Jamaica Update, July 19, 2021: An abandoned bicycle, a lifeboat, and a bulk resignation letter

It has been two weeks since I wrote my last update. However, I will try to ensure there is no “stale” news here. I have been what millennials would call “super busy” – with a bumper crop of mangoes, and the Caribbean Tree Planting Week (read more here!) We are also living in some kind of organized chaos, getting a new roof and all kinds of other rearrangements that have turned our modest home upside down (it doesn’t take much). Now that Elsa has departed, the weather has been warm, humid and breezy all at the same time in Kingston. In other parts of the island, there has been heavy rains, but none for us city dwellers.

Haiti’s first lady Martine Moise, wearing a bullet proof vest and her arm in a sling, arrives at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. | Haiti’s Secretary of State for Communication Photo/via AP

Caribbean: Our two closest neighbors (whom we largely ignore and don’t understand, since they don’t speak English) are in a state of some confusion and upheaval. Firstly, there was the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse at his home in Port-au-Prince on July 7, after an extended period of unrest, protests, and the murders of journalists and activists across the country. His wife Martine was wounded and flown to Miami for treatment. She returned to Haiti, dressed in black and wearing a bullet-proof vest and her arm in a sling on July 17. Who was really responsible for Moïse’s murder, and will his widow now play a part in Haitian politics (I understand she will not)? Mysteries abound, and meanwhile we all say how sorry we are for Haiti. Here is Mr. Moïse’s obituary from the London Times.

In Cuba, there were protests over food shortages, extended power cuts, COVID-19 inadequacies, and the general collapse of the economy on Sunday, July 10. The protests are not likely to be repeated any time soon, since many of those involved were bundled into cars by plain clothes police and taken away (all public demonstrations are illegal in Cuba) – or rounded up the next day. Many are told their government jobs and benefits will be taken away, unless they behave themselves. So it has already quieted down. Nevertheless, a small group of demonstrators voiced their support for their fellow countrymen in front of the Cuban Embassy in Kingston last week. My friends at BirdsCaribbean posted a beautiful message of support, in English and Spanish. Whatever the politics, we are all human.

A message to Cuban friends from BirdsCaribbean, written by Lisa Sorenson. The Bee Hummingbird is endemic to Cuba and is the smallest bird in the world.

Children: A story emerged of a four-year-old boy who was beaten by his stepfather because he was not feeling well and “eating slowly.” He subsequently died in hospital. The boy’s mother was also badly beaten. I cannot add anything else to this story, because words literally fail me. UNICEF Jamaica tweeted: “Discipline should never be a death sentence. This is why UNICEF: 1. Wants corporal punishment banned and 2. Instead supports positive discipline to help parents model good behaviour and enjoy better communication with their children.” I am not sure what “positive discipline” is, exactly. All I can say is that we must end the violence. UNICEF Jamaica shared their guide to “disciplining” children without resorting to violence.

The Prime Minister tweeted a good thread about this matter today and spoke in Parliament, saying “It is full time that we stop hurting our children in the name of discipline” and suggesting that there should be a change in legislation regarding corporal punishment. This is not the first time that he has been outspoken on this topic (related to schools, also). However, I am wondering whether we don’t already have legislation regarding assault and battery, or whatever the term is. And toxic masculinity continues to thrive. Just one example is of a man who had a dispute with his partner and set fire to their house and a nearby grocery store in New Green, Mandeville. His partner and three children are in protective custody. Another toxic case: a 31-year-old man charged with the rape of his nine-year-old stepdaughter. And so it goes on.

Jaheim Bogle, age 10, was shot in the head as he was caught in crossfire, while riding his bike. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

Another little boy lost his life to violence, while riding his bicycle in Arnett Gardens, Kingston. His name was Jaheim Bogle, and he was considered one of the most promising students at Iris Gelly Primary School. The television footage of Jaheim’s bicycle, abandoned against a wall, was very distressing. It must be very hard for journalists (such as Kirk Wright of Television Jamaica, who filed that report).

Meanwhile, not far away in Rema, Kingston, a small group of women and children demonstrated: “We want peace,” they chanted… “I want to play.”

Corruption and Transparency: In its annual report, the Integrity Commission has noted that two (as yet unnamed) parliamentarians are under investigation for illicit enrichment and two (the same people?) have been referred for prosecution for issuing false statements on their income and assets. This got the politicians in a tizzy. Who could it be? Names, please (by the way, there is a secrecy clause in the Integrity Commission Act passed into law in 2017, so…)

Crime: As I write, a shootout is in progress just outside the Denham Town Police Station in West Kingston. Video on social media looks like a Netflix movie. Bullets skip in the dust on the road, and police officers crouch behind cars. In Riverton City, police engaged men in a gun battle today, and killed four men. Another gun battle was taking place near the May Pen Cemetery in downtown Kingston. A lot of this almost simultaneous activity has created gridlock traffic across the city. Across the island, rural and urban communities are constantly battling crime and trying to deal with infiltration by gangs (by cowering in their homes, mostly). This is even happening in the “normally peaceful” parish of Portland. The relatively small community of August Town in St. Andrew is again struggling. During a peaceful protest by citizens recently (with Kenneth Wilson, a community activist who has striven for peace over many years and is now looking very tired) one protester revealed that many of the criminals watch police movements carefully and time their own activities accordingly. People deserve better.

Just what we need.

