Jamaica seems to have caught B.A.L.M. (Black American Lives Matter) fever.
Jamaicans were all agog about the tragedy of George Floyd’s death and leapt enthusiastically onto American bandwagons proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” when, in reality, not one American protester gave a flying fig about countless Jamaicans with similar fates as George Floyd at the hands of Jamaican security forces. After prompting, Jamaican “protesters”, in desultory demonstrations, condescended to recall Jamaican police injustices.
Apparently there’s hope THIS is the tipping point. This hope has been expressed ad nauseam by TV “Analysts” with genuine emotion clouding reason; black-waggonist preachers delivering condescending clichés in obituaries for a man they never met; ambulance chasers suddenly concerned about the family’s welfare; and politicians anxious to prove how offended they are that institutional racism could possibly exist in USA 150 years after slavery was abolished. OMG!
Reality check: Racism is a human belief born of ignorance and fear. These ignoble companions always resort to hate and violence to overcome insecurity. Until we all return to God, racism won’t be eliminated or reduced. However institutional racism can be defeated. Marches, protests and riots are inevitable, justifiable responses to institutional racism’s actions but not effective change agents.
Let’s take a REAL look at Black American history through the prism of its protests against institutional racism and then compare it with real Jamaican Black history whose experience with institutional racism has been distorted by cruel chimeras of classism and religious intolerance.
Surely, even in the Instagram age, everybody knows USA’s history of slavery which, upon abolition, white America pledged to continue through laws giving police power to keep “negroes” subjugated through violence? Everybody knows what Jim Crow was; what the “Chitlin circuit” was; and how racial segregation was LAW in USA until changes were forced by the advocacy and activism of philosophically varied movements influenced by icons like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Miriam Makeba’s Trinidadian husband Kwame Ture (a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael) and Angela Davis.
In 1967/68 protests were met with excessive police force especially in Miami, Chicago and Detroit. In 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” during hearings about “crime”. Civil rights leaders reacted angrily. Howard University Professor Clarence Lusane accused Headley of “a long history of bigotry against the black community”.
Lusane: “NAACP and other black organizations had for years complained about [Miami police] treatment of the black community. At this hearing, in discussing how he would deal with what he called CRIME AND THUGS [my emphasis]and threats by young black people, he issued this statement that the reason Miami had [no] riots up to that point, was because of the message he sent out that ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’”.
FIFTY-THREE YEARS later, a USA President plagiarizes that bigoted Miami Police Chief’s words in a violent tweet against demonstrators currently protesting police oppression. And a Jamaican captain of commerce famously “likes” the tweet.
Has anything changed?
After “race riots” in 1967, the 11-member Kerner Commission, chaired by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner Jnr, was asked to investigate. The following testimony was given to that Commission by social scientist Kenneth Clark:
“I read the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago. It’s as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem Riot of 1935; the report of the Investigating Committee of the Harlem Riot of 1943; the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts Riot .
“I must again in candor say to you…..it’s a kind of Alice in Wonderland with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again; the same analysis; the same recommendations; and the same inaction.”
The Kerner Commission again recommended police de-militarization and broad reinvestment in marginalized communities.
Had anything changed? MLK forced the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, three years before the 1967 “riots” became the only way black voices against continued institutionalized racism could be heard.
Has anything changed?
By the time Barack Obama became President in 2008, NOTHING had changed. His incremental demilitarization of the police has been systematically reversed by Donald Trump. This EXACT recommendation is what’s now being called “defunding of the police” in classic Goebbels-style propaganda to drum up votes for the continuation of institutionalized racism.
How many of the Instagram generation know of 1963’s blot on Jamaica’s black history called the “Coral Gardens Massacre”? Rastafarians were terrorized, arrested, tortured and three killed as police reacted to an attempted gas station burning. A subsequent Inquiry into police administrative affairs resulted in one being demoted (for “negligence”), transferred to Kingston and put on desk work; another being transferred to Jamaica’s Eastern end while his supervisor was promoted to Superintendent.
It wasn’t until the Public Defender’s 2011 investigation that any Inquiry was held into Rastafarians’ complaints. The 2015 Report included “the public defender believes [Jamaica] must confront not just the State’s treatment of a specific community but also how the majority of the community treated with a minority of its members who did not share the beliefs of the majority. A maturing democracy demands this process of discovery….as a small measure to ensure there are no repeats…..”
