First: I promise to bring lots of happy, hopeful news in my next post! It truly has been a tempestuous couple of weeks to start off 2017. Even the weather went a little strange; one night we had tropical storm force winds and many Jamaicans’ power went off. Half our apple tree ended up on the ground. Phew! So much has happened since Christmas that it already seems like a far-off dream. Here goes… (Now, I haven’t included anything on the economy, although there is lots of news here too – for example, Inflation for the 2016 calendar year was 1.7 per cent, the lowest in decades, according to the consumer price index data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. Yay!)
I mentioned the case of Rupert Clarke, the pastor in the Moravian Church, who was charged with the statutory rape of a fifteen year-old girl (not merely “having sex with her,” as Michael Abrahams observes in his excellent column) in my January 3 update. Little did we know then that the story would swell to vast proportions. It is not a “scandal,” but a wide-ranging, often painful and intense public debate (still raging in social media) on the sexual abuse/exploitation of young Jamaican women (and children) by older men in powerful positions. The focus has been on the Moravian Church in St. Elizabeth; but this is a widespread problem, right across Jamaica – and not only in churches but with men in powerful positions as perpetrators. Now churches island-wide are doing some introspection. Last Friday, the Acting President of the Moravian Church Rev. Phyllis Smith Seymour issued a dramatic statement. The Church is “battered and wounded,” she said, while asserting the rights of all children to be free from abuse. OK, so why is she Acting President? Because the President, Dr. Paul Gardner and Vice President Rev. Jermaine Gibson of the Moravian Church in Jamaica resigned last Thursday. The outburst of anger on social media really sparked this whole series of events.
But enough of the church. They’re busy soul-searching; and they are still having their National Prayer Breakfast, the point of which I never have comprehended. What about the girl in all of this – one of eleven children for their mother, living in poverty in rural Jamaica? What about so many other vulnerable girls in similar situations, right across Jamaica? I don’t want to hear any more reports about what the church men are saying, denying, upset about… I simply want to see justice for the girls. Now is the time not only for openness – accusations and allegations have been flying – but also for taking steps to start caring for and protecting our girls. And this includes neighbors, family and friends. Report child abuse! It is a CRIME to know of it and not report it.
Meanwhile, the Principal of Hampton School – a highly-regarded boarding school for girls in the parish – decided to insert herself into the news. She appeared at the courthouse for the aforementioned pastor’s bail hearing, making her presence known and trying to prevent the media from recording the pastor as he left. I cannot imagine what entered Ms. Heather-Dawn Murray’s head (the LASCO/Ministry of Education Principal of the Year, 2014). This was very poor judgment, at the very least; but she defended herself by saying she was supporting her close friend, the pastor’s wife. While controversy raged over the pastor, many called for Ms. Murray’s resignation. Then, after issuing a proper apology to all and sundry, Ms. Murray (whom the Education Minister suggested was going to take two weeks’ compassionate leave) refused to go, informing the school board chair via a letter from her lawyer! I am of the opinion that she should have already resigned, as principal of a girls’ high school. This young woman could have been one of her students!
Well, what drama. Now, remember the offer from then Prime Minister David Cameron to kindly build a prison for Jamaican convicts in the UK to complete their sentences? The British PM made the offer during a visit here in 2015, and ruffled Jamaican feathers; in fact, the visit was not a roaring success. Well, the Holness administration has turned it down. Why? Simply because, said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith, it would not have benefited Jamaica on the whole. The previous People’s National Party (PNP) administration had signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with the UK Government, whereby Jamaica would have to pay 60 per cent of the cost of the prison – approximately 32 million UK Pounds. The cost was a major consideration – plus the fact that, according to National Security Minister Robert Montague, Jamaica would have to take some 600 prisoners from the UK – not all Jamaican citizens but of Jamaican descent. I didn’t realize this! Of course, the question remains: what are we going to do about our crumbling and overcrowded prisons, some over 200 years old? Here are some great insights on the matter from retired Fulbright Professor and criminologist Bernard Headley.
Ah, Trafigura is back! High-powered lawyer and former politician K.D. Knight has managed to keep the wolves from the door for the past five years. Mr. Knight, a clever lawyer, is determined to prevent former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and four other PNP officials from having to testify in open court regarding an alleged illegal payment of J$31 million by the Dutch company Trafigura Beheer to the PNP. Knight contends the judge ruled in error and that Simpson Miller & Co. have committed no crime, therefore should not have to face Dutch prosecutors. A luta continua…
Murders “cleared up”: Acting Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant told the press recently that 57 per cent of the 1,350 murders committed last year were solved. This is not very impressive percentage, although Ms. Grant notes it is higher than in 2015 (53 per cent). I believe “cleared up” means someone was charged and his/her case is going to court. Are police killings also included in “cleared up”? Additionally, 689 guns and 9,376 rounds of ammunition were seized last year under the relatively short “Get the Guns” campaign – which I do find impressive.
Six members of the Ski Mask gang were killed by the police in Goodwill, St. James over the weekend, and everyone seems quite happy about it. The police say the notorious gang has been “destroyed.” Don’t they know that more will spring up in their place? Anyway, I am sure Mr. Ian Boyne (who called for drastic action on crime in his weekly exercise in pomposity in the Sunday Gleaner) must have been very happy. Perhaps he could have been drafted in to remove bodies and clean the street of blood.
