hurting” below as an example). The residents of Tivoli had it coming to them; they were mostly criminals; they supported their “don.” Why should we feel sorry for them? There is also the posturing of the Jamaica Labour Party, and in particular the current Member of Parliament for the area Desmond McKenzie, who does not want a Commission of Enquiry. I wonder why.
Lovely PR: On the Armadale anniversary, our glamorous Youth Minister Lisa Hanna was at a smart uptown hotel for a photo-op and a feel-good speech. At the event, an overseas-based Jamaican diaspora organization, Children of Jamaica Outreach, Inc., (COJO) presented scholarships and tablets to three former wards of state for pursuing tertiary education; and the Minister joined in. I am extremely happy for these young people, and COJO are to be congratulated for their philanthropy. Minister Hanna also congratulated the three for “braving the odds” - a term used frequently in a Jamaica Information Service release. The odds are certainly against them. Most of the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry into the Armadale fire have not been implemented, and conditions have hardly improved for wards of state – especially the girls. All “lovely PR,” as Susan Goffe of Jamaicans for Justice commented on radio. Now read today’s front page Sunday Gleaner report about Vanessa Wint, who committed suicide in an adult prison several months ago.
And lovely trips, too: While Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her delegation of (at a guess?) eight, nine or ten people including the “support team” enjoy their stay in Addis Ababa for the African Union celebrations, there are other trips afoot. National Security Minister Peter Bunting is leading a delegation (size also unknown) to meet with the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, at a CARICOM Heads of State meeting tomorrow in Port of Spain. One wonders why a minister with just over one year’s experience would be attending such a high-level meeting; then I thought, perhaps it’s all about security. But no. CARICOM will be signing a trade accord with the United States. Why isn’t the much more senior Finance Minister Peter Phillips or Trade Minister Anthony Hylton attending, in that case? And why is Transport Minister Omar Davies in charge of the government in Portia’s absence? I would have thought…Minister Phillips?
Am I obsessed with foreign trips? Why, you may ask, my preoccupation with the size of delegations, etc? Well, we know for sure that the African trip cost J$8.6 million. We are confused. We have been told to tighten our belts, here at home. Did some people not get that message? Oh, I see. It’s ordinary Jamaicans who are to tighten their belts; politicians can continue letting theirs out. And what does the International Monetary Fund have to say on this, I wonder? Please bear in mind that the Prime Minister says she always, always travels first class…
Quick question: According to recent reports, both tourism and bauxite mining are currently in decline. Aren’t these our two major earners of foreign exchange? Just asking.
Cheers to the following:
- My fellow Jamaican bloggers, who came together on the first Jamaica Blog Day (May 23) to focus on police abuses. Many voices and perspectives. See link below.
- Sandals Whitehouse and the U.S. Peace Corps for a great little environmental project in Beeston Spring – recycling plastic bottles and getting students and their parents involved.
- UNICEF Jamaica for their ongoing awareness program during May (Child Month) on children at risk, which I believe has been very successful in the traditional and social media.
- Jamaicans for Justice for their series of columns for Child Month in the Gleaner. Well written, hard-hitting and asking all the right questions. Answers, please!
- Young Randy McLaren, dub poet and “creative activist,” for his moving and beautiful video in remembrance of the Armadale fire, its victims and survivors.
- Jamaican Fulbright Scholar and tweep Bianca Welds, who will be departing tomorrow for a six-month trip to Italy. Bianca responded to a tweet, offering her an opportunity to join a business startup program. She is interviewed by her alma mater, St. Andrew’s High School (which has a great online/social media presence). See link below for video interviews, and see htpp://www.f6s.com and http://biancawelds.com. Bon voyage, Bianca!
- The young and brilliant gay rights activist Javed Jaghai, whose case challenging the archaic buggery laws will come up in the Supreme Court on June 26. Such courage.
- Mr. Daniel Thwaites (yes, Minister Ronnie’s son) for an amusing and clever column in today’s Sunday Gleaner, beginning with a great sentence: “Is there anything easier to be mega-hypocritical about than teenage sexuality?” Mmm. Probably not, Daniel.
- Mr. Chris Serju for a thoughtful column on the issue of land use in Jamaica – a fundamental issue, indeed. See the link below. Chris is an excellent writer on agriculture. Well worth a read.
- The Brownies of Yallahs Primary School in St. Thomas for reaching out to the deaf community. I hope they will all learn sign language.
Although major crimes are reportedly declining, I do not see much change in the sad little list at the end of each post that I write. My deepest sympathies to the families of the following Jamaicans, who have been killed in the past four days. Please let us not forget that whatever lives these people led, they leave behind grieving relatives, friends, and some leave children without a mother or a father, too…
Tracy-Ann Richards, 33, Duhaney Park, Kingston 20
Shandon Levy, 14, downtown Kingston
Desmond Brown, 49, Red Pond, St. Catherine
Paulette Campbell, 44, Hayes, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Spaulding, Clarendon
Killed by the police:
Ramone Wright, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Rohan Campbell, 23, Hamilton Gardens/Portmore, St. Catherine
Damion Jarrett, 30, Latore Ave/Waltham Park, Kingston
Related articles and links (local blog posts in purple):
http://jablogday.tumblr.com/post/51181833688/ja-blog-day-2013-posts Jamaica Blog Day: links to 22 blog posts on police abuses – May 23, 2013
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/public-defender-urges-government-to-await-balistics-report Public Defender urges government to await ballistics report: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/witter-challenges-mckenzie-to-tell-all-he-knows-about-tivoli-incursion Witter challenges McKenzie to tell all he knows about Tivoli incursion: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130523/lead/lead92.html PM, ministers heading overseas: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CARICOM-US-to-sign-trade-accord CARICOM, U.S. to sign trade accord: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130425/cleisure/cleisure2.html Poverty has little bearing on students: Jaevion Nelson column/Gleaner (April 25, 2013)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=45153 Teachers accuse minister of taking “baccra massa” approach: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130525/letters/letters1.html Hijacking the teaching profession: Letter of the Day/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/letters/letters2.html Rein in police death squads: Horace Levy letter/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Tivoli-still-hurting_14323359 Tivoli still hurting: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130524/lead/lead3.html Memories of May: Madness! Murder! Mayhem! Gary Spaulding article/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130524/cleisure/cleisure4.html Revealing Jamaica’s soul: Stacey’s story is not uncommon: Jamaicans for Justice column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/lead/lead2.html Rising from Armadale’s ashes: UNICEF article/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/lead/lead1.html She cried, “Help!” Authorities knew troubled teen was suicidal months before she killed herself: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/focus/focus8.html Revealing Jamaica’s soul: How others see us: Jamaicans for Justice column/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/A-university-dream-comes-true-for-three-wards-of-the-state_14318995 A university dream comes true for three wards of the state: Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/policeman-charged-in-connection-with-armadale-fire-still-on-interdiction Policeman charged in connection with Armadale fire still on interdiction: RJR News
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/34015 Employment up: Jamaica Information Service
http://digjamaica.com/blog/2013/05/17/chart-of-the-week-murder-by-parish-january-to-april-2013/ Chart of the Week: Murders by parish, January to April 2013: diGJamaica.com
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Keith-Clarke-s-family-seeks-big-compensation Government sued: Keith Clarke’s family seeks big compensation: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/news/news11.html Another challenge to buggery laws: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/cleisure/cleisure5.html In defense of “Jacqueline”: Daniel Thwaites column/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.solarbuzzjamaica.com/2013/05/set-inner-city-electricity-rate/ Set inner-city electricity rate: solarbuzzjamaica.com
http://rjrnewsonline.com/business/decline-in-earnings-from-mining-sector Decline in earnings from mining sector: RJR News
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/33994 PIOJ Head says multi-billion projects will contribute to growth projections: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130525/cleisure/cleisure1.html Agriculture digging its grave: Gleaner editorial
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130526/focus/focus2.html Halt farmland capture: Chris Serju article/Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Interest-rates-are-on-the-rise_14323268 Interest rates are on the rise: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-104/34017 Senate approves bill on charitable organizations: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130520/lead/lead9.html Hylton living in logistics dream world: Gleaner commentary
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130524/lead/lead1.html RADA is a failure: agri stakeholders say agency not fulfilling mandate: Gleaner
http://hill60bump.com/2013/05/24/the-2013-hurricane-season-caribbean-predictions/ The 2013 hurricane season: Caribbean predictions: hill60bump.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130524/lead/lead6.html Busta, Manley get touch-up: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130525/news/news6.html Yallahs Primary Brownies reach out to deaf community: Gleaner
http://sahsmuseum.tumblr.com/post/51412364253/alumna Bianca Welds, a second generation SAHS alumna: St Andrew High School Museum on tumblr.
It’s a New Year, but that doesn’t mean we have put aside those difficult issues that we faced in 2012, and then failed to tackle. And this one is certainly unresolved.
Not long before Christmas (on December 10), the human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) hosted one of its Public Forums on “Accountability and Governance for Children in the Justice System” at Kingston‘s Knutsford Court Hotel. The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded the event.
The room was full, and the atmosphere was just a little prickly. For indeed, this was an issue that had been burning a hole in the consciences of many Jamaicans, at home and abroad. A group of young activists sitting in the middle of the room was not going to let some statements go unchallenged; there were murmurings and sotto voce comments at times.
And JFJ has been doing some branding, with funding from the Federal Republic of Germany. The new human rights logo is snappy and attractive. I have a little button; there are also other information items that JFJ will distribute during a series of forty community workshops and thirty presentations on human rights to high school students. JFJ also plans to reach six hundred new police recruits annually with its messages. Let’s face it: many Jamaicans still don’t understand the meaning and importance of human rights. Or that human rights are universal. For all. For all Jamaicans, even!
Earlier that day, JFJ had launched a very important campaign, under the theme “Lift Up, Don’t Lock Up Our Children.” In this effort, it is collaborating with eight other civil society advocacy groups to pressure the government to move decisively on the issue of children in State care. Yes, after years of talking about it, we are still locking up children in adult prisons and (worse still) in police lock-ups. And if you have ever seen inside a police lock-up – the conditions are simply horrible, whether you are an adult or a child. Just use your imagination.
