Right Steps & Poui Trees


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What Will It Look Like When Enough Really Gets To Be Enough?

In October 2005, Jamaica was dealing with the news of the death of Sasha Kay Brown, a 10-year-old girl who died with her grandparents and aunt, when masked men firebombed her grandparents’ house on Barnes Avenue and then stood guard to prevent anyone from coming to the rescue of the family. Neighbours told of hearing the child screaming for help and saying that she was going to die, but not being able to respond to her cries.

A few weeks ago, in March Pen Road three children – ages 2, 9 and 14 – and two women were killed in an attack on them and their home, which ended with the house being burnt down. A 15-year-old girl and another adult were also shot and injured during the attack. According to the accounts, it seems to have been a horrific deadly blend of family and gang violence. The man who allegedly led the attack is in police custody and has been charged with 5 counts of murder and other crimes.

In an interview on Nationwide News, Horace Levy said that in all his years with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), since it began in 2002, this was the worst scene in a community that he had ever visited.

Enough is enough. It has been enough for very many years in Jamaica. We have said it at so many points about so many acts of violence, with commitments to make sure that it never happens again. And there are people at various points in the society, in various spheres, who work for the end to the violence that scars our society. PMI is one such.

What will it look like when enough really is enough? Is it gradual persistent change from many different points, addressing the various problems that allow, encourage, support this violence? Or is it one big dramatic event resulting in change? Is it ultimately a problem to be solved at governmental, community or individual level or a combination of all three?

Jamaica is a violent society, though many contest that it is, questioning how widespread the violence is geographically, looking at the types of violence that are most pervasive, pointing to positives about our country and society.

Last week, we continued to be confronted with violence and its consequences as the court case in the murder of 17-year-old Khajeel Mais ended and 14-year-old Nicholas Francis, a Jamaica College student, was stabbed and killed on a bus by a man who was trying to steal his phone.

Will the outrage being expressed be translated into the actions that will effectively protect people, including the children? Will the voices of the students standing in solidarity and protest be heard by Jamaica’s adults and result in effective action?

As we act going forward, one thing we need to consider is the way in which, as a society, we approve of or tolerate some acts of violence and whether this approval/tolerance has an impact on creating an environment in which violence thrives more broadly and more extremely. Mob violence against suspects in crimes? Extrajudicial killings by police/police squads as a method of dealing with crime? Hitting & beating of children as punishment? Some instances of marital rape not being clearly prohibited in law and being accepted by some on religious grounds? Acceptance that sometimes a man is right to hit his wife, baby mother, girlfriend? The state carrying out the death penalty as part of the justice system?

When you place a piece of laundry blue in a basin of clear water, eventually it spreads to colour all the water in the basin. Does the same happen with tolerance of violence?

 

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The Things You Leave Behind: Weekly Photo Challenge – Transmogrify

Transmogrify: to change in appearance or form, especially strangely or grotesquely; transform.

What happens to the things you leave behind? The little statue that stands inside your front door, that no-one particularly wants after you are gone? That ends up in the corner of someone else’s garden, exposed to years of sun and wind and rain?statue-head-in-colour

Exposure to the elements transmogrifies…statue-black-and-white

Click here to see other submissions for Weekly Photo Challenge – Transmogrify


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Crimes Committed by People on Bail: An Access to Information Story

Jamaica’s Access to Information (ATI) Act was passed in 2002 and I believe, despite some of the weaknesses which remain in its provisions, it is an extremely important and potentially powerful tool for members of the public.

The following objectives are stated in the legislation:ati-act-objectives

In addition to some problems with the legislation itself, there can be challenges to getting the requested information. Sometimes use of the Act goes smoothly; sometimes it does not. Here’s a recent and still ongoing experience of mine.

June 17, 2016

minister-montagueI heard a radio news report  about a speech that the Minister of National Security Robert Montague had given at a function the day before, in which he had made comments about people committing crimes while on bail and the need to make changes to the Bail Act because of this.

By email, I made the following request to the Ministry of National Security (MNS) under the provisions of the ATI Act:

I would like to make an ATI request for all data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc regarding people on bail who have allegedly committed further offences while on bail.

I heard Minister Montague on a clip on the news today giving some figures at an event yesterday, which I hope would be included in the information I am requesting.

I received this response from MNS:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your Access to Information Request, which will be processed and dealt with accordingly.

I heard nothing further for two months.

 August 18, 2016

I received an email from MNS:

I am hereby making the request for an extension of time to supply information regarding your requests, the request was dispatched for the attention of the respective party that would probably have such information in their possession. However, the information has not yet been provided to this office. Thank you

September 6, 2016

I sent the following response to MNS:

I note your request for an extension of time in providing the information I requested on June 17. However, given that this request was made 60 days since I made my request, I will be referring this to the Appeal Tribunal. 
I also note that no valid reason has been given for this delay.
That same day, I filed a request for an appeal before the ATI Appeal Tribunal.

September 9, 2016

I received the following from MNS:

This is to inform that your request was forwarded to the appropriate personnel/department to supply information with regards to your request. However, the information that you desire does not rest with this office and as such we do not have direct control for when the information is supplied in most instances. I regret the delay, however the information if available, will be forwarded as soon as it is obtained, thank you.

I replied to MNS:

If the information is not held by the Ministry of National Security, then my request ought to have been transferred to the relevant government ministry/agency and I should have been notified of that transfer. I haven’t been. If the information is held by the Ministry of National Security, in whichever office or section, the requirements of the ATI Act would apply.
I have made a request to the ATI Tribunal for an appeal regarding the Ministry’s failure to provide the information.

