After an unpleasantly dry and hot month, the rain arrived in Kingston yesterday, and there’s the promise of more rain, perhaps. The past few days have been quite dramatic , although not always the kind of drama you really welcome. But, there it is.
Innocent baby: I apologize, but I have to start on this tragic note. Two-year-old Demario Whyte was shot dead on Tuesday night on Luke Lane in downtown Kingston, where “turf wars” have been rumbling among gangs (the turf is apparently the market area). In the past two weeks nine people have been killed in West Kingston. Little Demario was not “caught in crossfire” – which would have been bad enough. He was reportedly “executed” as the gunman could not kill his father (who was running away and had left the little boy at the gate).
Demario was just the same age as my grandson. A few days ago, Emprezz Golding, who works with young people, tweeted simply that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a huge worry. It is deep and widespread. Demario’s mother is working overseas and his father, who was injured, is traumatized. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has put out a list of six names of wanted men in connection with the violence. However, it would be so good if they could post pictures, if they have any! One might be walking down my street, and I would never know… Meanwhile, two suspects have been arrested in connection with Demario’s death. Nevertheless, I commend the JCF for their increased use of Twitter and hope they keep it up. It could be a useful crime-solving tool!
The crime/health link: Moreover, at a recent health fair organized by West Kingston Power Partners in the area, medical workers discovered that many residents had extremely high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Crime is a burden on our health system, and not only the victims of crime but those all around who are affected by it.
#saynotocoalJA: I have been reading (and will share in a separate post) many stories regarding the environmental impact of coal-fired power plants around the world. With regard to our local situation, Director of the CoalSwarm Project Ted Nace says a 1,000 MW coal plant would produce 5.6 – 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually, increasing our emissions by 79 to 82 per cent. This would make a mockery of our commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change to reduce emissions by 7.8 per cent by 2030. Please recall that Jamaica and its Caribbean neighbors campaigned so hard for the “1.5 To Stay Alive” campaign in Paris, making quite an impact. Mr. Nace also mentioned the “construction of a coal terminal and the possibility of a coal spill” as other environmental hazards associated with the construction of a coal-fired power plant at the Alpart bauxite plant in St. Elizabeth.
It’s the kind of thing that makes Jamaicans roll their eyes. Firstly, recently allegations in the Miami Herald by a former Assistant Commissioner of Police regarding a Jamaican politician have resulted in an investigation of sorts. When asked about it, Police Commissioner Carl Williams said police investigators were told “We should do some more work on it.” Hold on a minute! Well, you know what the obvious question is here, don’t you? Secondly, the People’s National Party (PNP) is having some major financial issues; much of the discussion seems to be taking place in social media, while the party leader is silent. A financial report, presented to the party’s National Executive Council in July by its Treasurer Norman Horne, revealed that some private sector donations were apparently mishandled by candidates during the election campaign earlier this year. Both these major issues are going to rumble along for a while. They are lurking rather darkly, so let us just stay tuned.
Half Way Tree is a mess: Bright and early on Tuesday morning, the famous Half Way Tree clock caught fire. There was a lot of garbage at the base of it (surprise) and probably someone had set fire to it. The Jamaica Fire Brigade put it out quite quickly. Our Culture Minister Olivia Grange bemoaned the historic clock being damaged – but, let’s face it Minister Grange: Half Way Tree is a dirty, chaotic mess and has been for years. It is not just congested, it is disorderly and Mandela Park is a sad – very sad – place to be named after such a great man. And by the way, when was this clock that we love so much actually telling the right time? I have never seen it working.
Please, Peter Phillips: I think you’ve got it wrong. The Opposition Finance Spokesman is trying to spin the latest statement from the International Monetary Fund team to suggest that the approval of the next drawdown of US$40 million is conditional. I believe the language (“preliminary agreement”) in their August 19 press release is, in fact, the standard language. Or what am I missing? Meanwhile, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is projecting an exciting 1 to 2 per cent growth this fiscal year. The PIOJ reports 1.1 per cent growth from April to June 2016 compared to the same quarter in 2015 (when we were suffering from a major drought).
The “I hope you mean this” news item: Prime Minister Andrew Holness says “we have to bring back” the teaching of Civics into the school curriculum. It should never have been dropped in the first place, should it? May I also add that we could incorporate the teachings of Marcus Garvey? Thank you.
Irrelevant news item of the week: The PNP’s Dr. Karl Blythe, who came out of the woodwork recently to challenge the Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller for the leadership of the party, is now suggesting Ms. Simpson Miller is afraid to face him in a leadership debate (just as the PNP refused to participate in a national debate before the February elections). Sigh!
Body cameras for our police: Yes, interesting developments in national security this week, indeed. Today the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno handed over 120 body cameras for use by the police in a pilot project. The U.S. Government will also provide training for the personnel in the St Andrew Central, St Andrew South, Kingston East, Kingston Central, Traffic Headquarters and the Motorised Patrol divisions. Interestingly, Jamaica will be only the third country in the Western Hemisphere to use body cameras; the United States and Canada are the other countries. By the way, both the Police Federation and taxi drivers (who are frequently stopped by the police) are welcoming the move.