Commissioner of Corrections Lt. Col. Sean Prendergast made the first presentation at the forum. He is the man in charge of the prisons. He gave us some cold, hard facts. As of December 10, 2012 there were approximately 4,500 prison inmates. There were 354 juveniles (under the age of eighteen) in custody for various offenses or awaiting trial, 257 of them males. 77 of these juveniles are deemed “uncontrollable.” (Stick a pin for a moment…) In other words, they have not committed any crime.
Now, I have a problem with that word, personally. What does “uncontrollable” mean? It means (to me) that the child must have serious psychological challenges; he or she is in need of medical care perhaps; counseling certainly. This is just my layperson’s view, you understand. I am not an expert on child psychology. But it seems to me that if a child is behaving in a certain way, they must need help, professional help. It is very likely that the child has experienced some kind of abuse in his/her short life; he/she may have witnessed violence and/or abuse on a regular basis, at home or in the community, bullying at school, and so on.
And what do we do with these “uncontrollable” children? We beat them, tell them they are “bad,” reduce their self-esteem to zero. Then, when we can’t manage them at all any more, we have them locked up. This is what happened to Vanessa Wint, who, it is reported, was molested by a neighbor at age thirteen (he threatened to kill her parents if she told on him) and ran away from home several times. She was held by the police; deemed uncontrollable by a Family Court; ordered to be put in “State care” for three years; locked up at the Armadale Correctional Centre for girls in St. Ann; survived the fire which killed seven girls there; returned to her parents at age sixteen; ran away again; and was remanded at the Fort Augusta maximum security prison for women (adults). She was then transferred to the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston – again, a maximum security prison for adults. There, on the night of Thursday, November 22, 2012, Vanessa was found in her cell, with a sheet around her neck – an apparent suicide. The autopsy results are not out yet, but Vanessa was finally buried recently. According to her relatives, no government representative attended her funeral.
Lt. Col. Prendergast informed us at the forum that there are six juvenile facilities housing children in Jamaica – plus two adult correctional centers (Fort Augusta and Horizon). Both, he told us, are ‘gazetted’ to hold juveniles (I am not sure what this means). At Horizon, adults and children are completely separated; at Fort Augusta, women and girls do “mix in the corridors.” He told us candidly, however, that most prisons in Jamaica are “extremely old” and in that sense, they are “not built with human rights in mind.” In other words, most prisons are Dickensian in construction and layout, and, to a large extent, the culture within hasn’t changed much either. Lt. Col. Prendergast said these buildings can’t be retrofitted, and that he wants to lobby for the building of new prisons (but he realizes, as we do, that we are desperately in need of new schools, new hospitals, too). New prisons may not be high on the government’s agenda.
In short, the Commissioner appeared well aware of the failings of the system, and was in no way making excuses for it. He recognizes that the children have “psychological issues,” but noted that “we don’t have adequate capacity” to deal with troubled teens in conflict with the law – or those 77 “uncontrollable” incarcerated children, either.
Capacity = resources. Resources = money. It is a familiar story (but odd that we always seem to find the resources for new Toyota Prados, Audis and the like).
Human rights activists Carla Gullotta is Executive Director of a group called Stand Up for Jamaica, which works in the area of prison rehabilitation. She spoke passionately, swiftly and sharply; her presentation was at times spine-chilling.
“I am sick and tired of hearing ‘the children are our future,’” Ms. Gullotta declared. I am tired of hearing that, too. We pretend to love our children, and smother them with platitudes. But why, then, I ask, do we treat our young people as if they are aliens from Planet Zog?
Ms. Gullotta, who visits prisons on a regular basis with JFJ representatives and others, notes that in fact, conditions at the scary-sounding Fort Augusta prison are better than in some state-run children’s homes. One of these homes, she said, has a “cage” where the most unruly children are kept. The staff are little more than “watchmen and watch women” - not, Ms. Gullotta suggested, caregivers in any sense of the word. The Child Development Agency (CDA), which is responsible for these homes, is a “total failure,” she asserted. Note: At one time, the CDA was under the Ministry of Health; it now falls under the purview of the glamorous Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna. Is this the Ministry responsible for adhering to the Child Care and Protection Act of 2004? I am not clear. Which ministry is responsible for what, these days?
It is remarkable how many government offices there are that are responsible for children. There is also the Office of the Children’s Advocate, who is Ms. Diahann Gordon Harrison. This office was only established in 2006 and according to its website it is “mandated to enforce and protect the rights and best interest of children.” (At the moment, however, I can’t get beyond the home page; can you? When I click nothing happens). Ms. Gordon Harrison described, at length and in detail, all the legal work that her office was doing and would like to see done on behalf of Jamaica’s children. There is still the need for legislative change, she is sure. She is of the “firm view” that preliminary enquiries, which slow down the courts considerably and prolong painful cases involving children, should be abolished. I do agree with her. She was glad that legislators passed the Evidence Act (Special Measures) Act last November; this provides for the use of video evidence in court, avoiding the need for children to attend court (I have seen how traumatic this is for myself, as a juror in a child abuse case some years ago). It has not yet come into force as I don’t believe the regulations have been published.
Once again, it soon became apparent that the Office of the Children’s Advocate operates on a shoestring. It has only three attorneys across the island. They cannot be in several places at once. The Office is supposed to watch court proceedings to ensure that the rights of children are protected. It can (and does) institute civil proceedings on behalf of children, and has 24 matters in court now, challenging government entities; and it provides legal representation for children. But they have reached out to the private bar for help. The Children’s Advocate would like to have “children’s attorneys” on call, outside Kingston. It is very hard for them to reach all corners of the island.
Ms. Gordon Harrison has started doing unannounced visits to children’s homes, to see what is going on. She would like to see a cadre of trained inspectors for the homes (shouldn’t this be the CDA’s responsibility? Just asking…) She knows that “institutionalization is not the solution” for children in conflict with the law or with behavioral problems. She believes that a “therapeutic, holistic approach is an urgent priority.” Yes, Ms. Gordon Harrison, we heartily agree. But…
Once again – something which I noted while listening to the Children’s Advocate – I got the distinct impression that there was a severe lack of resources.
After all this – which left me and others with a feeling of déjà vu and, well, frustration – Ms. Sheila Mitchell, Chief Probation Officer in the County of Santa Clara, California, came to tell us about her program. As one of Silicon Valley’s 100 Women of Influence (yes, Santa Clara is Silicon Valley) and a former high-powered executive with AT&T, she sounded a little daunting at first. But she is anything but. According to a press release when she was appointed in 2004, Ms. Mitchell observes, “My philosophy is that we should treat the children in our custody as though they were our own and provide them with the services and care they deserve.” In other words, in loco parentis. I will leave you, dear reader, to consider how far Jamaica has moved away from that philosophy (if we ever subscribed to it).
There are 2,500 children in conflict with the law in Santa Clara County. Yes, it’s not all technology riches, it seems. Like everywhere else, it has its social problems and it has its troubled kids. But having said that, Ms. Mitchell notes, “only a handful” of its juvenile offenders are in prisons. 98 per cent are with families – it costs less. We must work with the families, Ms. Mitchell stresses; a great deal of work is done in prevention – and in restorative justice, too – in a “continuum of services.” But a lot of faith and trust is placed in families, who are as Ms. Mitchell says, “the experts…The family is vital to the treatment process” with young offenders.
Ms. Mitchell showed us photos of the old design of a juvenile facility in Santa Clara, when she first saw it some years ago. There were bleak rows of iron beds; polished linoleum floors; one could almost smell that institutional smell of bleach and stale food. Now, in the same place, there is the Enhanced Ranch Program, which she instituted. Now, before I go further, I should point out that in Jamaica, quite a bit of emphasis is placed on how dangerous many of our juveniles are (as if they don’t have dangerous individuals anywhere else). I just saw the Minister of National Security on television (with the usual smile on his face) talking about this. So, the emphasis is always on security. Lock ‘em up! Well, Ms. Mitchell’s program also works with dangerous kids, too. These are ”gang-bangers” with a history of violence.
So what’s the difference? In the Enhanced Ranch Program, Ms. Mitchell makes members of opposing gangs sit together round a table, instead of trying to quell inter-gang conflicts in a prison setting. The inmates (I doubt they use that word) realize they are all, actually, the same kids with the same problems. The barriers fall down. What else happens with these kids? They are treated with respect. Yes, respect (a word so popular in Jamaica and yet so often not practiced). Because of that, they start behaving better. None of the “Shut up, sit down, behave yourself, stop that” etc Victorian-type “discipline.” And how Jamaicans love that word, too!
But these juvenile offenders (not “uncontrollable,” these are children who have all committed actual crimes, many of them serious) don’t have an easy time. They have to take responsibility for their lives. There is structure and order in the program and there are rules of behavior – they have to earn respect as well as give it. The motto is “safety first” – not quite the same as a security clampdown, although of course the place is secure. Their families and their communities also have to shoulder the responsibility of rehabilitation.
Ms. Mitchell asserts that she is not being “soft on crime.” But she has moved from the autocratic, rules-oriented, regimented world of the old juvenile facility. The young people are steered back towards living productive lives. They learn skills – welding, computer skills, engineering – that will help them to obtain jobs when they leave. They earn an income from this – but the money is paid to make restitution for their crimes. And the focus is on changing the mindset of the offenders – not just changing their behavior.
Ms. Mitchell is also a firm believer in staff training. She vets the staff closely herself – administrators must be hands-on, she asserts – and they must believe in the philosophy of the Ranch. There are other similar programs elsewhere – in Missouri, for example, where they have only a 7 per cent recidivism rate now. The Santa Clara facility was modeled on Missouri. There are two members of staff to every twelve youngsters. The once stark environment is more of a “home-like” setting, with armchairs, sofas, modular units.
The results have been remarkable. Violations of probation and re-arrests have dropped dramatically. There have been almost no escapees – they were always trying to get out of the old ranch. And there have been far fewer “incidents” in the facility.
Ms. Mitchell is, clearly, a reform-minded woman, a clear-headed administrator. She emphasizes that such a system is actually more cost-effective in the long term than the former punitive system, which institutionalizes children, “re-traumatizes” them and creates repeat offenders and more anti-social individuals for the future. It makes good sense. Yes, we can say we have no resources, now; but what will the consequences be down the road if we continue with our current mindset? And are there no Jamaicans who think as Ms. Mitchell does – who feel that we cannot destroy our vulnerable youth in the way that we are doing? I know there are. Those Jamaicans need to have the courage of their convictions, and make a change.
