Jamaica Update, August 3, 2021: Andrew pleas for peace, Elaine flies down the track, and everyone must get vaxxed

These are tense times. While most of Jamaica has been glued to the Olympics track events – obviously, our forte – the number of COVID-19 cases has been accumulating rapidly. New cases are now in three digits daily, and so are hospital admissions. It is alarming, but what’s happening in Tokyo has provided a welcome distraction. The amazing Elaine Thompson-Herah just let loose in the 100 and 200 meters, arms and legs flying in all directions, and sticking out her tongue as she crossed the finish line today. (My husband thinks she has too many tatoos!)

Elaine Thompson-Herah won her second gold medal in the 200 meters sprint earlier today, followed by Christine Mboma of Namibia and Gabrielle Thomas of the United States. (Photo: Reuters / Pawel Kopczynski)

I don’t personally buy into all the clichés surrounding the Olympics: that the games represent “hope for the world,” that they bring out the best in people (not necessarily), and that they represent the highest pinnacle of human achievement. If the hope is there, it is fleeting – even more so in this year of the pandemic. Anyway, in a few days the holidays will be over, the Games will be over, and it will be back to reality this time next week. COVID-19 and climate change will still be there, grinning at us in an evil way, like the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Emancipation Day: I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the special messages that our political leaders bestow on us on National Holidays. However, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ Emancipation Day message hit the spot and is extremely well expressed. I am going to reproduce it in a separate post. “Freedom and the use of violence is incompatible. There is no freedom where violence exists.”

Caribbean: On Barbuda, the uber-rich and famous (think Robert Di Niro, James Packer, and their accompanying private jets and mega yachts) have gained a firm foothold on the tiny island, while its inhabitants (birds, humans, animals, mangroves etc) have been cast aside as unimportant. Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda (it seems he would prefer to forget about the Barbuda part) Gaston Browne seems quite happy about this. Read more in Global Voices here.

Here’s a review of two films that describe two Caribbean countries and their people in more depth than is usually indulged in. I would like to see them both: a documentary on Puerto Rico (“Landfall”) and a film set in Dominican Republic (“Stateless”). You can look them both up on PBS’ “POV” programme – an excellent, long-running series.

In Cuba, a number of artists, journalists, activists and free thinkers have been jailed, prosecuted, or put under house arrest. This has been ongoing since last year when there was an anti-censorship protest, but has speeded up since the one day of protests in July. Last weekend many of these artists were released. Meanwhile the usual posturing by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – Cuba is not a member – has taken place – this time, and unusually, at the Organization of American States (OAS), which Cuba is also a non-member of. Hot air on all sides.

COVID-19: A long and detailed online discussion took place, moderated by the Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ), on the topic of vaccines – it’s on their YouTube channel. Dr. Melody Ennis gave an excellent presentation on the vaccines, addressing the many myths and misconceptions and answering questions. She was preceded by a testimonial from a NHMJ scientist on her experience with COVID-19. She was hospitalized for two weeks and was even at one point close to being intubated. Her account was eye-opening and as she said, “A very frightening experience.”

Describing the hospital staff as “stern but loving,” she and a fellow patient, Kevin Santokie, decided that when they were recovered they would do something positive for the Kingston Public Hospital Ward 3B where they were. They have formed the Santokie Foundation and will be hosting a fundraiser, with the full approval of the South East Regional Health Authority. They have met with the KPH staff and are raising funds to renovate the patient bathrooms and the nurses station. They have already donated oximeters, infrared thermometers and bed linens. If you would like to assist by donating or buying tickets for the fundraiser, please contact Kevin Santokie or Elizabeth Morrison at info@santokiefoundationjamaica.org or 876 833-3065.

Head of the Medical Association of Jamaica Dr. Garth Manning says he would have preferred for all entertainment events that have been approved for the next week or so to be canceled. A “super spreader” alert!

Meanwhile, crowds flocked (or in some places, didn’t) to vaccination centres across the island over the long Emancipation Day holiday weekend. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dunstan Bryan conceded that the Ministry’s target of 50,000 doses to be delivered over the three days had been missed by about 15,000. The “blitz” continues for two more days; hopefully the turnout will improve. But the main worry now is that two or three hospitals are almost at full capacity with COVID beds – more will soon be needed. The University Hospital of the West Indies is now juggling beds to see how they can accommodate everyone, including non-COVID patients.

By the way, it appears that COVID-19 vaccination could well become a workplace issue, as it is already developing in other countries. I am not clear on what the policy is – or might be – regarding government workers. We shall see.

