I recently re-connected with an old acquaintance, Professor Emeritus of Criminology & Justice Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Bernard Headley. Some time ago, Professor Headley co-founded and now chairs a group named the National Organisation of Deported Migrants. I am pleased to share with you his perspective on deportees – a topic ever close to the “front burner” in Jamaica, and always, it seems, with some controversy attached.
Last week, I felt great discomfort – embarrassment, shame, irritation perhaps – on viewing the small procession of deported alleged scammers making their way slowly across the tarmac at Norman Manley International Airport towards the plane that took them to North Dakota. The eight Jamaicans (five men and three women) held their tied hands in front of them as if they were fragile. They have appeared in court but no trial date has yet been set.
Well, in this article Professor Headley addresses the reverse situation: those deportees who regularly return to our shores, in batches. In this regard, he has a word of caution for Prime Minister Andrew Holness. You may comment on this blog, or directly to Professor Headley at the email address below.
Cautionary Note On Going (Again) After Deportees
On Wednesday, 8 March 2017, Jamaica received yet another charter-flight batch of “British deportees.” Fact is, though, a group of us have for the past eight years been doing the same thing, one Thursday per month, for returnees coming in from America. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said, in February 2017, that in his government’s evolving anti-crime plan, a key pillar will be police focus on these and other “deportees,” particularly in cases where there’s a history of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
That’s all well and good. We expect government and law enforcement to act. But we expect them to act not only on intelligence, but also to act intelligently. So if Mr. Holness will permit me to sound a cautionary note: Beware of resurrecting a red herring, especially in these unsettling Brexit-US President Donald Trump times.
‘T was not so long ago that the Jamaican government and security forces stood firmly on the fallacy of a cause-and-effect relationship between deportees and frightening levels of crime. “We have seen them [groups of deportees] in the St. Andrew South Division, and it is no wonder that we see the increase in crime,” then Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas opined spuriously in June 2005 to a Montego Bay business gathering.
Five years earlier, Prime Minister P. J. Patterson had announced to a primetime national television audience that the main targets of a “proactive” crime-control task force he was forming would be “dons, the deportees and other criminals.” He named the task force the Crime Management Unit (CMU), and appointed as its head swashbuckling Senior Police Superintendent Reneto Adams. The CMU would have powers “to move anywhere and at anytime” against the deportees and their ilk, Mr. Patterson declared.
Turned out that, in the end, the CMU netted zero impact on reducing violent crime. Rather, left in its aftermath were mayhem and the extra-judicial slaughter of significant numbers of presumed-innocent youngsters who, unlike Mr. Adams, never lived to have their day in court. (Mr. Adams was charged, but acquitted, in connection with a set of killings in rural Clarendon.)
Besides, the constructed theme in the official deportation narrative — that deportees returned home because of their crimes abroad will re-offend in Jamaica — is not borne out by available evidence. Data extracted from the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), as well as the NIB’s own internal reports, show no more than 4.0 per cent of “criminal deportees” as likely to re-offend; and this usually for minor drug and property or property-related offences.
My cautionary note extends to calling on the wider society to recognise and affirm the counter-narrative that select numbers of deportees, or involuntary returnees, are trying desperately to build.
Deportees are, to their eternal detriment, viewed among the nation’s opportunity gatekeepers (notably in personnel offices and lending institutions) as generic criminal threats, “no matter the reason” for their deportation. According to this narrative, nothing but more harm can thus be expected of and from them. The trajectory of their returned-to-Jamaica lives, say dancehall artiste Buju Banton and the national commentariat, will spell only more trouble and further set back the country’s growth and development.
But one astute, politically educated group of deported ex-inmates, with whom I’ve had an ongoing mentoring relationship since 2008, have envisioned things differently. In research funded through a series of mini grants from the U.S. Embassy in Kingston (facilitated immeasurably by Public Affairs Specialist, now successful blogger, Emma Lewis), and a months-long series of European Union-sponsored workshops, held on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, the men railed against the injustice of their shackled, en masse Middle Passage-like removals — and corollary banishment from ties and families formed during their long years spent “in foreign.”
They also consciously determined, however, that, now that they were back in the homeland, where they’d likely be living out the rest of their days, they would channel their still useful energies into a movement to frustrate, if not defeat, the expected-criminals trajectory.
Inspired by their belief that native son and National Hero Marcus Garvey immersed in critical decolonising and ultimately nation-building work “back here,” after the U. S. government in 1929 deported him as a common criminal, the group, which consisted of both men and women, formed their own aspirational organisation: the National Organisation of Deported Migrants. In domino-speak, the mission of NODM, a fitting “wretched-of-the-earth” movement, has been to “colt (meaning to thwart or spoil) the game.”
That is, to counter through focussed struggle the expected trajectory of more crime; and to create instead, within the deportee space and population, an alternate capacity for strengthening community and nation, one that answers by other means Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s call for “development as freedom.”