simon-bull
Social Commentary

Jamaica: A Crime Story

In print media this week and last week there was a flurry of articles and letters to editors responding to the 19% increase in crime over last year; that is an average of seven killings per day since June. The crime rate was this high only during the 2010 West Kingston operation. If the news wasn’t leading with the the rains it was leading with the murders.

On Thursday June 15 The Gleaner’s Letter of the Day went to a writer who gave a 360 perspective on crime. The article stated three main social institutions that our culture has eroded: the community, the police and the justice system. A long time ago I read a psychological test written by Sharon Leach for The Sunday Observer’s Bookends, and upon remembering this along with the Letter of the Day, I decided to make my own test:

A young man who is in his final year at university leaves his friend’s house at night and heads to a bus stop no more than two minutes away to wait for a taxi that he’d called. On his way there he is robbed at gunpoint for his valuables: his cellphone and his laptop. The robber is a known member of a gang in the community and so no one dares to engage him. The young man pleads with the robber stating that he has important information on his cellphone and laptop but the robber insists that if he cooperates he will not be harmed. A struggle ensues and the young man is shot and injured. Persons in the community who hear the cries for help offer assistance to the young man who is eventually taken to the hospital in critical condition. A report is filed at the police station by the young man’s mother and paperwork is submitted by the officer on duty which is then stacked with a pile of others in the station detective’s office. Two weeks goes by, the mother visits the police station everyday and is told that the superintendent now has the case. Another week goes by, the thief strikes again and is arrested. In the three months that the thief awaits his court date, the young man dies at the hospital. The criminal then goes to trial and is acquitted because there were no witnesses who would testify. The thief is given bail and subsequently freed.

My question is: who is to be blamed for the student’s death and in what order? The community, the student, the police, the friend or the justice system?

Some people would blame the friend. It is obvious that crime is not new to his community so wouldn’t it be wise to be mindful of the study time if his friend is coming over? Even so, maybe the thief would be less inclined to attack a stranger if he was walking with a community member. Notice that the student did not for a minute consider staying the night with his friend and leaving in the morning, perhaps because he was never suppose to be at his friend’s home in the first place. Clearly this friend was not one willing to face repercussions from his/her parents for his schoolmate.

But we can also look at the community. A stranger is being robbed and everyone passing turns a blind eye. There isn’t the idea that if they form a herd to protect this young man the lone thief will flee. Obviously no one wants to put their life in danger where they could be tracked down and harassed either by the gang members or by the police as a witness to this crime. The cowardly community only offers assistance after the young man has been shot and after the thief has fled.

We can also look at the gunman himself. Why couldn’t he leave the young student alone, he is obviously not well off, what does he have to offer? And why steal a student’s laptop? It is a tool that holds the key to his university degree and to his future; and to make it worse he not only steals the young man’s valuables but to ensure that he is not chased, he shoots the victim who is unarmed.

Then there is the young man himself. Why leave your friend’s home when it is well known that the streets are not safe at night? And why fight for material things when your life is in danger? Another phone can be bought, notes and projects can be replaced from friends and from memory and if not, summer school can be attended if he happens to fail at school because of this setback. He however cannot do any of these things if he is dead.

Then there are those who will say the justice system is the first to blame. The defense obviously didn’t try hard enough to get other evidence, for example, forensic evidence (which in all fairness is an understaffed and overworked sub-sector in Jamaica), in the court but instead chose to rely completely on witness statements which the witnesses themselves could not even back up in court. And why was there this long delay, three months, to deal with a petty crime? The delay was so long that the young man not only lost his life but also received no justice because he could not attend his own trial.

Finally, of course there are the police officers. There was no sense of urgency to solve the crime. What if the criminal did not strike again? I am sure they would not have made an arrest otherwise. But more importantly, It is obvious that the police-community relationship is very poor and that the community lacks confidence in the force. How else could the gang have such as strong hold over the residents? Even though the creation of the ‘informer culture’ in Jamaica basically went like this, it should be known that police officers are really only as goods as their informants.

In the end I guess this is not so much a psychological test but a cautionary tale: there are always different sides to a story, there are always different perspectives, but for the victim ignorance is never an excuse, you are always first responsible for your welfare. It really does take a village to raise a child and for 2017, based on the crime statistics, that child now more than ever, is Jamaica. — Bless.