20 Arrested for Scamming: There’s a very earnest (and handsome) young man who is the Media Liaison Officer for the Lottery Scam Taskforce, Sergeant Kevin Watson. I’m always happy to see him on my TV screen. He tells us that a series of raids in western Jamaica in the past few days resulted in the arrest of 20 people and the seizure of documentation, money etc. One Jamaican man with a Haitian wife apparently had a “voodoo shrine” – they were helping things along spiritually, I guess.
One “probable” Zika-related case of microcephaly: There has been one case of microcephaly in a baby born to a woman in December who had a rash and fever from Zika during her pregnancy. 77 pregnant mothers were confirmed with Zika at the end of last year.
Rationalizing the public sector: This issue has been lingering for some years now, off and on. It’s not an issue politicians like to address. “Rationalizing” means job cuts. Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips is questioning the Holness administration’s “philosophy of governance” and is demanding transparency, noting that his administration always believed in such things. Oh yes? Mr. Phillips is worried also about politicization of the redundancies. “Be careful,” he added, not to make people redundant. It’s posts that should be cut. Well, a very good point. But non-performers…?
The news that eight passengers on a speeding Jamaican tour bus have sued the cruise line, Royal Caribbean, sparked a blog post from me this week. We are furiously building huge hotels, but it seems to me that those Jamaicans who are seeking income from our visitors are becoming increasingly frustrated (and downright annoying). I’m talking about harassment and the ridiculous, wild behavior, which is apparently to impress the tourists. Hence the crash a year ago, in which one tourist died and several were injured. Ugh!
The death of Peter Abrahams: South African-born radio broadcaster, writer and political commentator Peter Abrahams was found dead today in his home in the hills. Police are still investigating his death, which could have been from a fall from his wheelchair. Mr. Abrahams was 97. I remember his slightly wavering voice on radio (RJR) when we first arrived in Jamaica. I think he broadcast every evening after the news. A TVJ report on Mr. Abrahams, including a recent interview with journalist Earl Moxam, made me rather sad, though. The widowed Mr. Abrahams lived alone in his beloved home Coyaba – which looked in a bad state of repair. I hope he was happy in his latter years.
Ganja + Reggae = … well, we “used our discretion,” say the police at the annual Rebel Salute reggae festival in St. Ann. They had issued warnings that the weed should not be “transported” and people should not have more than two ounces in their possession. Well…some patrons might have had three or four, but… Also I read that “ganja exemption was obtained for persons handling ganja at the herb curb booths.” What’s a herb curb booth? It’s a booth extolling the many wonders of ganja. Sorry I missed the opportunity to get myself an Ital Vapor Steam Chalice, though. I hear the mangoberry ganja “gwaan good” too! (?) Meanwhile, only one in six Jamaicans admit to driving under the influence. Health Minister Christopher Tufton mentioned, in this regard, “the recreational use (of ganja) and abuse based on the impressions that it is a free-for-all, and based on the blurred lines between consumption for medicinal versus recreational use.” It’s blurred, all right.
Never cut down a cotton tree: Many superstitions and tales surround the beautiful cotton tree, and many country people are wary of cutting them down. But one of these trees, whose roots had been burned, fell on a house in Capture Land, New Buckfield, near Ocho Rios in St Ann, killing a father and daughter and seriously injuring his son. It was a humble dwelling made of board. Some of the residents thought the noise was “God coming.”
The list of names is very long, and it appears that murders over the first eleven days of the year are showing a considerable increase over the same period in 2016, which was bad enough. There is a sad irony in the killing of Jamaicans in places with lovely names like “Mount Peace” and “Goodwill.” I extend my condolences to the grieving families of all those who have died.
Damian Lewis, 25, August Town, St. Andrew
Orlando East, 32, Mount Ogle District, St Andrew
Cavel Henry, 32, White Water Meadows/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Algi Ellis, 28, White Water Meadows/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Trevor Cole, 55, Sydenham Avenue/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Eltham Park/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Neville Scott, 50, Longwood District, Clarendon
Lisa Thompson, 41, Clarendon
Bendilou McKay, 17, Bucks Common, Clarendon
Winsome Thompson, 40, Palmers Cross, Clarendon
Carl Roberts, 50, Brandon Hill/Kellits, Clarendon
Owen Oxford, 46, May Pen, Clarendon
Kevin Smith, 38, Lucea, Hanover
Marvin McIntosh, 36, Prospect District, Hanover
Patrick Robinson, 55, Mount Peace, Hanover
Vernon Hall, 63, Mount Peace, Hanover
Royan Gowan, 18, Claremont, Hanover
Oswyn Jarret o/c ‘Ski-Mask,” Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)
Deno Pryce, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)
Marlon Samuels, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)
‘Shenky’, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)
‘Fargo’, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)
Unidentified man, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)
Andary Burrell, 28, Glendevon, St. James
Richard Davis, 25, West End/Negril, Westmoreland
Romaine Miller, 24, West End/Negril, Westmoreland
David Bennett, 22, West End/Negril, Westmoreland
Christopher Durrant, 44, West End/Negril, Westmoreland
Theresa McDonald, 68, Berkshire, Westmoreland
Charmain Mahbair, 44, Toll District/Frome, Westmoreland
Ashton Skyers, 60, Falmouth, Trelawny
Winston Howell, Logwood Valley/Wakefield, Trelawny
Alfred Whorms, 66, Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Gavel Bailey, 22, Steer Town, St. Ann
Christopher Fairweather, Wain Road, Port Antonio, Portland (killed by police)
Alanzo Kerr, 25, East Palm Avenue, Port Antonio, Portland