It’s not always just a question of resources – of the money to buy the sofas, for example. It is about vision, political will. And seriously – is the welfare of children in the care of the state really a priority for this administration (was it for previous administrations)? And can we start thinking about what the consequences of our actions will be in the future, if we continue doing the same thing over and over? Transferring children from one adult penal institution to another, like chattels? Is Jamaica complying with the international conventions that it has signed? Where do we go from here – are we just muddling along, or is there still a possibility for a radical re-think? Why has the Minister of Youth not even responded to a speedy, genuine and thoughtful offer from the Mustard Seed Communities to help care for the girls in State care, after Vanessa’s alleged suicide?
Children are not aliens. They are young human beings. We were all children once. Remember, Minister Hanna?
I leave you, dear readers, with these thoughts and questions. Please, in 2013, let’s do better for our children. Somehow.
P.S. On the Armadale fire, which took place nearly four years ago, the Children’s Advocate has not yet been able to obtain compensation or justice for the families of the seven girls who perished or for those who were injured. Still working on it.
Please take a read of several previous blog posts I have written on this topic in the past year. And please support organizations like Jamaicans for Justice and the youthful Help JA Children, who are trying to make real change in our society.
http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3856 (JFJ Press Release: Honorable Ministers Hanna and Bunting, who is responsible for the death of a child at Horizon Adult Remand Centre?
https://www.facebook.com/helpJAchildren (Help JA Children Facebook page)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22775 (TVJ report on launch of “Lift Up Don’t Lock Up” advocacy campaign, December 10, 2012)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/jfj-to-pursue-legal-action-against-the-government (JFJ to pursue legal action against the government: RJR)
https://www.facebook.com/notes/help-ja-children/vanessa-wint-needs-our-help/388636417883750 (Vanessa Wint needs our help: Help JA Children/Facebook Note)
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20110713/news/news2.html (Mother says raped child suffering in lock-up: Jamaica Star, July 13, 2011)
http://www.moj.gov.jm/node/731 (Ministry of Justice: Child Care and Protection Act, 2004 – download)
http://www.ocajamaica.gov.jm (Office of the Chldren’s Advocate website)
http://www.unicef.org/jamaica/promoting_child_rights_2990.htm (Jamaica gets first Children’s Advocate: UNICEF Jamaica)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100224/lead/lead91.html (Assessing Armadale: Gleaner, February 24, 2010)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-still-waiting-_13346061 (“We are still waiting”: Observer)
http://www.unicef.org/jamaica/children.html (UNICEF Jamaica: The Children – Overview)
http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/09/SantaClara.pdf (Evaluation of the Enhanced Ranch Program, Santa Clara County)
http://www.sccgov.org/sites/opa/nr/Pages/County-of-Santa-Clara-Strategic-Investment-in-Innovative-Juvenile-Support-Paying-Off.aspx (County of Santa Clara Strategic Investment in Innovative Juvenile Support Paying Off:
http://www.kingston.diplo.de/Vertretung/kingston/en/06/Embassy_20Events/HR-Signing_20Ceremony.html (Human Rights Awareness Campaign: Germany Embassy Jamaica)
http://www.humanrightslogo.net (The Universal Logo for Human Rights: How can you use it in your country or for your organization?)
On May 24, 2010, Jamaican security forces entered the inner-city community of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston in search of fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke and his supporters. During the operation, 74 civilians were killed and over 50 injured. 28 members of the security forces were injured. Six guns were found. Mr. Coke was not found. During the two-month long State of Emergency that followed, thousands of Jamaicans were detained, mostly without charge. I have posted some links below, in case we need to remind ourselves of the tragic details. On May 27, security forces visited the comfortable, “upscale” neighborhood of Upper Kirkland Heights in search of Mr. Coke, fired on the home of 63-year-old accountant Keith Clarke and shot him twenty times. Three soldiers have been charged with his murder.
To date – over two and a half years later – Jamaica’s Public Defender has not produced the expected interim report on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion,” as it is euphemistically called by local media. Several deadlines have been missed – some of them self-imposed by the Public Defender, who says he is seriously under-staffed.
Recently, our esteemed local poet Tanya Shirley read this poem at an event I attended. It served as a timely reminder. A reminder, too, of the strange, confused reaction of uptown Jamaica.
I only remember the fear.
The People are Deading
and we are laughing
at this sound byte played over sweet bass
spliced and digitized for YouTube consumption
But when the people were deading
we were hiding under king size beds
panic buttons strapped to our chests
just in case, someone got the wrong address
the police or the bad men or the bad men
or the police. In that bullet-ridden dark
even teeth looked like dried blood
and you couldn’t see anybody’s soul
in the slant of seedy eyes.
No one was dying or crossing over
passing or walking into the light;
no one had the benefit of a benediction.
The people were deading
Like language ripped from a tongue
leaving clots of dry vowels in underground tunnels.
The people were deading
in a plague of fire bombs and a deluge of bullets
in uniformed arbitrary tactics
boys who were chased from birth
by the shadow of death, held hostage
by blind dollar bills and pot-bellied politicians,
were being blown out of their bodies
and only a woman like this one trapped
in a computer screen and a catchy rhythm
dares to look out at us and shatter
our silence and indifference, our stupid laughter
with her humble burial rites.
© Tanya Shirley
Tanya Shirley is the author of a collection of poetry, “She Who Sleeps with Bones.” The book is available at Bookland and Bookophilia in Kingston, and in pharmacies island-wide. It is also available on amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/She-Sleeps-Bones-Tanya-Shirley/dp/1845230876. Thank you, Tanya for allowing me to reproduce this here.
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/cleisure/cleisure5.html (Will Witter rise from his slumber? Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIQZVOgejoc (The people dem are deading: TVJ/YouTube)
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz (A Massacre in Jamaica: New Yorker article/Mattathias Schwartz, December 2010)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Something-went-horribly-wrong-in-Tivoli-Gardens_7657608 (Something went horribly wrong in Tivoli Gardens: Mark Wignall column/Jamaica Observer, May 2010)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/27/jamaican-army-tivoli-gardens (Jamaican army accused of murdering civilians in Tivoli Gardens: Guardian UK report, May 2010)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Security-forces-move-on-Tivoli-Gardens (Security forces move on Tivoli Gardens: Jamaica Observer report, May 24, 2010)
http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19466 (Jamaica – Tivoli Gardens killings: No justice for 74 killed: Amnesty International, May 24, 2011)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120524/lead/lead4.html (The death of Keith Clarke: Two years of unimaginable grief and trauma: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/INDECOM-wants-weapons-in-Keith-Clarke-killing-retested_12651538 (INDECOM wants weapons in Keith Clarke killing retested: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR38/002/2011/en/d452da6f-50b9-4553-919c-0ce0ccedc9d8/amr380022011en.pdf (Human Rights Violations Under the State of Emergency: Amnesty Int. report)
Sunday Wonders: November 25, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/storm/ (Storm: petchary.wordpress.com, June 2010)
I am talking about potential “nine-day wonders,” a special feature of public life in Jamaica. A dramatic story hits the news; people throw up their hands in alarm; they call the radio talk shows, their voices shrill with concern; they write angry letters to the newspapers; and the opinion-makers begin to register the story on their radar and write their opinions. By the time our learned columnists and editors have done that, the story is already half-way through the door, bumping into another drama just coming in to replace it. Or it simply gets submerged in the mundane, washed away in the trivia.
Average life: approximately nine days.
A couple of stories surfaced virtually at the same time on Thursday. It was not a good day; the kind of day when your heart sinks just a little – or, when, in Jamaican social media lingo, you may write “kmt.“ These stories have not, as yet, been examined deeply enough by the media in my view, and there is still much more to be said – particularly in the print media. There were several newspaper editorials lat week about the wonderful relationship between Jamaica and China over the past forty years; why so many, I don’t know. But we want more details on these two stories to emerge, this week. Please.
Let’s deal with the two wonders first, before we talk about a couple of pachyderms – you know, the ones in the living room that take up so much space?
Firstly, it emerged on Wednesday evening that in July our government spent a large sum of money on sixteen SUVs (Toyota Prados, to be precise) for the use of its ministers while they are serving the people. The sum of money quoted was around sixty-two Jamaican Dollars. Most of these vehicles were close to the US$30,000 upper limit (that’s quite an upper limit, isn’t it!)
This news followed hot on the heels of the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s revelation that Jamaica has just endured its third consecutive quarter of negative growth. This means that the Jamaican economy is officially in recession. (Hello! One of the elephants is waving its trunk, reminding us of its presence). The reaction from the Jamaican public was a combination of bitterness, cynicism, anger and weary shakes of the head. The Minister of Information Sandrea Falconer tried to explain the reasoning behind the purchase of these lovely vehicles; apparently most of those in the outgoing administration bought their vehicles before they left. The ministers needed to be comfortable, Minister Falconer explained in her “I am being very patient” voice to journalists at the post-Cabinet press briefing; they also needed to negotiate the rough rural roads that they have to travel. Minister Falconer went on to inform us, the struggling taxpayers, that our political leaders make great sacrifices. Life is not as easy for them as a politician as it was before they entered the public service, she informs us. I suppose that is why they fight so hard, using whatever means they have at their disposal, for political power – because they all want to make those sacrifices, just for us? Because elections are nothing if not very, very hard-fought. Well.
I am afraid that one stuck in my craw. (What is a craw exactly? But you know what I mean). I don’t think the words “Jamaican politician” and “sacrifice” can really be mentioned in the same breath.
Social activist and founder of the New National Coalition Betty Ann Blaine waxed sarcastic. “[Finance Minister] Peter Phillips told us the shop is empty,” she reminded us. And what of the ordinary Jamaicans who have to drive on these rough rural roads every day. (Can they have Prados, too?) Minister Phillips himself drives the latest model Audi, by the way.