[cover art by: Simon Bull

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russ-mills
Social Commentary

Society likes Labels but claims to be Fluid | A Rant

I am a daddy’s girl. When I was younger I liked to go with him into houses on weekends where he would do electrical work. While he was in the ceiling or on a light post I was on the ground passing tools to him even before he asked for them and if I came back home clean and spotless that was a fail for me. I hoped to have more qualities from my father than my mother (not because I love my mother any less) only because I was and still am, a daddy’s girl. I liked going with him rather than playing with dolls or learning cheers. In fact, every doll I had I cut her hair, stripped her dress and marked her body with ink, giving her a new birth.

Maybe this sounds like the intro to: …and now this is my ‘coming out’ story. But no. I am just a tomboy. Even now still. Today’s society tells me the opposite though and if I did not have my head on my shoulders, this article would probably be a very different one.

Impatience

I am yet to grow into wanting to wear heels instead of sneakers; I generally respect more males that I do females; I look for friends instead of boyfriends; make-up does not interest me, I liken it to heart surgery… and it has always been this way. I still wait patiently for my late maturity into womanhood or whatever but some people have me all figured out already, it seems.

It’s great that we are more open to gender identities: lesbians, gays, transgenders, bisexuals and queers have organizations that stand up for them and we are more tolerant than dismissive more than ever before however, there is a drawback. When there are so many identities and lifestyles people feel the need to define you early.

Back in April there was a New York Times article entitled, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy,” where a father comes to the defense of his 7 year-old daughter who most mistake for a boy. Too often he’s had to handle people’s confusion. He writes:

“I just wanted to check,” the teacher said. “Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again?”…While celebrating the diversity of sexual and gender identities, we also need to celebrate tomboys and other girls who fall outside the narrow confines of gender roles.

The common consensus I have seen is because I do not behave like a girl therefore I am something else. Too many labels. Too much impatience. And one consequence of impatience is that one may end up like Snoop (from HBO’s The Wire) who was a tomboy until she was  ‘turnt out’ by her uncle. Unreal.

Perversions

On top of the labels are fear masquerading as values, and hypocrisy. It seems gone are the days when if a male wore a bright pretty pink shirt, people joked about it and moved on, maybe gone are the days too when a girl could wear a big shirt and hammer pants and not get double takes. Now apparently that type of ‘behaviour’ advertises your sexual orientation (yes, but not all the time) and may even create aggression/hostility and rejection. I see a trend were face value is taken so seriously it breeds ignorance. Example, some males won’t eat fish (transpose fish for bag juice if you wish) in public because people will believe that they are a ‘fish’/gay. Who endorses this sh!t?

On the other end of the scale are those who commercialize this ‘new’ sexuality. I see that pretending to be someone who you are not– females wearing boxers for show, males wearing makeup– and even going as far  to create stories to add to the fake brand, just to seem more interesting, because mystery is good for business. No. It is an insult. If you ever feel that strong a need to pretend to be somebody else then you should not have been born in the first place.

People ask who they are a lot. I look to my parents for that answer even though they wanted me, still want me, to be more like my sister. Daddy did not like me coming with him even though he never said it in so many words– “why you do that to the dolly?”– he was still hoping I would get over the phase. He is still hoping. But even for him, this daddy’s girl is not going to rush into ‘womanhood’ because it’s the thing to do, I am not going to humour the jokes that my mind is telling me that I am one thing because of the clothes I wear. Bullsh!t. And listen, I may very well be queer or what ever else but best believe I am ‘coming out’ when God says that I am ready, not when man does. And based on how I think He works, that day will never come. — Bless.

[cover art by: Russ Mills]

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Social Commentary

Yo Adulthood, Where are You?

The law says I am of the age but the truth is that I don’t feel like an adult at all. Is adulthood: having relationships were you acknowledge instead of ignore the shades of grey in people, pushing your own key, being more rational than impulsive, living in a world where you read The Gleaner instead of The Star?  Is it all of these or is it none of these? Nowadays I am slowly realizing that even though the topic of knowing who you are along with understanding your dreams and putting those two factors together to drive success is deeply internal and personal for everyone it is also a generational thing too. And no, knowing that everyone is kinda going through what I am going through doesn’t help as much as I need it to.