Mario Deane: Michael Lorne, the attorney representing the family of Mario Deane, who died after being beaten in a Montego Bay police lockup two years ago, has filed for a default judgement for damages against the State. The Attorney General has not filed a defense and the matter will now go to court regarding compensation. The criminal case drags on, meanwhile.
JP’s, what’s going on? Commissioner Williams made some revealing and somewhat disturbing comments at the event yesterday. He said that all applicants for positions in the police force undergo polygraph tests; this will continue with the assistance of international partners (the U.S., Canada and the UK). Recently 191 potential recruits were screened and 103 passed the test. Some of those who failed were found to be involved in scamming and gang activities – despite having received “glowing recommendations” from Justices of the Peace (JPs), Ministers of Religion and other “upstanding” citizens, the Commissioner added. What is this?
Giving Bolt a “bly”: The reaction of most Jamaicans to the negative publicity regarding Usain Bolt’s social activities in Rio after the Olympics has been “Ah nuh nutten.” In other words, “It’s nothing! He’s young. Let him be, he’s having fun. What’s the big deal? I don’t care what he does in his private life,” etc. No, I don’t care either, nor do I care about the motive of the woman who has put this out in all the UK tabloids, BET and beyond. But everyone is forgetting that Usain is not some average Jamaican man having fun. He is an international superstar and sporting icon, way beyond our little island, with huge sponsorships and endorsements from major companies. Just as the swimmer Ryan Lochte made a fool of himself and within days lost major endorsements, the same thing could happen to Usain. He is a “brand.” Yes, we know he likes to party, but he has to think of his image and avoid negative publicity. Unfortunately, the tabloids thrive on this trashy stuff. Don’t give them any more fodder, please Mr. Bolt!
It was painful to listen to an interview by talk show host Cliff Hughes with the police officer in charge of the parish of Portland, based in Port Antonio. They were discussing the case of a group of 16 young women, who were staying in a villa in Portland earlier this month for a happy high school reunion. They were robbed, assaulted and three were raped. It’s a very disturbing case, but what was even more worrying was the subsequent revelation by the policewoman that rape is very common, and has almost been normalized in some communities in this beautiful rural parish. “It’s a community problem,” she said, citing the case of a father who refused to prosecute an older man (in his 40s) who had raped his own 15-year-old daughter. She also reported that out of 41 reported cases of rape in the past three years (many are not reported of course), the police had struggled to obtain just one conviction. How utterly depressing. Our rural communities need help.
The National Gallery of Jamaica is (or has been) one of our favorite hangout spots for quite a few years now – especially the Last Sundays. I am baffled by the new Chairman’s belittling remarks in the media – and by an anonymous letter to the Gleaner, making vague accusations about the way the Gallery has been managed. (Why do you print anonymous letters, Gleaner? It’s unethical, in my view). We are customers (and art lovers/sometime collectors), and we regularly recommend a trip to the Gallery to visitors, who want to know what to do in Kingston. Come to their Last Sunday this weekend (it’s free, there are guided tours and there is great music, the café has good coffee and the gift shop is great too)…and see if you enjoy the Gallery as much as we have been enjoying it. Will it go in the exciting new direction that Senator Tom Tavares Finson promises? We’ll see. By the way, the call is out for submissions for the juried section of the Jamaica Biennial (February 26 to May 28, 2017).
Look out for a new and revealing biography of former Prime Minister, the late Michael Manley. Coming soon!
Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) for their great BannaBags project. I wrote an article about this for a local magazine – last year I think. The schoolbags are made from recycled vinyl banners – very strong, bright and no two are the same of course. This year JPS is donating the bags plus school supplies to 500 children for back-to-school, which is less than two weeks away now. Entities with unused vinyl banners lying in storage can make arrangements to donate them by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or delivering them to 6 Knutsford Boulevard, Kingston.
Food for the Poor never stops doing good work. They recently donated stethoscopes valued at $400,000 to the Ministry of Health. Thank you!
The Early Childhood Commission, which organized an Early Childhood Certification Fair at Jamaica College today. It was extremely well attended, by teachers from across the island – and very well organized. There were twelve booths, each representing one of the standards required for Early Childhood Institutions. There was a high level of enthusiasm. I do hope that this will result in many more certifications for our basic and infant schools! These are the critical years.
I have not even discussed the convicted Reverend Al Miller, who is being defended on all sides; the woman who was roughed up by the police, but who has now pleaded guilty to several charges, including resisting arrest; and the stabbing of a man who allegedly hit down a policeman in a police lock-up (what is going on in police lock-ups? CCTV anyone?)
The Planning Institute of Jamaica has recorded a slight increase in the murder rate from January to June 2016. There were 22.2 murders per 100 000 of the population, up 2.4 per cent over the same period in 2015. Apparently for the past six years other “serious and violent crimes” have declined by 117 per 100,000, a decline of 22.8 per cent. Problem is, murder is the most serious and violent crime of them all. My condolences to the families of these people who have passed – three of whom were not named by the police apparently.
Demario Whyte, 2, Luke Lane, Kingston
Unidentified man, Barry Street/Luke Lane, Kingston
Unidentified man, Gordon Town, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Belle Isle/Grange Hill, Westmoreland
Jamari Reid, 25, Falmouth Gardens, Trelawny