The last straw for me was a speech made by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller immediately after the Prado disclosure. In a “what is all the fuss about” tone, she told a Social Development Commission meeting that she doesn’t “travel econ” on her personal business when she travels abroad (and of course, not on taxpayers’ business, either); and that ministers should not be expected to do so. She then rambled on about the Secret Service (?!) and how the fact that she does not live at the Prime Minister’s official residence (Vale Royal) saves the country money (does it?). I held my head in my hands. She is just showing off about the air travel, my husband suggested. I despair – along with many other Jamaicans who feel hurt and offended by the somewhat defiant and “there’s nothing wrong with it, this is perfectly justified” response of the government. Meanwhile, middle class Jamaicans (almost a dying breed) struggle to pay their supermarket and utility bills (as the Jamaican dollar is slipping, so all our everyday costs go up) and dread another increase in petroleum prices (and most of us don’t have the ministers’ gas-guzzlers, air conditioning up high). And for the many Jamaicans living close to poverty – I don’t, simply don’t, understand how they manage. They must be going hungry, and they must be desperate. But then, as one of my fellow bloggers comments below, “Portia loves the poor.”
There was a rash of memes on social media after this news broke. And by the way, if our leaders paid more attention to what is being said in the social media on such matters, they would have a major reality check. Not saying they would change their ways – but it might surprise them. The backlash is considerable.
On the matter of the first class travel, I can tell you an experience I had a few years ago: I was attending a conference in another Caribbean country, and was on the same plane going home as a number of Caribbean government ministers as well as their U.S. equivalent (a member of the U.S. cabinet). All the Caribbean ministers settled down in first class, laughing, slapping each other’s backs, enjoying nice food and drink, and socializing all the way. Their American counterpart sat in a bulkhead seat on economy class, so he had more space, quietly got out his laptop and papers, and worked for the entire journey in silence. I merely observed, and took note.
The second piece of news on Thursday was a tragic story. A sixteen-year-old girl who was being held in an adult prison, the Horizon Remand Centre in Kingston, committed suicide. Young Vanessa Wint was one of twenty girls housed in the adult prison; this is against Jamaican law and I believe international human rights norms. A security post to watch the cells is reportedly right opposite what was Vanessa’s cell, yet no one noticed anything; an investigation is under way. Her family is deeply traumatized and has hired a lawyer; the girl’s uncle has vowed to get to the bottom of the story. Meanwhile, as human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice has pointed out, all the government agencies responsible for children in the care of the State are to blame. This includes the Minister of Youth Lisa Hanna, the melodious-voiced former beauty queen – who has not had the decency to issue a statement of condolence to the family (I have not heard one anyway). Ms. Hanna is, in fact, the minister responsible. JFJ has been accused of “pointing fingers” - but it is a simple fact that, as so often happens, the government is breaking its own laws (the much-heralded Child Care and Protection Act). The child was behind bars for “uncontrollable behavior,” as well as possession of an offensive weapon – although her family denies any knowledge of the latter – but had not been charged. As she is a ward of the state, the State is responsible for her.
This is a heart-breaking story, and there will be more details to follow; so this might have a longer shelf life than nine days. But how many times have we revisited this subject? We agonized over the fire at the girls’ correctional centre in Armadale, when seven wards of state burnt to death in an over-crowded dorm, in 2010. Have successive governments really demonstrated that they care for the welfare of our children, especially those most at risk and in conflict with the law? Meanwhile, plans are afoot to transfer those girls being housed at the Fort Augusta adult women’s prison to another adult facility on South Camp Road in Kingston. Thank you, Minister Hanna, that will greatly solve the problem. Are we looking at, perhaps, root causes? And have all the children now been removed from the horrible police lock-ups?
The much-respected Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, of the Mustard Seed Communities, linked the above two stories – pointing out the twisted and just-plain-wrong priorities. “Why do we have a children’s advocate or a Child Development Agency if we are still putting children in adult correctional centres? Why are we spending our money on SUVs rather than on children’s care?” he asks. Why, indeed.
Meanwhile we must be careful about inhaling deeply. After “noxious fumes” (a favorite journalistic term here) were emitted recently by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, this week there was an ammonia leak on the Mandela Highway that connects Kingston and Spanish Town. A gas company was responsible for this. But don’t worry, all is well. The weather is getting dryer, though. Next will be the Riverton City dump, optimistically called a “landfill.” Time for it to catch fire again. But here I go, predicting doom and gloom again.
Talking about doom and gloom: It’s the economy, stupid (again). The Planning Institute of Jamaica revealed the bad news mid-week. I won’t bore you with all the depressing “minuses” but suffice it to say that in the nine months up to September 2012, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by 0.3 per cent; the biggest declines over that period were in the mining, construction and transport, storage and communication sectors. In the third quarter alone, the economy contracted 0.6 per cent. I can’t tell you what the answers are; but I feel that we are on a slippery slope, and that we are not able to dig our heels in to stop the sliding. I hope I am wrong. It’s just a feeling.
Meanwhile, commentator Dennis Chung has written a very good column on the subject of the recession-that-we-now-cannot-deny. He proposes three solutions for us to drag ourselves back out of the slide: working seriously on Jamaica’s energy issues, including alternative energy solutions, reducing the enormous cost of importing oil etc; reducing costly food imports; and tackling the law and order problem which continues to plague our society. I could not agree more. Minister Phillip Paulwell is now looking at alternative energy; one hopes this will bear some fruit, and that it will all result in action, not talk.
Has the Finance Minister commented on any of this? I am not sure. He has, however, conceded that the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund may not be concluded by the end of December, after all. It may be in January, but as the Information Minister said, “Let’s not quibble about it.” She loves that word!
Back to that other pachyderm, crime. In an excellent op-ed (link below), a former Fulbright Professor and criminologist, Bernard Headley observes that “a balanced development and nation-building strategy ought to include understanding, teaching and practicing the ways of peace – respect and tolerance, healing and restoration, love and justice. These are, in the final analysis, the ultimate ‘protective factors’ against crime and disorder.” We are told (and goodness knows we should be aware of this by now) that Jamaica is a “Christian country.” All these beautiful Christian principles should be built into the country’s infrastructure of governance. But, strange… how come there is so little of it “deh ’bout”?
There have been various reports of reductions in crime in specific parishes. However, murders are not going down, overall. I know that full well. If you compare the sad lists of names at the end of each of my weekly blog posts, I think you will agree that nothing has changed. The numbers are pretty consistent, don’t you think?
The police have been really busy. By my count, they have killed seven Jamaicans – one for each day of the past week. Four killed in one “alleged shootout” in St. Elizabeth were allegedly linked to the “guns for drugs” trade between Jamaica and Haiti. Residents allege that the police chased the four men and shot them. It’s funny how the accounts of residents differ so dramatically from those of the police, isn’t it? Do they ever agree on a story? In St. Elizabeth, there were apparently many witnesses; hopefully they will give statements to members of the over-worked Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). In one of the incidents in Kingston, a policeman was injured.
I don’t like it: The all-too-frequent reports of robberies at schools – I think probably on average once a week these reports emerge. It is usually computers and electronic equipment (often donated by parents, past students or kind overseas organizations). But it’s all fair game. Let’s help ourselves to any cash that might have been saved for a school outing. And there’s food and drink in the kitchen! It truly distresses me to see the faces of stressed-out school principals, often fighting back tears, giving details of the theft, while the camera pans round a ransacked school office or computer lab. Who buys these computers? And what about the children?
Oh, please: The preachers-on-buses issue has lingered on. A “tweep” of mine commented that she had to endure “two hours of Christian music” on the privately-run Knutsford Express, which does longer-distance trips. Is there no escape? Meanwhile, the Public Defender… But no, I am not going to go there. Should I mention the words Tivoli Gardens in the same paragraph? Please read Jaevion Nelson’s article, below.
I like it: The Minister of Justice has also been busy, in a much more positive way I must say. The Senate finally passed a very important piece of legislation, the Evidence (Special Measures) Act 2012. The bill will allow “vulnerable witnesses” (such as children, and U.S.-based victims of the hateful lotto scam) to give evidence via video. As the head of the Jamaican Bar Association Ian Wilkinson noted this evening, however, the government should hurry up and pass the accompanying regulations, so that the law can be properly implemented.
A little baffling: The two security guards charged for the beating of an alleged gay student at the University of Technology have pleaded Not Guilty. Of course, it is their right. But they were picked out in an identity parade, and they should be pretty easy to identify from the YouTube video that went viral, too. But I am no lawyer. I am clearly missing something.
What a surprise: A review of the antiquated anti-buggery law, famously promised by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during a debate, is not going to happen any time soon. But least one should be happy that, as Minister Falconer noted, the economy and crime are high priorities for the government. Oh! Perhaps some people have seen the two elephants pictured in this post…
Now on, to the good stuff: World AIDS Day is coming up (December 1) and the Caribbean has recorded a significant decrease in HIV infections – a decrease of 42 per cent since 2001. This is largely due to the increased availability of anti-retroviral drugs. I am sure we will be hearing more details on Jamaica in the next week or two. But I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the dedicated, hard-working Jamaicans who have worked, and continue to work, towards “zero” new infections: the Ministry of Health, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS, Eve for Life, the parish AIDS committees, and other organizations that play their part.
Congratulations to Olivia McGilchrist, the winner of the Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year competition, an event at Kingston’s Mutual Gallery that has gained in prestige. Ms. McGilchrist explored issues of identity in her photographs (rather odd, though, that of the four finalists three were photographers. Can we have more painters or even sculptors in the future, if possible?)
I am very pleased to learn, also, that several key private sector companies have decided to engage in charitable activities throughout the Christmas season – which now seems to be upon us. Digicel, GraceKennedy and Stewart’s Automotive Group are among them; also, the RJR Group is now making a public appeal for the Annotto Bay Hospital in St. Mary, which was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy – in particular the children’s and maternity wards. Do support all these activities in the spirit of Christmas.
Congratulations also to two pioneering surgeons, who have teamed up to perform the second minimally invasive surgery – laparoscopic prostatectomies, two long words there – at Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay. I am sure there is much more potential for this kind of amazing teamwork that can do so much for our often struggling health system. The UK’s Dr. Christopher Eden and Jamaica’s Dr. Roy McGregor are awesome. And they look so young, too!