But what we are getting is “Special Ops” teams – now one is to be established in western Jamaica, looking like a military force. There have been over 80 murders in the small parish of St. James, compared to a bit over 60 in 2020. What on earth is going on there (and how many times have I said that before)? A local councilor said that the police need to spend more time in areas like Granville (where a young couple were gunned down while sitting on their verandah). Rather than random stop and search operations, he suggested, they should do some thorough investigations. “The guns are there.”

Meanwhile, curfews are popping up all over the place. This week, a two-day curfew has been imposed in the country town of Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland. There was also one in Whitfield Town, an area of Kingston.

A reminder: There is the private sector initiative, Crime Stop, which has had its successes. Dial 311 or post a tip. It is confidential and safe.

Human Rights: It’s “simply not happening,” said UK High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, who has one foot out of the door to go back home. This was, perhaps, his parting shot: “No reparations for you lot, sorry mate.” He was talking about a cash payment for the horrific, profitable, and well organized Atlantic slave trade that the Government he represents embarked on. He referred to local “political activists” who had been pushing for reparations. I think it’s a little more than political activism. The High Commissioner seems to think more aid is the best way to go. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM’s) Reparation Commission has stepped up its campaign and Jamaica’s own Government, through Culture Minister Olivia Grange, has stated its intention to petition the British Government. Historian Professor Verene Shepherd was not amused by what appears to be thinly veiled disrespect, pointing out that we are “not mendicants.”

Constable Jeffory Graham was charged with the murder of Everton Moore in Port Maria two years ago.

Riverton City today, after three men were shot dead. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The police killed four unidentified men in a gun battle at Riverton City today; two guns were reportedly recovered.

19 year old Kevon Morgan was shot dead allegedly by members of the Jamaica Defence Force in Homestead, St. Catherine.

Yes, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has been busy again, investigating police shootings.

Politics: So, all hell has broken loose in the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) – just a few weeks after they were enjoying a lovely team-building exercise together. Not only the Chairman, Phillip Paulwell and three Vice Presidents, but also the bright and energetic President of their Youth Organization, Krystal Tomlinson, resigned en masse. PNP President Mark Golding has accepted the flurry of resignations. Horace Dalley is now acting party chairman, and four more men (two of whom lost their seats in the last elections) may be appointed as VPs. All the “political commentators” were quickly wheeled out in the local media. The PNP were sadly already in a weak position (apparently there is tremendous infighting going on). Erstwhile Education Minister Maxine Henry Wilson, who chairs the party’s Unity Committee, says there is “no panic.” What next? We shall see. Meanwhile, I think Mr. Golding should ask for a refund on the team-building retreat. They don’t come cheap.

Transportation and Road Safety: 15 Honduran crew members went missing after their fishing boat, the “Falling Star,” owned by Jamaican company Rainforest Seafoods, disappeared somewhere near Pedro Cays. The ship was returning to Jamaica after a routine maintenance. Several Coast Guards joined the search for the boat, and amazingly ten crew members were found floating in a lifeboat. One nice little bit of good news! Here’s an account of the drama at sea from boatwatch.org.

An 18-year-old was killed in a car crash in West Retreat, Portland on Friday. She was one of three – yes, three – people on a motorcycle, reportedly traveling at high speed.

Young men at training in Westmoreland this week in motorbike skills. (Photo: National Road Safety Council/Twitter)

The National Road Safety Council (NRSC), chaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, continues its efforts, however, to train young motorbike riders in the parish of Westmoreland – where 50% of fatalities take place. After a three-month hiatus the NRSC is back with the young men in a programme involving expert police trainers and several government agencies,

I don’t know all their names. I have not captured them all – there are too many. However, they are human beings, not statistics or percentages. Some are innocent children. My heart grieves for them and extend my condolences to the many family members, friends and colleagues who are mourning.

In Goldsmith Villa, August Town, Dadrian Shay, 33, was killed and his house burned down – just a few yards away from a security check point.

33 year old supermarket owner was shot dead in Clarendon. Two suspects taken into custody

Two men were shot dead in Maverley, Kingston, by

Two were killed in Jarrett Lane, Mountain View in Kingston, in a drive by shooting

Andre Antonio Perkins, 33, was shot dead in August Town.

Jaheim Bogle, 10, was caught in crossfire and killed while riding his bicycle in Arnett Gardens, Kingston.

Nashawn Brown, 4, was allegedly beaten to death by his 24-year-old stepfather in Spanish Town, St. Catherine

A 19-year-old youth, Kevon Morgan, was fatally shot during a confrontation with members of the security forces in his community of Homestead, Spanish Town in St Catherine.

Shelly-Ann Shaw, age 42, and her four-year-old son Jamar Powell were shot dead when gunmen entered their yard in Hilltop/Retirement, St. James.

An unidentified man was shot dead in a cane field in Four Paths, Clarendon.

Anthony Young was shot dead at a party in Denbigh, Clarendon.

Residents of 38 Valdez Road in Homestead, St Catherine, demanded justice following the shooting death of 19-year-old Kevon Morgan, a tiler who was allegedly shot and killed by Jamaica Defence Force soldiers.

The actual list of victims for the past two weeks is much longer than this.

I promise that my next update will be more cheerful! Good things are happening too, although if you listen to the news every evening, you will be unlikely to hear about them…

In my last post I wrote about recycling. Member of Parliament Donovan Williams partnered with the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to launch a waste disposal project in Allman Town, Kingston this week…

“Drum a Di Gate” in Allman Town. (Photo: Donovan Williams/Twitter)

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