That report recommended financial reparations for injuries, abuses and deaths caused by government’s actions. Government issued an apology in 2017. Neither addressed the fundamental underlying issue of police mistreatment of minorities.
In May 1997, four citizens died after police clashed with gunmen in West Kingston. Nothing was done. Four years later, TWENTY-FIVE civilians were killed in Tivoli Gardens after a military-style invasion allegedly searching for guns and wanted men. In May 2010, at least SEVENTY-THREE civilians were killed by invading security forces in Tivoli Gardens using military-style warfare tactics allegedly to execute an extradition arrest warrant on one Christopher “Dudus” Coke.
Despite two separate commissions of inquiry NOTHING HAS CHANGED. The much ballyhooed second Commission of Inquiry recommended, inter alia, “further investigations” which have produced NOTHING; “counselling”; compensation (pablum for the masses); and administrative reviews of officers involved. Not a word appeared addressing the endemic problem within security forces of rampant corruption and utter disregard for the lives of those unable to afford uptown residence.
With apologies to Emperor Haile Selassie (and Bob), until the philosophy that holds security forces superior and civilians inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war. Jamaica’s police force is so deeply infected by community spread of corruption and inhumanity that only dissolution and reconstruction can cause any meaningful change.
Instead government boasts of increased investment in the expansion and fortifying of a JCF devoted to corruption and brutality. Really? Seriously? Why the “reluctancy” to budget instead for social intervention in troubled communities and upgraded police training to address realities of community policing? The JCF mission, as advertised on the NatSec Ministry’s website, is “to serve, protect and reassure with courtesy, integrity and respect for the rights of all”. When? How?
The nature and character of the JCF didn’t change on Friday morning when gunmen allegedly led by a deportee, former US Marine, with evil in his heart, ambushed a police unit on an intelligence-driven operation seeking guns and gunmen and slaughtered at least two using high-powered weapons including an M-16 that shredded “protective” vests. That egregious attack on the State has resulted in families, colleagues and friends plunged into mourning. I mourn with them. I also mourn with the families and friends of Mario Deane, Susan Bogle, Vanessa Kirkland, Michael Gayle and many others whose ultimate fate at the hands of security forces has been as devastating.
The “ambush” itself raises questions. How was Damion Hamilton allegedly able to surprise a squad of eleven policemen at 4:30 a.m; kill two; and send two more to hospital in critical condition? Anyone believe he acted alone? He evidently had help. He obviously knew they were coming. Did he have help with him in the house? Or outside? Or both?
We might never know because, within hours, Damion Hamilton was shot dead by police (possibly with Old Testament justice on their minds) after he allegedly opened fire on them (again) this time with just a pistol.
Dead men tell no tales.
So, excitable media commentators predicting real change shouldn’t hold their breath. Institutional racism knows public protest won’t last long. So, after initially responding with fear-fuelled suppression, it’ll just allow protesters to vent until they’re spent. Some intelligent white policemen will kneel with protesters; hold hands; and pretend support. Then it’ll be business as usual.
Minorities have only one effective strategy in the war against institutional racism. It’s EDUCATION.
Institutional racism isn’t driven by institutions. It’s driven by people who control institutions. The only path to real change is for children of minority parents to eventually control these institutions. Parents of minority children must strive to give them what Colin Powell’s parents gave him. By. Any. Means. Necessary. Over time their children will lead organizations now perpetuating institutional racism including courts, parliaments, law enforcement, media and large corporations.
Only then will outlawing, marginalization and deploring of Institutional Racism be reality not pretense. The diversity of current worldwide protests give me hope that MAYBE, this time, we’ll stop repeating past strategies and expecting a different result. The good news is bigotry has a glaring weakness that’s eminently exploitable by minorities. That weakness is its devout belief in its inherent superiority. Bigots don’t believe they need education. So while they sleep under the influence of moonshine with pet goat and shotgun nearby, minorities must educate themselves to power.
So, compelling public protest fuelling cable news ratings is NOT the Revolution. The Revolution will NOT be televised. The Revolution will happen quietly. Unforeseen. Unexpected. Unopposed. It’ll come through a transformation of EDUCATION from teaching to pass standardized exams to teaching for life.
THAT’s my vision for Jamaica land we all love.
Peace and Love