I mentioned the recent, amazingly successful Caribbean Beta 2012 for young IT entrepreneurs, which I attended; see my blog post at http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/its-getting-beta-young-tech-entrepreneurs-in-jamaica/. I was really happy to read a report about the founder of a locally-based call center in the small town of Junction, St. Elizabeth, Lincoln Gayle. A graduate of Northern Caribbean University (which is making strides in Information Technology), Gayle currently lives in the United States but is a native of the pretty town of Southfield.
A community of bloggers: It was wonderful to meet so many Jamaican bloggers (there were around fifty of us!) at the Jamaica Bloggers Meet-Up in the cozy courtyard of the Knutsford Court Hotel. UNICEF is sponsoring a special blog challenge for World AIDS Day, which many of us will be going for… The tempting prize of a Samsung Tablet is being dangled before our eyes! It was a great get-together. Congratulations to the organizers of the third Jamaica Blog Awards – the only such awards in the English-speaking Caribbean, I believe. The hot competition begins early next year!
Last but certainly not least: The list below is of Jamaicans who have lost their lives since my last blog post. My sincere condolences and love to all their families, friends and loved ones, who are mourning their loss. One day, I wish, there will be no such list at the end of my weekly blog posts. I live in hope.
By the way, if you want to see some of the television news reports, you can look up evening and noon news broadcasts which are archived at http://news.cvmtv.com/index.php?news=watch at CVM Television, which tends to have more detailed reports, I find. But you can find a link to some of the Prime Minister’s comments below on TVJ. Both websites are useful. Radio Jamaica and Nationwide News Network also have live streaming of their programs.
By the police: Oneil Green, 33, Kilmarnock, Westmoreland; Kenrick Bennett, New Town, St. Elizabeth; Rohan Barrett, New Town, St. Elizabeth; Carlington Wallace, New Town, St. Elizabeth; Turline Wallace, New Town, St. Elizabeth; unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston; Unidentified man, Red Hills Road, Kingston
Albert Gordon, Richmond Park, Kingston
Unidentified woman, Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Forest Hill Gardens, St. Andrew
Everald Singh, 30, Grey Ground, Manchester
Danny Broderick, 22, Hopeton District, Manchester
Valentine Reid, 47, Riverton City, Kingston
Jacquelyn Harriott, 40, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine
Richard McCalla, 33, Hellshire Heights, St. Catherine
Allan White, 63, Job Lane, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Ernest Lumsden, 70, Bartons, St. Catherine
Courtney Mills, 34, Marlie Mount/Old Harbour, St. Catherine
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead1.html (Government shells out $60 million for new vehicles: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121124/lead/lead1.html (We deserve these cars: PM defends $60 million spent on ministers’ new vehicles: Gleaner)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22437 (PM responds to vehicle purchase: TVJ)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120322/lead/lead91.html (Falconer clears air on vehicle purchases: MARCH 2012 Gleaner report)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Government succumbs to bling culture: Gary Spaulding op-ed/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/focus/focus2.html (Has everyone turned off the lights on growth? Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/cleisure/cleisure5.html (Will Witter arise from slumber? Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Sunday Gleaner)
http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2012/11/portia-loves-poor.html?showComment=1353699155063#c6788092347541038464 (Portia loves the poor: blog post by D. Marcus Williams)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/focus/focus5.html (It’s the Church that needs salvation: Gordon Robinson column/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead9.html (Debt to international organizations could hurt Jamaica – government technocrat: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead1.html (Squander! Government spends more than $32 million to keep old, empty Jamintel building safe for pigeons: Sunday Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/guards-implicated-in-utech-beating-appear-in-court (Guards implicated in UTech beating appear in court: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Promised-buggery-review-put-on-back-burner_13056162 (Promised buggery law review put on back burner: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/letters/letters4.html (The struggle for common people to get justice: Letter/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Keeping-the-buggery-law-is-preposterous_13042100 (Keeping the buggery law is preposterous: Letter/Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41318 (Senate passes Evidence Act: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/lead/lead6.html (St. James murders down: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41355 (Murders down in south St. Catherine: Sunday Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/indecom-to-probe-police-shooting-of-four-men (INDECOM to proble police shooting of four men: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Dead-teen-was-tormented (Dead teen was tormented: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Remove-Prendergast- (Remove Prendergast: Relatives of Vanessa Wint label Commissioner of Corrections as uncaring: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead11.html (Who was watching the suicidal teen? Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Slipping-through-the-cracks_13075685 (Slipping through the cracks: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead92.html (“You are all to blame”: Sunday Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/policy-changes-in-the-making-for-handling-of-detainees (Policy changes in the making for handling of detainees: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/lead/lead7.html (Fewer cases of sex with minors reported: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41319 (Family wants Corrections Commissioner fired: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Invoking-God-s-blessings-_13054007 (“Invoking God’s blessings”: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead91.html (Paulwell steps up bid for cheaper electricity: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Homosexual reparative therapy revisited: Rev. Clinton Chisholm op-ed/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Good-move–Hardley-Lewin_13056130 (Good move, Hardley Lewin: Jamaica Observer/Mark Wignall column)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/lead/lead93.html (NEPA performs balancing act – agency provides residents with alternative livelihoods: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/letters/letters2.html (End victimization in S.W. St. Ann: Letter/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Family–colleagues-mourn-cabbie-s-killing_13053266 (Family, colleagues mourn cabbie’s killing: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead7.html (Let’s end this 50-year relationship with crime: Bernard Headley op-ed/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/news/news2.html (Manchester police find fleeing lotto scammers: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/One-dead–3-000-lbs-of-ganja-seized (One dead, 3,000 pounds of ganja seized: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Caribbean-records-significant-decrease-in-HIV-infections (Caribbean records significant decrease in HIV infections: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/School-feeding-woes—Only-6-of-46-milk-delivery-trucks-refrigerated_13056355 (School feeding woes: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Reality check: would you invest in Jamaica? Dennie Quill column/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/business/business6.html (Wehby rallies “growth creators”: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Why-is-Jamaica-back-in-recession- (Why is Jamaica back in recession? Dennis Chung column/Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Jamaica needs to produce: Letter from Metry Seaga to Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-2-B-duty-Loss ($2 billion duty loss! Tax reversal drives down demand for new cars: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/More-tax-from-consumption (More tax from consumption: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Phillips-puts-doubt-on-December-IMF-deal (Phillips puts doubt on December IMF deal: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/-Stop-waiting-on-the-IMF–_13017382 (“Stop waiting on the IMF”! Jamaica Observer/Jean Lowrie-Chin column)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/JFJ-disappointed-at-delay-in-Tivoli-report (JFJ disappointed at delay in Tivoli report: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Party-time–Holness-says-JLP-s-political-campaign-starts-now (Holness says JLP’s political campaign starts now: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Putting-our-JLP–PNP-houses-in-order_13035768 (Putting our JLP, PNP houses in order: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/cleisure/cleisure1.html (JLP must obey its constitution: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/business/business1.html (Back in recession – Jamaican economy contracts for third quarter: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jamaica-goes-deeper-into-recession (Jamaica goes deeper into recession: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead95.html (Tax reform remains high on agenda: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Customs-boss-to-meet-with-frustrated-exporters_13018303 (Customs boss to meet with frustrated exporters: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Potty-training-and-nation-building_13052344 (Potty training and nation building: Jamaica Observer/Grace Virtue op-ed – very good!)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead2.html (NEPA, Petrojam at odds over explanation for odor: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead6.html (UDC set to embark on “Operation Restoration”: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Race-still-defines-relationships-in-America–says-French-journalist_13053322 (Race still defines relationships in America, says French journalist: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121118/arts/arts5.html (Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year Competition excites: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Developing-country-unity—what-unity-_13044444 (Developing country unity – what unity? Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/news/news8.html (Corporate entities nice up the Christmas! Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/news/news4.html (Cornwall Regional team performs second minimally invasive surgery: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Renowned-astrophysicist-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson-to-visit (Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to visit: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/news/news7.html (African board game arrives in Jamaica: Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/lead/lead4.html (Stepping from the shadows: Lincoln Gayle: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.rjrgroup.com/news/rjr-makes-public-appeal-help-restore-annotto-bay-hospital-after-damage-hurricane-sandy (RJR makes public appeal to help restore Annotto Bay Hospital after damage)
Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Whatever, November 18, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
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)
I am nervous. I am living in fear of the aedes egypti mosquito, which is once more Jamaica’s Public Enemy Number One. I am feeling the humidity all around me. I feel I am wading through it. But I am readjusting, slowly. So, this is called “Sunday Sinting” (translation: Something) because I have been away for so long (longer than originally planned) that I am just responding to the physical environment around me, for now. It’s just a little something to keep us going. Until I have gotten myself tuned in to what has been happening/is happening, I don’t feel able to comment much on what has been happening in Jamaica in general. I hope that is fair enough… More next Sunday (and much in between, too).
As you can see from the photograph, the mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the tropics is all decked out in stripes and polka dots like a tiny, sinister circus clown. I had dengue fever about twelve years ago, and will never forget the experience. My fever was so high that I was hallucinating: innocent leaves at the bedroom window turned into ugly, angry faces peeping in at me. Sharp, sudden pains afflicted my arms, legs, anywhere (it is aptly named “break-bone fever“). So – if you have not yet had this disease – please don’t take it lightly. The worst thing is there is no real “cure” – you just have to lie there, trying to cool down the fever, and taking painkillers (but not aspirin). And waiting for it to go away. Even when it’s gone, you are actually left feeling physically and mentally “down.” It completely drains you; the particular strain of dengue that I had took weeks to get out of my system. I exaggerate not.
The view seems to have been that the Simpson Miller administration was somewhat slow to admit to the current outbreak of dengue fever, which is particularly concerning in the broader Kingston area – as well as in Portmore in St. Catherine, where mosquitoes are a perennial plague. Perhaps this should have been taken into consideration when the developers decided to build hundreds of houses on a swamp. Whatever the case may be, it is never too late to learn how to prevent its spread. Don’t be careless and leave water standing in your yard for any time at all – that is always one of my personal rules anyway. And keep windows and doors shut during early morning and dusk, when mosquitoes are at their most active – this is particularly true of the aedes egypti. Especially at dusk. I am also hoping to hear the droning sound of the fogging truck passing down our street, soon. The smell is horrible, but fogging helps – I think.