We are Rewriting the Norm

The world is too busy applying  pressure, giving us less time us figure out this adult thing. We are growing up in a time where the average university student graduates at age 22 and success  is expected immediately thereafter — Zuckerberg became a millionaire at 23, the average trackstar or artiste is 24 — so we end up achieving more but maturing slower. A New York Times article speaks of current young people saying that:

The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments…  forestalling the beginning of adult life.

ludwick-marishaneLudwick Marishane became the youngest person to hold a patent in Africa. He started his own business aged 18.

Being in our 20’s today is much different from 20 year olds of the past. We feel less rush to marry and settle down with children because of the general acceptance of casual sex, domestic/co-living and as well the fact that we’ve been disillusioned with marriage from seeing how that ended for our parents. Selfishly careers come first then life later. The article goes on to  blame our lack of development on our closeness to our parents: we have more opportunities but it doesn’t feel like it because we are walking home in the shoes that daddy bought us and going to the university that mommy said we should… but what does this all mean?

Too Cool to Too Cold

I think it all means that we don’t develop as fast as we should nor do we feel the need to. To explain, I personally feel like I am trying too hard but I also feels like I’m not trying at all. For example: I find myself watching my facial expressions when I am around other people, I check to see if my introversion will pop up as something that is rude or something that demands pity because the popular consensus is that introverts should be saved from talking in public… I struggle with the urge to sit and sulk rather than talk to people who are talking to me; small talk annoys me, it makes me too aware of how boring I feel to other people and it makes me feel the need to put on a face to impress…  I fight with the urge to end friendships because I have mild anxiety that people are waiting for me to loosen up, to give less reticent answers, to surprise them, only they don’t know that this is all they will ever get  from me…

But I also have prejudices against others: I loathe when extroverts come around me because it feel like their peeling me a part whole. They ask too many questions. I never really know what they want… I also don’t think of marriage, I don’t think of boyfriends the way other girls do. People who do this are to me, setting a death trap for themselves… 

Most of what I listed above are personality traits but a lot of it is selfishness, and a lot of this selfishness is something a lot of young people suffer from (in different but no less strange ways from those on my list) and a lot of it  is being normalised.

For example, I sit with my friends at a table for lunch and looking around I see people will talk for 20 minutes out of a 1 hour lunch and the rest of the time they spend on their phones being somewhere else. There is a laziness, an apathy for us to connect, to form concrete relationships and keep those relationships solid over time with people who are not currently in our immediate circle.

So back to my question of what adulthood should feel like. Am I just a product of my time where too much attention from the adults has made me soft, dispassionate and slow to see the light? Or am I an a$$hole who uses my personality as an excuse to keep myself shielded from exposure — exposure that is necessary to crack, break, set and remould childish ways to reveal the adult in me?  OR should I just shut up, stop rambling and realize that maturity is an ongoing process, not a fixed destination, and that continuously striving for self improvement is the cycle of life? #MutlipleChoiceStyle. Lemme know what you think. — Blessings

[cover image: Kaye Parmenter]

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Social Commentary

The Perfect Storm that is Haiti

Before the earthquake in 2010 I knew very little about Haiti. I only had loose, incomplete thoughts that it was  a struggling nation without much to offer the world in terms of resources. Fast forward six years and new pages have been added to the same story. The only time the Republic appears in the news is in times of  conflict, disease or disaster. This type of news coverage is rivaled only by the poorest of African states.

This week we once again turn to Haiti and the recycled sadness and fascination is in our voices when we mention Hurricane Matthew which wrecked havoc on the country 2 weeks ago. The death count the last time I heard it was 900.

Similar to poor countries in Central Africa, money often pours into Haiti in times of high conflict and there is  also the willingness of overseas volunteer workers to help out on the ground yet when an earthquake or a hurricane comes, the country is never more prepared than before. Maybe we should brace ourselves for another country that will eternally need the world’s help.

History Maketh Man

Preparation has never really been a quality Haiti had in abundance though. Based on my readings even before the Duvaliers’, Haiti had some hard times. Their “taken” Emancipation sacrificed land and crops and France’s reparation fee made them indebted to the USA for decades. Sure there was a tiny period of growth but in the 1960’s the Duvaliers officially began ruined Haiti. Similar to countries like  Ghana, Congo and Sierra Leone during Africa’s “Lost Decade” in the 80’s – 90’s, Papa Doc and Baby Doc raised and maintained a vicious and relentless army, the Tonton Macoutes, to silently bury the freedoms and rights of Haitians while they siphoned international aid and donations from the national budget. You know, normal dictator stuff.

