It has not been a good week; not for the environment (permits were issued for the mining in Cockpit Country to go ahead) – or for human rights. On Wednesday, February 9, after a wait of around seven months, our Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn announced that she is recommending that no criminal charges be brought against the policewoman accused of cutting the locks of a young woman in custody at Four Paths Police Station last summer. Before Nzinga King even reached the station, she had been reportedly pepper sprayed by the police inside the taxi cab she was traveling in on June 29, 2021. She may even be charged with public mischief, it is reported.
Nzinga King was the complainant in this matter. However, in the eyes of some local reporters (and social media observers) she might just as well have been the defendant, and been found guilty. This was a classic case of victim blaming. Considering the very confusing and inconclusive bits of evidence (with testimony from people who were nowhere near her at the time being taken into account?) revealed in the media, I did not expect anything different from the DPP, nor am I suggesting she or INDECOM are blaming Ms. King. No. It is some elements in society.
By the way, although Ms. Llewellyn said she concurred with the report by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) on the alleged lock-cutting and the incident with a male policeman beforehand, the INDECOM report has not been made public, to date. I should add, however, that both the DPP and INDECOM heads appeared quite empathetic when discussing it during several interviews; they simply said to prosecute was a “no go.” The DPP recommended counseling and said pursuing civil redress would be an option.
For me, it is not so much about the legal niceties of the matter. I don’t really want to comment on those, because I have zero legal training, apart from what I have picked up from various American courtroom dramas! It is the question of discrimination and what the Prime Minister calls “unequalness” that truly bothers me.
Why do I say this? Nzinga had several counts against her from the start:
She is young. Young people in general are neglected and their voices ignored in this society, apart from a privileged few who win awards (and congratulations to them, I hope they make the most of their recognition by the grown ups). Young people rarely have a seat at the table when important issues such as climate change (which will affect them the most) are being discussed; or they are segregated into “youth forums,” “youth parliaments,” and the like. Or they are simply labeled “unattached youth” or “youth at risk,” which means that no one knows what to do with them.
She is black. A cute, light-skinned “browning” would not get the same treatment from the police or from any other agent of the state, come to that. Yes, we know racism exists in Jamaica; let’s not pretend (and as racism does, it works in various ways).
She is poor. She could not pay the fine for breaching the Disaster Risk Management Act (not wearing a mask) and so had to stay in the police lock-up for ten days. Her mother paid the fine a few days later. Poverty is a crime, in itself.
She is Rastafari. To our great shame, followers of the Rastafari religion are, in daily life, still scorned and discriminated against in many places and communities. Prime Minister Holness apologized for the 1963 attacks in Coral Gardens back in 2017, and this was greatly welcomed. However, what has changed in people’s attitudes? The police are no different from some other Jamaicans (not all) in their discrimination against Rastafari – for which Jamaica is famous, and which is much touted to foreigners and tourists as the essence of our island’s culture and heritage. The irony!
She is a woman. She is a woman. Oh, and a “feisty” one at that (or “facety” as Jamaicans pronounce it). The worst kind.
She is a rural dweller. It always seems to me (correct me if I am over-reaching here) that rural folks are generally more marginalised than urban residents in Jamaica. Rural poverty levels have consistently been higher than in the towns and cities. When I pass through some small rural communities and see young people sitting under trees, and seniors isolated on their verandahs, I get a sense that they have been forgotten (except at election time, of course). Even during the height of the COVID pandemic and the rush to get vaccinated, they were almost an afterthought. We tend to overly romanticize country life in Jamaica.
Here is a perspective from human rights lobby group Stand Up for Jamaica:
Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) is shocked by the ruling from the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Paula Llewellyn in the case involving 19 year old Princess Nzinga King, who was allegedly unlawfully trimmed while in custody at the Four Paths Police Station. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has recommended that no criminal charges will be against the female constable in respect of allegations made by Nzinga King. This has triggered outrage across the island as this may represent another incident of discrimination and violation of human rights in Jamaica.
Stand Up for Jamaica has witnessed similar episodes in the past towards minorities and Rastafari children. It is a worrying trend where the victims blamed for their own trauma. We are appealing for it to stop NOW before it is too late.
We are in 2022. Why are we here?
This incident is a reliving of the Coral Gardens massacre in 1963, where Rastafari were detained and their dreadlocks trimmed as part of the state’s discrimination and abuse of Rastafari. We are also reminded of the Supreme Court ruling on the eve of Emancipation in 2020, which upheld the right of Kensington Primary to deny a child a place in their school on the basis of her dreadlocks.
We must not allow the continued abuse of Jamaicans, especially African-Jamaicans.
We learnt that evidence about locks trimming is not there and that Nzinga may have done it by herself.
We did not hear about the trauma of a 19 years-old young girl slammed on the media.
We also learnt that one of the recommendations is to send her to counseling sessions. Where is her trauma is coming from? What have these past months of stress meant for her mindset?
We want to know what Jamaicans really think on such matters – and if they believe that the ruling is correct.
Send us your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to hear from you all!
For more information, contact:
Executive Director, Stand Up For Jamaica Carla Gullotta
131 Tower St
On May 28, 2021, the Prime Minister said, in the context of COVID-19 protocols, that “the law will be applied equally to everyone.” Three months later, his Agriculture Minister was caught out enjoying a birthday party during lockdown and resigned with humble apologies. Earlier this year, the DPP announced that no charges would be laid against him and his fellow revelers. Even before that, the Minister had been brought back into the fold as a “Minister Without Portfolio.” That was Jamaica’s “Partygate”; while Boris Johnson may not get away with his “bring your own booze” sessions and champagne bottles, our Minister did.
In June last year, the Prime Minister had said, no doubt with sincerity:
“There is a particular situation that has come on our radar this morning. One that I have to pay careful attention to, because it throws up something with which we are always contending; the unequalness of the society – the haves and the have nots.”Office of the Prime Minister: “The Law will be applied equally” – PM (June 9, 2021)
But no; I am not shocked. However, along with Stand Up for Jamaica, I simply ask the question: “Why are we here, in 2022?”