Of course, dengue is not just a Jamaican thing. Our neighbors in the Dominican Republic have recorded around 6,000 cases and at least thirteen deaths this year. India is experiencing an outbreak. Cases have even been recently recorded in Florida and on the Portuguese island of Madeira, of all places. But, as Health Minister Fenton Ferguson told us this week, let us not panic (and yet, illogically, when a government official tells us not to panic – I always start to do just that…)
Meanwhile, the intrepid team at Nationwide News Network decided to try to tackle the issue of crime this week. Emily Crooks and Naomi Francis got serious and assembled a high-powered little group in the studio for a one-and-a-half-hour discussion. All of them appeared to know exactly what they were talking about, and unfortunately, appeared to be covering much of the same old ground. At times, Dr. Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice sounded weary; Opposition Spokesman Delroy Chuck, irritated; and the Peace Management Initiative’s Horace Levy, slightly exasperated. Dr. Anthony Harriott from the University of the West Indies patiently pointed out that over the past twenty years, “effective policing ought to bring homicide rates down to 20 per 100,000.” Of course, it hasn’t. The most recent United Nations figures show we have over 50 murders per 100,000. North America‘s homicide rate is 10.2 per 100,000. Ugh.
But crime is not just about murder rates. And there were a couple of revelations during the discussion that made me gulp. How can we tackle crime without a complete revitalization and rationalization of the justice system? Minister of Justice Mark Golding conceded that a) the justice system is in disarray (“duh”); and b) that no additional funding will be available to rectify any of the system’s burning problems, any time soon. We know what the problems are, and they were rehashed: a chronic juror shortage, inefficiency on many levels, pending legislation that never seems to get passed. But the moderators tried to keep re-focusing on solutions (and also tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain “promises” from the Minister on actions, and to hold him to deadlines on specific issues).
Let’s have some implementation, Dr. Gomes and Mr. Chuck urged. Less talk. Civil servants must be held accountable, said Dr. Harriott. Let’s “build community capital,” Mr. Levy emphasized. Again. On the law enforcement side, Mr. Chuck asserted that the police have retreated from the principles of community policing, leading to a worsening of police-community relations. Minister Golding says there is no such retreat on the policy front.
The strongest contribution to the discussion came, in my view, from Jamaican Bar Association head Ian Wilkinson. He did not mince his words, noting that “successive governments are to blame for the weaknesses” in the justice system. “The Jamaican government as a whole has abdicated its responsibility to the people” by not committing any funds to justice over the years – make that decades – said Mr. Wilkinson. For a healthy society and economy, he pointed out, Jamaica must have a properly functioning justice system. The tiny budget allocation is “absolutely awful,” said Mr. Wilkinson. He put forward suggestions for a five-year plan for justice. At the top of the list is an additional J$5-6 billion (at least) for justice issues. He said it is a disgrace that Montego Bay does not have a proper court and is terribly under-served.
One disturbing issue emerged. The Minister’s opposite number Delroy Chuck declared that although the previous political administration under which he served had appointed new judges to speed up the number of cases dealt with, the judges are “not yet working” because there is no office space for them! I would love to hear more about this. Can it really be true? I did not catch the Minister’s response. I would love to hear more about this.
Talking of crime and justice: I realize that the grief and suffering has continued unabated during the five weeks that I have been away from the island. I tried hard to avoid local news. I just needed a break. But somehow the story of a horrendous multiple rape in Montego Bay broke through to my consciousness. And in the three or four days since I have returned I have heard of several incidents that have involved the shedding of the blood of Jamaican citizens, the shock of the bereaved and their grieving. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones violently in the past week. Below is my regular list of those who have left us, their lives abruptly severed. It is probably incomplete…
Until next time, when I will be more thorough in my coverage of Jamaica’s happenings. Meanwhile, tomorrow is National Heroes Day, a national holiday in Jamaica. There will be the usual pomp and ceremony and speeches and messages from our political leaders. I think we should also reflect on what it takes to be a hero. What are the essential qualities of a hero, asks Dr. Orville Taylor in his op-ed (the link is below)? Having mulled this over a bit, he concludes that two of our National Heroes, the founders of our two political parties (or “gangs,” as the Gleaner newspaper continues to identify them), do not qualify as heroes. I agree. What do you think, dear readers? Do we even need heroes in 2012, and what purpose do they serve? Do we need a different kind of hero?
I am not convinced that we need heroes or “messiahs.” What we do need is people, working together, supporting each other. And sensible, action-oriented leadership. No more speeches, please!
Some of those who lost their lives violently this week:
Phyllis Watson Turner, 76, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland
Leroy Morris, 41, Rum Lane, Kingston
Gregory Cooper, 25, Hagley Park Road, Kingston
Andre Edwards, 25, Savannah Cross, Clarendon
Oral Smith, 23, Savannah Cross, Clarendon: killed by a mob
Matthew Grant, Sligoville, St. Catherine
Radcliffe Bell, 46, Priory, St. Ann
Killed by the police…
Cassell Robinson, 30, Race Course, Trelawny
Unidentified man, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Washington Boulevard, Kingston
- Jamaica Steps up Efforts to Combat Dengue Fever (abcnews.go.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/mogul/Dengue-fever-outbreak-confirmed (Dengue fever outbreak confirmed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-106/31981 (Government commits additional #14 million to tackle dengue: JIS)
http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/10/12/the-real-dengue-hotspot-isnt-delhi/ (India RealTime/WSJ blog)
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012/09/27/dengue-fever-confirmed-in-florida-girl/57848484/1 (Dengue fever confirmed in Florida girl)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121014/focus/focus3.html (Were all our heroes really heroic? Busta, Manley don’t qualify: Orville Taylor 0p-ed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/Heroes/Heroes1.htm (National Heroes: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Where-are-the-jurors-_12557646 (Where are the jurors? Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Slain-Trelawny-gang-leader-was-suspect-in-vigilante-shooting—police_12745848 (Slain Trelawny gang leader was suspect in vigilante shooting – police)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9334-4-accused-of-zion-mob-killing-granted-bail.html (Four accused of Zion mob killing granted bail)
Good things happened around the world last week in the name of Mr. Nelson Mandela, former President of the Republic of South Africa, who reached his 94th birthday on July 18, 2012. Born in Mvezo in the Transkei region, his Xhosa given name was Rolihlahla, meaning “stirring up trouble.” Very appropriate. His English teacher named him Nelson (I wonder why), and he was afterwards known by several names: Madiba, his clan name, which is quite an honorific one; Tata, meaning “father,” an affectionate name used by many South Africans; Khulu, or “Great One,” which is also a shortened version of the Xhosa word for “grandfather”; and Dalibhunga, a name given to Xhosa youth after their initiation into manhood at age sixteen,which actually means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue.” Some mighty names, befitting his stature. But his grandchildren probably just call him “Grandpa.”
There are a couple of reasons why Mr. Mandela really moves my heart and mind in a personal way. When I was a student at Oxford University, the apartheid system in South Africa was in full sway. Mr. Mandela had already been in prison for more than ten years on Robben Island, and was to serve many more years. The anti-apartheid movement in the UK, the United States and many other countries was getting up some steam; in the U.S., Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. formed the National African Liberation Support Committee, a coalition between the Congressional Black Caucus and community-based black activist groups. There were regular anti-apartheid marches in London and other towns in the UK, and in Oxford we were also quite militant, staging many protests. In London, I was influenced by Mr. Peter Hain, a white South African whose family were living in self-imposed exile. As head of the Young Liberals, Mr. Hain was an enthusiastic and outspoken opponent of the apartheid system, and I recall intense meetings in his parents’ sprawling living room. Mr. Hain is now Member of Parliament for Neath in South Wales, and I guess maybe he has lost his accent. According to his website, he is an avid fan of Chelsea Football Club; which is most disappointing to me (a die-hard Arsenal fan, in case you didn’t know). And Mr. Hain describes himself on his website as a “libertarian socialist.”
So, when Mr. Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, I thought of Peter and his family. In a birthday message last week, he said, “Nelson Mandela seems to encompass all that is best about us on our best day. He represents democracy, tolerance, humanity, courage, leadership. We would all like to live up to those standards in our everyday life. Very few of us manage to.” Very well put.
Secondly, I recall, with mixed emotions, Mr. Mandela’s visit to Jamaica with his then wife Winnie, just one year after his release. This was a time when he was negotiating with then President F.W. de Klerk for South Africa’s very first inclusive and multi-racial elections (which eventually took place four years later). We all went down to the National Stadium for a rally in the Mandelas’ honor, waiting for many hours for their arrival. This was exactly twenty-one years ago – the visit was July 24-25, 1991. I remember the atmosphere of barely-controlled, chaotic celebration, with members of the crowd continually jumping over the barriers to reach the open-topped car which slowly circulated the stadium. I remember feeling nervous for the Mandelas – and then for the crowd. The hot, still evening – just like this evening – was full of drama and pathos, but also an extraordinary, almost theatrical kind of joy. It was a historic moment, and the weight of it nearly crushed us all. I wish I had photos, but cannot find any.
So, last Wednesday, Jamaica celebrated Nelson Mandela Day, which was inaugurated a few years ago on his birthday. The aim of the day is “to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. Ultimately it seeks to empower communities everywhere.” The emphasis is on service to our fellow human beings – one way to create the more just society that Mr. Mandela fought for all his life.
The Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation partnered on the day with the YMCA in Kingston and the non-governmental organization Children First in Spanish Town to provide a health and culture day for at-risk youth. At the YMCA, it was hectic, hot and the children were energetic and engaged. YMCA director Sarah Newland Martin had to be very stern with them, but eventually got them together for devotions, to start the day on the right note. We all got busy after that… Please see a few photos I took with my android phone (the glorious Samsung Galaxy, no less!) – my first real effort to take photos via this medium, and they didn’t come out too badly – though I say so myself.
In the afternoon, I visited the Trench Town Reading Centre, where the summer school was still in full swing. I told the children about Mr. Mandela; he was already President by the time they were born, and unfortunately most had not heard of him. We looked at two or three books about Nelson Mandela in the Centre’s excellent library, and we perused several of these. The children liked the photo above best – of Madiba, in tribal dress.