Crime: Senior Superintendent James Forbes made an emotional return to police headquarters on July 28. The intelligent young police officer (well, he was young then, now nearing retirement age) of whom great things were expected became unfortunately entangled into an unpleasant little affair, which wrecked his career back in 2014, when he was found guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice after moderating a meeting between businessman Bruce Bicknell and two police sergeants at his St Andrew office in 2012. Bicknell and Portland Western Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz – who was also charged – were later freed. Forbes went through various appeals and legal processes until eventually the Appeals Court threw out his conviction in February this year. I remember SSP Forbes was a diligent and articulate police officer in charge of the Jamaica Constabulary Force communications unit, Crime Stop, and other duties. Now that he has been reinstated, it appears that he will not remain in the JCF for very long, however.

Culture: Food for the Poor’s annual Summer Band Camp took place again this year; several years ago I visited and wrote about it here. Congratulations to the dedicated Jeffery Brown and to the young people!

Environment: Oops! We did it again! The bauxite company Windalco, the bauxite company, is apparently again to blame and has been served with a “clean it up” notice by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). The beautiful, swirling Rio Cobre river was filled with an evil-looking, stinking brown substance that NEPA described as “caustic.” This is shameful and as I said, not the first time. Why did it happen again?

Fingers are pointed at the bauxite company Windalco, who have yet again polluted the Rio Cobre. It’s more than a “fish kill,” it’s a “couldn’t care less.” And a “slap on the wrist” to come. (Photo: Tanesha Mundle/Gleaner)

Human Rights: A story emerged during the Emancipation Day holiday on August 2 that the rights of a young woman had been abused while in a police lock up at Four Paths, Clarendon, some days ago. Nzinga King, 19, who was attending nursing school, had been held at the Police Station for several days in June after a “disorderly conduct” incident. Her dreadlocks were allegedly cut by a policewoman at the station. Her family are upset and angry and have obtained legal representation.

Police Commissioner Major Antony Anderson has put out a statement, asserting: “While investigations into the matter are ongoing, it must be stated categorically that the cutting of people’s hair – particularly that of Rastafarians – has NO place in the modern JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force).” The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is investigating.

Nzinga King before her locks were allegedly shorn at a police station.

Politics: Why do politicians like to have buildings, highways etc. named after them? Whichever party is involved, it never leaves a good taste in my mouth. A resolution was passed at the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation to name its building after People’s National Party Mayor Bertel Moore, who is currently still holding that position. This has caused considerable upset among Jamaica Labour Party politicians, who boycotted the unveiling ceremony. Really…why? If you have to name the nice building after someone, why not a local hero or historical figure? It seems the height of hubris. I agree with the Jamaica Gleaner editorial on this!

Over 800 people have now been murdered in Jamaica this year (as of July 27, it was 815). This is a staggering number and a seven percent increase over the same period this year. The month of July has been very bloody, with 108 murders in 26 days. The numbers are distressing, and so are the individual stories. These are people, not numbers. My sincere condolences to all those who are grieving at this time.

Doris Gordon, 82, was found in the back yard of her home in Ashoka Road, Olympic Gardens, Kingston, with her throat slashed.

Also in Kingston and on the same day as Ms. Gordon’s murder, 90-year-old retired cricketer Clifton Williams was found with a large wound at the back of his head at his home in Drewsland. His beloved dog Blackie is mourning his loss (see the photo below). Mr. Williams, who retired from work at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, lost his wife in 2018. So very sad.

Mandingo Path in Nannyville, where a community leader was shot dead. (Photo: André Williams/Gleaner)

A known “community leader,” 61-year-old Errol ‘Drama’ Lawrence, was shot dead on Mandingo Path in Nannyville, Kingston.

Ryan Lawrence, 40, a truck driver, was shot dead and his nine-year-old son seriously injured while sitting in a car outside their home on Hildene Avenue, East Kingston.

Dave Nooks, 57, was having a drink at a bar on Brooks Level Road, Kingston 9 on Monday afternoon, when gunmen entered and shot him dead.

A man was shot dead in a bar in Stony Hill Square, St. Andrew also on the holiday afternoon.

Sherika Gordon, 27, was shot dead and a man was injured as she arrived at her home in Little London, Westmoreland.

45 year old Orlando Webb from Brittonville District, Claremont, St. Ann – a licensed firearm holder and security guard – was shot dead early this morning. His partner was taken into custody.

48-year-old farmer Oneil McLean was shot dead on his farm in York Town, Clarendon, in the middle of the morning.

Also in Clarendon, 18-year-old Jermaine Simpson had just returned from a party when he was shot dead in Bucknor, May Pen.

Steven Ottey, 33, of Cash Hill, Hanover, was shot dead.

This photo broke my heart. Blackie, the dog belonging to retiree Mr. Clifton Williams, age 90, who was murdered, is distressed and mourning his loss. I suppose he must have witnessed his master’s murder. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

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