According to Von Tunzelmann’s historical book Red Heat, which studies the Caribbean political scene during the 1950s and 1960s, “the Duvaliers were at times embezzling up to 80% of Haiti’s international aid.”  Tunzelmann also states that when Baby Doc fled the country he toppled the inefficient but stable government that without him ran itself into the ground.  Riots and coups were sporadic until the earthquake… now the hurricane. With a history like that how does Haiti  make a comeback?

International Aid- sometimes shadowed in Disingenuity.

It is understood that Baby Doc was a big fan of NGO’s so he created an environment for them to thrive in and this environment is still in Haiti today. This dependence does have its downsides though. One volunteer worker described in this New York Times article that he felt disconnected in the expensive cars and the lavish houses aid workers were given while helping the poor. He explains feeling as if his aid was spectacle at times, manipulated by the media to benefit him more than the people he was helping.

This is the main problem Haiti faces. People who come to help really only offer hand outs and the massive amounts of money given to help goes through so many hands that nothing much comes of it. After the earthquake in 2010, according to American correspondent to Haiti, CNN journalist Jonathan Katz:

93% of the money [raised for Haiti] went to foreign aid agencies, including the United Nations. Granted, the Haitian government was too weak to handle massive recovery efforts just after the quake but in subsequent months… the money should have been channeled to Haitians who know best how to rebuild their own country.

Sadly even in 2016, Haiti’s democracy has been slow to build. The history of corruption and looting has made the country skittish and cynical about its governance. 2 Prime Ministers and 1 President have quit in the last 8 years, each citing either a high level of distrust, inefficiency or unreliability between government members as well as the state. This is truly a broken country but it could be worse.

As bad as things are, Haiti’s exchange rate is far better than most of Africa’s. To put it into perspective, today 1 Haitian Gourde will get you just under 2 Jamaican Dollars. But most importantly, whereas Africa’s highly politicized economies and infamous crimes against foreigners has lead to “donor fatigue,” Haiti is still lucky. Donors are far more willing to help if nature, not a country’s people are identified as the main catalyst for misery. But how long will the currency and the world’s interest last? I say to all those who have  given up on Haiti, things are not as bad as they seem… for now. Help in the most proactive way you can think of and if in fact Haiti is speeding down the proverbial rabbit hole in the same way that most countries in Central Africa did almost 40 years ago, the least we can do is to stop kicking them down faster than they are going.

Footnotes: So, Gavin Wisdom was in the news again. “The suicidal cop” as he is often called, has finally decided to confess his discomfort with the corrupt, prejudiced and belittling activities of a Clarendon Police department via the medium of the The Star. I don’t think that Wisdom realizes that his chances of rejoining the force with a promotion (something he wants) and dismantling the system that will (now more than ever) want nothing to do with him (after he has humiliated his colleagues and superiors, twice) are two completely different things. Either quit the force and handle grievances professionally and maturely or suck it up and fight the good fight slowly and quietly like the rest of us. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, sir.

[cover art: Michael Lang]

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Social Commentary

Everybody Loves Skin: The Summer Cycle of Jamaican Beauty Pageants

Beauty has always been synonymous with summer and summer has always been synonymous was sensuality. Exposure is expected, so are frivolous love affairs and the normalized laziness that is advertised but contrasting these things are the sitcoms of pageantry.

The fact that the two major beauty pageants in Jamaica coincide with bikini season may not just be a coincidence. Beauty pageants have always been a right of passage for the tall, pretty girl with the summer body; you are upgraded to being beautiful if you are university educated and is selfless. Those who enter pageants solely based on their Instagram push- usually their followers fail to make the distinction between social media versus real life- may be in a class on their own, but once these women are selected and sashed as contestants, they must play parts in the show. Always smile, be poised, show girl power, chin up, it’s summer and you are now a brand representing a brand.