In the evening, the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice celebrated Nelson Mandela Day in a remarkable and unique way. Again, the focus was on children, and children’s rights – a topic I have addressed several times before in this blog. This was a unique, awareness-raising event. JFJ described its vision for the evening thus: “On Nelson Mandela Day, July 18, you are invited to a 67 minute call to action forum at St. Margaret’s Church Hall commencing at 6pm. Jamaicans for Justice will honour this day by raising awareness about challenges our children in state care face. It is a call for Jamaicans to unite, as we did for Nelson Mandela, and insist that our children be removed from adult prisons and police lockups. In 2009, Nelson Mandela’s birthday was declared by the United Nations as an international day devoted to Nelson Mandela’s life work. On this day, individuals are asked to donate 67 minutes of their time, one minute for every year of Mandela’s service to humanity. The day is a global call to action to inspire individuals to change the world for the better. Mandela Day provides us with the opportunity to allow Jamaicans to do something for our country, in line with Mandela’s vision for a just society. In this the 50th year of our independence, it seems appropriate to use this day to reflect on our children, the future of Jamaica as, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’.” It is very hard to pick two or three photographs from their extraordinary exhibition of photographs of Jamaicans of all ages holding up messages reflecting this theme…but you can find them all on the Jamaicans for Justice Facebook page – “Free our Children” – Nelson Mandela Day photo collection in their photo albums. Support JFJ in their fight for the rights of ALL Jamaicans, in the spirit of Mr. Mandela…!
I am going to close with a quote from Mr. Mandela which so closely relates to the lives of too many of our precious Jamaican children: “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Jamaican leaders, Jamaican citizens all, are you listening?
http://www.nelsonmandela.org/ The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
http://www.peterhain.org/default.asp Peter Hain, M.P.
http://jnbsfoundation.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/nelson-mandela-turns-94-take-action-inspire-change-and-make-every-day-a-mandela-day/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JnbsFoundation+%28JNBS+Foundation%29 (JNBS Foundation: Nelson Mandela Day)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/resolutionproject/ (JNBS Foundation Flickr photostream: Resolution Project)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/opm-news/31198-jamaica-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-international-day-july-18-by-giving-to-children (Jamaica to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day by giving to children – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/120-ministers-speeches/31257-message-from-minister-of-foreign-affairs-a-foreign-trade-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-day (Message from Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs to commemorate Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/105-foreign-affairs-trade/28326-dr-baugh-message-to-commemorate-nelson-mandela-day (Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister’s message on Nelson Mandela Day – Jamaica Information Service)
And the situation is… That two elected political representatives in Montego Bay are being investigated in connection with the horrible “lotto scam,” which has spread like an infection from Jamaica’s second city. On Wednesday, the police conducted early morning raids on the homes of Deputy Mayor Mr. Michael Troupe, Councilor for the Granville Division, and the Councilor for the Salt Spring Division Mr. Sylvan Reid, both representing the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) on the St. James Parish Council. Mr. Troupe and his son Jevaughn are to appear in court on Wednesday on charges of illegal firearm and ammunition possession. Mr. Reid has been charged with illegal possession of property. Large amounts of U.S. Dollars and Jamaican Dollars were found hidden inside Mr. Troupe’s home – painted a lovely shade of orange…
Now the lottery scam, which emerged years ago now, has been the scourge of Jamaica for a long time; it has dragged our good name in the mud and has been a continuous source of shame and embarrassment. U.S. police forces have advised citizens not to accept calls from an 876 number (Jamaica’s area code). But it has been an economic godsend for the city of Montego Bay. Small hotels and entertainment venues, where the scammers reportedly hold lavish parties; local businesses, real estate and luxury car sales have all been booming. It has also been the ostensible of much violent crime and many murders, the police say. In case you didn’t know, these people have long lists of the names and numbers of American citizens (where do they obtain these?) whereby elderly ladies and others are robbed of their life savings by smooth-talking Jamaicans, who tell them they have won a lottery, but must first send money. That is basically it, so far as I know. One hears that even teenagers and school kids are involved. It’s “get rich quick” and everybody loves them because they bring money into the community. Lovely. No questions asked.
But the determined efforts of the Jamaica Constabulary Force – who have been steadily picking up not just the small fry, but increasingly what they call “major players” in the lotto scam – are starting to pay off. I must hereby heartily congratulate the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force Superintendent Leon Clunis and his team for their determined investigations. Whether Mr. Troupe and Mr. Reid are proved guilty or not in a court of law, a message has been sent that no one is above the law – not even duly elected officials.
The People’s National Party itself sent a different kind of message – one which did not sit well with many Jamaicans. Firstly, Prime Minister (and President of the PNP) Portia Simpson Miller‘s off the cuff response on the matter was lacking in coherence and conveyed an anxiety to avoid the issue altogether. A television journalist waylaid her as she was entering Parliament later that day, and our Prime Minister’s hurried, abrupt response was, in essence, that she knew nothing about it and could not comment and in any case she is “so busy” with matters of the State… She appeared flustered. Not a good start. On TVJ this evening, she repeated that she did not want to comment until she is sure that she knows what is happening. When will that be? Party Chairman Robert Pickersgill believes Mr. Troupe has “done the honorable thing.” Opposition Leader Andrew Holness says that “I don’t know” has “become the Prime Minister’s tagline.”
So, we waited. No word on Thursday or Friday from the PNP, although its Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson (the only man who sounded fairly coherent in his remarks) had promised a statement. Something like a statement came out on the Saturday evening television news, almost four days later. It transpired that Mr. Troupe had “voluntarily” (and under no pressure from his party) taken leave of absence from his job – he had not resigned. At a press briefing immediately following the PNP’s regular meeting of the National Executive Council, two of the party leaders looked somewhat sheepish. However, the General Secretary (also ironically the Minister of National Security) took the microphone, asserting that because the two elected officials (sorry to keep stressing this point) are “innocent until proven guilty” they have not been asked to step down, despite the charges against them.
TVJ’s regular viewers’ feedback poll pretty much summed up how most Jamaicans feel about this matter, soon after the arrests. “Should they step down even though they haven’t been charged?” was the question. The viewers’ texted response was loud and clear: eighty per cent said “Yes.” But do the politicians know (or care) what the average Jamaican thinks? (OK, that’s one of my rhetorical questions…) Head of the admirable institution, the National Integrity Action Forum, Professor Trevor Munroe, also said that they must resign. But his voice sounds increasingly lonely, these days – echoing, as if in an empty room.
Did the Prime Minister talk about strengthening the Government’s hand against corruption in her inauguration speech just a few months ago? Just asking. I must revisit that speech.
On this topic, I will end with comments from two people who I think got it right. In a no-holds-barred column in today’s Sunday Observer, Mark Wignall noted caustically that the arrests demonstrate that “too many of our politicians, in this island of crooks, are themselves crooked…Politicians are always hungry for cash and more cash.” Civil rights activist Susan Goffe has noted the key points that I completely agree with: Basically, that it this is not merely a legal issue (of course we are all innocent until proven guilty, that’s a “given”) – so much as it is a moral issue. These are publicly elected officials! We are supposed to respect them, they are our leaders, for heaven’s sake, and we should hold them to a higher standard than your “average Joe.” As Susan Goffe suggests, “If you are charged with a serious criminal offense, declare your innocence, resign from your public office (to preserve the reputation of the office) and deal with the matter of your defence and clearing your name. Too high a standard to ask of those who hold high public office in Jamaica?” Well, it seems so.
As my husband said, supposing before the election a councilor had said to the Jamaican electorate, “Oh well – I might be involved in the lotto scam…and oh, I have an illegal gun.” Would we have voted for him/her? Well, would we? I fear the ruling party has made a grave mistake, and misjudged us all. Just a few months after the optimism (even euphoria) of the general election – and just two weeks before we celebrate our fiftieth year of Independence – it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, like biting into a mango that is not as ripe as you thought it was. Whatever the outcome…
Equally important news… Three Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were – finally – ordered arrested for the murder of accountant Keith Clarke in May 2010. During a botched military operation in search of the fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke in a rather wealthy area near Kingston, soldiers allegedly fired at Mr. Clarke’s home and then entered. Mr. Clarke died in a hail of bullets (he apparently received twenty shots). The investigation has been extremely long drawn-out and the bureaucratic procedures related to the military are seemingly rather complex – but it appears that the three will be brought to court as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the question is what has happened in the investigations into the murders of more than seventy residents of Tivoli Gardens during that same period (many of them young men)? The trauma of that period has cut deeply into the consciousness of Jamaicans and the pain of it still lingers – especially in the hearts and minds of the many relatives and friends of those who died under terrifying circumstances.
And in other news… Was there any other news? Well, personally I am feeling very antsy about two major events that are going to take place in the next couple of weeks, and that are dominating the news and social media: the London Olympics and the Jamaica 50 Independence celebrations. On the first, my colleague blogger and journalist par excellence Ms. Dionne Jackson Miller wrote an excellent piece on the excessive, almost hostile attitude of some Jamaicans towards our hard-working athletes – you are expected to win, and to win gold! I agree with Dionne, and have commented elsewhere, that they are all winners. Yet some Jamaicans – supported by some sections of the media – seem to believe that only a gold medal will do. If not, then…Cho! A Gleaner sports report just yesterday noted that an athlete in Monaco was “the only Jamaican winner” at the meet. It was noted that other Jamaican athletes “had to be satisfied with” second and third places in other races. Let us salute and support all our athletes; they work hard, they keep a positive attitude and they have overcome many challenges to reach where they are – the Olympic Games. Congratulations to them all.
P.S. “Time” magazine (yes, the very same Time that presented an award to the Prime Minister apparently for saying that she would tolerate gays in her Cabinet) conducted an online poll on the “best and worst” Olympic athletes kits and what do you know? You’ve guessed it, Jamaica’s came out on top. But the Jamaican jury is, of course, still out. Let’s see how they look at the opening ceremony – that will be the test for Ms. Cedella Marley’s creations, one would like to think.