October 14, 2016

Following some intervention by the ATI Unit, I received the following email from MNS with a document attached:

Please find attached the information that was requested Re: “Persons on Bail Committing Additional Offences”. Apologies are extended for the delay in the conveying of this response.

jcf-bail-doc-coverA copy of the document (Jamaica Constabulary Force – Assessment – Impact on Serious Crimes by Persons on Bail – June 28, 2016) is availble here: jcf-assessment-on-serious-crimes-by-persons-on-bail-28-06-16

I sent the following response to MNS:

Thank you for your email and the attached document.
I am not satisfied, however, that this fulfills my request made on June 17, 2016 for:
“all data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc regarding people on bail who have allegedly committed further offences while on bail”
to which I added the following identifier:
“I heard Minister Montague on a clip on the news today giving some figures at an event yesterday, which I hope would be included in the information I am requesting.”
 
The single document provided is a JCF report dated June 28, 2016. Since this is subsequent to the date of my request and the date on which the Minister made his public statement, I must assume that further documentation resides with the Ministry of National Security.
If indeed it is the Ministry’s position that it holds no other “data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc” as per my request, then I would appreciate a definitive statement of this.

October 21, 2016

I have not yet had a response from MNS to my email sent on October 14 and my request before the Appeal Tribunal remains in place.

Restricting Bail Provisions & the Document Provided by MNS

The issue of passing or amending legislation to restrict access to bail beyond existing provisions is not a new one. Among the six anti-crime bills passed in 2010 were two amendments to the Bail Act, which were subsequently challenged in court and in 2011 were ruled unconstitutional and therefore void. (Nation, Adrian v The Director of Public Prosecutions and The Attorney General of Jamaica)

The issue was again raised this year when Prime Minister Andrew Holness stated the Government’s intention to amend the Bail Act during his Budget Debate presentation in Parliament on May 24. ag-mmf-5-7-16Minister Montague made his speech on June 16 (Jamaica Observer, 16/6/16)  and public discussion further intensified following Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte’s Sectoral Debate presentation on July 5, in which she stated

So, Mr Speaker, we are going to touch the Bail Act, again….We are going to make some radical changes. Right now, the sentiment is one of “no bail for murder, unless self defence arises on the Crown’s case and the likelihood of an acquittal is high’.

So four months after I began my ATI quest to get documents from the Ministry of National Security giving information about people on bail who have committed further offences while on bail – documents which might empirically ground the Government’s declared intention to amend the Bail Act – I have received one document, a six-page assessment by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Only 3 of those pages deal with crimes committed by people on bail, and the information given is of a fairly cursory nature.

If this is the only document MNS has which deals with this topic, then it is frightening to think that this is what is being used to support a decision to amend the Bail Act.

If there are other documents held by MNS – or any other Ministry or public authority – then the MNS has failed in its duty to comply with the provisions of the Access to Information Act.

I await further communication from MNS or the hearing of my requested appeal before the ATI Appeal Tribunal to discover which of these two bleak possibilities is the case.

 


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From My Roof: Weekly Photo Challenge – Local

An important part of local for me is the house I’ve lived in for more than a quarter of a century in Kingston. Mornings and evenings I go up on the roof. I sit. I look around. I think. It’s a good vantage point for observing things both near and far. And sometimes I take photos.

Hillsimg_7708Blackbirds in an ackee treep1010262Bougainvillea in sunlightp1000438Sunset over Kingston the night after Hurricane Matthew bypassed Jamaicap1010667

Weekly Photo Challenge: Local

 

 

 

 


350 Words or Less: Why I Hate Sunday Evenings

I never did homework on Friday evening. I would settle down for uninterrupted hours of reading whatever book I was buried in at the time, nibbling a Mars bar or a peanut butter and guava jelly sandwich made with hardough bread. The beginning of the weekend was just too wonderful to be wasted doing homework.

Saturday also had its collection of other activities…playing interminable games of Risk, a visit to Readers’ Book Store, involuntarily helping to hang out baskets of wet laundry on the backyard clothes line, watching television and yes, more reading. Why would you waste a good good Saturday doing homework?

Sunday morning was a lazy time. Maybe sleeping late. Or a great breakfast if Daddy decided to cook whatever else and his johhny cakes. Or a trip out to Naggo Head, before the sea cut that channel separating the road from the long stretch of beach, with the obligatory fish and bammy to round off the morning, before we dozed on the drive back into Kingston, damp and with sandy feet.

Sometime around 4 or 5 o’clock, I could no longer ignore that the next day was Monday, there would be school and I hadn’t yet done my homework. I would often have done the more interesting homework during the week and would be left with the slog work like math. But even if I had something interesting to do, the pressure of a last minute deadline was bound to cause anxiety. Especially if I wanted to finish in time to watch Sunday night television, such as Tom Jones’ or Englebert Humperdinck’s variety shows or The Forsyte Saga or War and Peace.

That perennial homework anxiety, lasting for many years, has forever coloured my Sundays and has contributed to my strong dislike of Sunday evenings.


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An Almond Tree By The Sea

An almond tree (Terminalia catappa) is probably one of the first trees I learned to identify…from the large leaves and the oval shaped fruit. As a child, I loved to eat the flesh on the outside when the fruit was ripe and to bite into the fibrous husk and suck the sour juice from it. I experienced many smashed fingers while cracking open the husks with large stones to get the nuts inside.

Almond trees often grow near the sea. Even on a cliff face sometimes.p1020041p1020128p1020129Red leaves falling into the sea and drifting on the gentle current…p1020096p1020112…viewed by a couple of small fish….p1020116Bright colours. Blue sky. Blue sea.boat-on-seaAlmond tree.p1020133