In the last six years the Miss Jamaica Universe brand has managed to grow above all other local pageants. It has produced a fifth place finish in Miss Universe with Kaci Fennell in 2014 and a second place finish with Yendi Phillips in 2010. Miss Jamaica World has yet to crack the top four in Miss World since Lisa Hanna’s win in 1993.

The beauty with brains tagline gives pageants modernity but make no mistake, brains are not the deciding factor. This was recently demonstrated when Krystal Tomlinson was overlooked for a top 5 placing in the Miss Jamaica World 2015 competition after taking home the sectional prizes of Most Aware, Most Congenial and Beauty in Business. The message was sent with clarity that year: brains before beauty should be left for Festival Queens.

RWkrystaltomlinsonD20151104

Krystal Tomlinson, 2016 (image source).

The controversy was substantial but short lived, as are most of the components that make up Miss Jamaica competitions. Even the bikini segment does not hold a treat like it used to (Miss Teen USA plans to swap bikinis for athletic wear in 2017 because to them tights are better than skin). For one, Instagram has become a technique for overnight models and personal trainers (strength, noo weakness!) to show their qualifications, I am just too spoilt now. Forgettable too are the women who win Miss Jamaica. They disappear from our lives, they go off into the obscure wind that we never saw coming in the first place and land back in the magical place that they were before we knew them. If we are lucky sometimes they pop up at some social lunch branded with sash and crown, else we might not know who they are. A top 5 placement in the overseas pageant offers redemption though. Suddenly Miss Jamaica graduates from ornament to brand ambassador overnight and we welcome them home with open arms.

Recently the competitions have been trying to add layers. They are morphing into the sitcom that wants to add more appeal so it tries to cross over into other genres, it gets grittier, or gives us a film noir flavour but the audience does not buy it. The new thing for Miss Jamaica pageants is social impact.

As far as pageants go the Miss World Organisation has given approximately £250M to children’s charities worldwide while Miss America builds its reputation on being the world’s largest provider of female scholarships. Our Jamaican girls do not just make themselves known  to their charities because of the upcoming pageant a year in advance, there is a genuine interest for the well being of their community why they usually raise the most money to date during their pageant campaign. The media and sponsors,  the radical feminists and jealous weight watchers who ask, “why  is Miss Jamaica still a thing? ” seem to misunderstand this influence.

For one, a lot of organisers have been reluctant to support Miss Jamaica World as today I count less than 10 major sponsors on their website even though the competition been going for forty years strong. This could explain why on their web page they do not offer but ask for donations to the charities that they endorse. Their older sibling has 20 plus sponsors yet just only recently found it’s  motherly instincts when it created the Miss Jamaica Universe GO GETTER charity in 2015.

It is still a surprise that after the pageants’s efforts to add layers the Disney princess effect still reigns supreme. I only seem a catch a segment of the competitions some time after 11 pm when I am dozing (t.v. advertising for the coronation night has been on a consistent decline I’ve noticed), but I am still in awe of the beauty that I see. Blame it on the  season, it makes us go wild for beauty and nothing else really. When I see the bevy of girls with their toned legs gliding in ball room gowns under perfect lighting, tossing their hair back to whip around to show teeth, other things fade, it’s like magic! Summer makes me push aside questions of the competitions’ necessity, ‘forgetability’, female objectification and half-hearted efforts at social impact. I am eating a fruit basket on a beach listening to Bob Marley tell me to stir it up. In the summer I enjoy the view. In the summer I enjoy the sitcom that comes on every night with out fail. I find my self musing at the predictability of it all yet I wait for the punch line in every episode.

Footnotes: On Emancipation day 2016 police were summoned to Johns Hall, a Williamsfield district in St James, to find two dead bodies. One body they would have recognized as that of 19 year old Devane James, a man who they had questioned and released earlier that day regarding the mysterious disappearance of the second body. At the scene the police saw that the second man had become a corpse, the body was was identified as that of Devane’s father. The story goes that after the police had released Devane, some community members were unsatisfied so they trailed him, harassed him, digged around his house, his yard, found his father’s decomposing body in his his back yard and Devane was hacked to death by a mob. I guess my point is that it never fails to puzzle me how Jamaican residents always seem to outshine the police department when it comes to commitment to a cause (even though their idea of ‘justice’ involves defending the honour of an already dead man). As for Devane James, someone should have told him that heartlessness is useless unless paired with common sense.


 

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