And on Jamaica 50… What is happening in Jamaica? I’m sorry, I still don’t know, and I have been asking this question for weeks. I can just imagine Jamaicans from overseas arriving on the island, glowing with patriotic pride, checking into their hotels and eagerly enquiring of their hosts, “OK, what’s happening? Where are the celebrations?” Only to be met with confused silence, or perhaps a kind of mumbling – like a politician trying to avoid a difficult question. The Jamaica 50 Secretariat head and the Culture Minister have gone completely silent. It’s good to know, though, that other cities in the Jamaican diaspora worldwide seem to have taken the opportunity to highlight many positive aspects of Jamaican culture in different ways. In London, there will be a seventeen-day “Festival Jamaica 2012″ in Stratford, close to the Olympic venue, including all kinds of exhibits and performances. Jamaican history and culture, flower displays, kids’ events, you name it… And film. As I noted in a reblog earlier this week from the founder of the Reggae Film Festival (a regular fixture on our cultural calendar) the concept of the film festival appears to have been “pirated.” Please see the link below. In Toronto, Canada there is also an exciting schedule of events. They have a beautiful website (see link below) for their “Jump for Jamaica” program of events (the title is also the title of their theme song). Then there is New York, Atlanta, Miami… Perhaps we should go overseas to celebrate Jamaica 50? At least, the distinct impression one has is that we Jamaicans at home are basically left to our own devices. I suppose… Let’s have a party.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga told the Jamaica Observer last week that Jamaica had made little progress in the last fifty years. The newspaper then wrote a critical editorial – asking questions that perhaps they should have asked when they were actually interviewing him… And there are questions to be answered.
The Can’t be Bothered Department: Why so much fuss about the over-rated, has-been Jamaican deejay Shabba Ranks? He made what some might call a “triumphant return” to Jamaica for the much-hyped Reggae Sumfest, an annual show in Montego Bay which took place in the past few days. His on-stage cavorting graced (and I use that word sarcastically) almost the entire front page of today’s Sunday Gleaner. (Our Sunday newspapers have become somewhat schizophrenic, of late – a cross between serious commentary/news and entertainment trivia. Saturday’s Observer consists mainly of look-alike hairstyles, ridiculous makeup and nail treatments, and sports). Anyway, Mr. Ranks engaged in “sexually suggestive byplay” with another singer, before introducing his wife on stage. Give me a break… Meanwhile, R. Kelly – the guest star – reportedly owes millions in taxes back home… Jamaica must have been a nice break for him.
Another new rum on the market? And does the launch event have to include women in tiny shorts and too much makeup (where do they get these women from?) Yawn.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites continues his unending flow of high-minded speeches, for our edification.
The Not Impressed Department: The long-suffering, once beautiful “Bamboo Avenue,” the supposed tourist attraction in Holland, St. Elizabeth, was seriously damaged by fire caused apparently by a careless farmer. There was no fire truck available to assist. Once again, the St. Elizabeth Parish Council is going to meet and discuss how to preserve what is left of this beautiful area. The area has lost 750 meters of bamboo over the past few weeks. It is sad.
Thumbs down to Windalco – and again, this is a regular/periodic occurrence – for pouring 62,500 gallons of some kind of caustic chemical into the poor old Rio Cobre, resulting inevitably in the death of many fish. Thumbs up to the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) for taking action against the bauxite mining company – and let me say also, for taking the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) - another government agency – to court. The latter action is in connection with the appalling fires at the Riverton City dump, which the NSWMA was apparently operating without a license. Do I get the feeling that NEPA is acquiring some teeth, at last? I do hope so. Meanwhile, Windalco – clean up your act! How can these things just happen so?
The Three Cheers Department: CVM Television’s Kameal Gayle, who produced a good series of reports from Haiti. The accompanying footage conveyed a good “on the ground” feel for Haiti – not just the usual clichéd images. The reporting was unpretentious and straight forward. Good going.
To “veteran” deejay Capleton, who through his annual concert “A St. Mary Mi Come From” supports several institutions in what is always described as Jamaica’s poorest parish. The show is in its twelfth year and will take place on August 5 in Annotto Bay. I love it when people don’t forget their roots, but go back to water and nourish them…
I am glad that the University of the West Indies and the Montego Bay Marine Park have partnered on a program to reduce the huge numbers of the flamboyant but invasive species, the lion fish, which is gobbling up reef fish in the Caribbean. I hear that the fish actually does taste good…but cut the spines off, first…
And talking of food, a great move that Wisynco has expanded the distribution of its soda drink Bigga to the United States, partnering with the highly successful Jamaican bakery Golden Krust, which will distribute the drink along with its patties etc. to hungry Jamericans (or even others hooked on Jamaican food!)
Big ups too, to Dr. Henry Lowe, who has forged a partnership of a different kind – with a Chinese anti-cancer biotech firm. Dr. Lowe has been conducting some fascinating research, resulting in the launch of seven nutraceutical products that have great potential through his Bio-Tech R&D Institute. I hope the partnership progresses and bears fruit.
To the Good Shepherd Foundation in Montego Bay, which has had to pause in its building of its Hope Health Clinic due to a shortage of funds. If anyone can help or support in any way, please do so. The Foundation has done incredible work with people living with HIV/AIDS and many other residents since 1997. This is a very worthy project.
To South African High Commissioner to Jamaica Mathu Joyini, U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater (who served as Consul General in South Africa when Mandela was released from prison) and all those organizations who participated in Nelson Mandela International Day on Wednesday, July 18 – which was Mr. Mandela’s 94th birthday. In particular, the JNBS Foundation partnered with the Kingston YMCA and Children First in Spanish Town for a health outreach and cultural day for at-risk youth. More on this in a post to come…
And talking of Children First, I was thrilled and delighted at the news that the LIME Foundation, California-based Dilieu Technology and the Mosaic Group provided new computers to their Kingston center, which was robbed of all its equipment recently during a break-in. Dilieu will also help provide security, while LIME will provide free internet connection. You are wonderful!
Last but not least, a huge pat on the back for the Liberty Academy at Priory, a small independent school in Kingston, which is doing marvelous work in special education. It has an inclusive and nurturing philosophy. With more revenue and funds, it could do so much more. Educational institutions like this deserve our support, even if the government can provide very little (or so it seems).
Finally, it is my weekly sad task to send condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This week, thankfully, I have no police killings to report. Dr. Phillip Chamberlain’s murder has sent shock-waves through the town of Mandeville. A Howard University alumnus, “Dr. Phil” as he was called lived much of his life in the United States and then returned to help his fellow Jamaicans. I hear he was incredibly kind, would work late at night and was always available at any time to help those in need. Many are grieving his sad loss.
Dr. Philip Chamberlain, 71, Mandeville, Manchester
Ava-Gaye Ward, 32, Sunrise Crescent, Kingston
Paul Jackson, 49, Grants Pen, Kingston
Karl Johnson, 57, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentifed man, Montego Bay, St. James
Holden Riggs, 49, Newmarket, St. Elizabeth
- Human rights group urges Jamaica to repeal anti-buggery law (antiguaobserver.com)
- PNP officials arrested in Jamaican lottery scam (caribbean360.com)
- Sunday Selection: July 15, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38619 (Police name deputy mayor, councilor as major players in lotto scam)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120721/lead/lead1.html (Still no word: PNP yet to respond to Michael Troupe gun charge)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120722/lead/lead3.html (PNP waffles on arrested councilors)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/MoBay-deputy-mayor-taking-leave-of-absence_11998615 (MoBay Deputy Mayor Taking Leave of Absence)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38726 (PNP still refusing to speak on fate of jailed councilors)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Politics-attracts-criminality (Politics attracts criminality AND 50 years old and decrepit/Mark Wignall)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38592 (Three soldiers to be charged with Keith Clarke murder named)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38615 (Soldiers detained for Keith Clarke murder)
- http://anniepaul.net/2012/07/18/and-justice-for-tivoli-gardens-memento-mori/ (And justice for Tivoli Gardens? Memento Mori Annie Paul blog)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120717/lead/lead8.html (Witter’s report on Tivoli deaths almost done)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/jamaica-and-the-london-2012-olympics-want-to-help-our-athletes-back-off/ (Want to help our athletes? Back off! DJM blog)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/why-are-jamaicans-so-amazing-at-running/ (Why Are Jamaicans so amazing at running?)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/3477/ (They Are All Winners!)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120718/sports/sports3.html (The Best! Time votes Jamaica’s Olympic gear tops)
- http://festivaljamaica2012.com/ (Festival Jamaica 2012 – London)
- http://jamaica50.ca/ (Jamaica 50 – Canada)
- http://www.jamaica50anniversary.com/ (Jamaica 50 – New York)
- http://www.ajaatlanta.org/ (Jamaica 50 – Atlanta)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Ja-has-not-progressed-much-in-50-years–says-Seaga_11966332 (Jamaica has not progressed much in 50 years, says Seaga)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/What-Mr-Seaga-did-not-say–but-should-have-said_11982081 (What Mr. Seaga did not say but should have said – Jamaica Observer editorial)
- http://jamediapro.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/england-steals-reggae-film-festival/ (England steals Reggae Film Festival – Barbara Blake Hannah’s blog)
- http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/st-elizabeth-pc-calls-meeting-preservation-holland-bamboo (St. Elizabeth PC calls meeting for the preservation of Holland Bamboo)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38633 (NEPA to take action against Windalco)
- http://mobile.jamaica-gleaner.com/news/article.php?id=38679 (NEPA takes NSWMA to court)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120718/news/news8.html (If you can’t beat them, eat them)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/-A-Bigga-deal-_11998035 (A Bigga deal)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Dr-Lowe-forges-alliance-with-Chinese-anti-cancer-biotech-firm_11982245 (Dr. Lowe forges alliance with Chinese anti-cancer biotech firm)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/westernnews/Good-Shepherd-Foundation-seeks-funds-to-complete-US-3-million-health-facility_11977999 (Good Shepherd Foundation seeks funds)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Children-s-First-gets-new-computers_11989795 (Children First gets new computers)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120721/letters/letters6.html (Liberty nurturing children of varying abilities)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=38537 (Another doctor murdered in Mandeville)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Capleton-lauded-for-charity-work_11982686 (Capleton lauded for charity work)
- Jamaica: Combat Homophobia (hrw.org)
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