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?
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?
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:
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
I 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.
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
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.
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.
HillsBlackbirds in an ackee treeBougainvillea in sunlightSunset over Kingston the night after Hurricane Matthew bypassed Jamaica
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.
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.Red leaves falling into the sea and drifting on the gentle current……viewed by a couple of small fish….Bright colours. Blue sky. Blue sea.Almond tree.
Many years ago I was driving behind a minibus along Barbican Road, heading towards Barbican Square. The conductor was standing on the bus step, half hanging out of the bus as it moved along in the line of traffic. Just as we passed the intersection with Garth Road, the conductor reached out and grabbed the breast of a schoolgirl walking on the sidewalk, facing the oncoming traffic. The conductor laughed as the bus continued on its way. The adolescent schoolgirl, in her crisply pressed uniform, had a look of horror on her face, as she drew her arms up in front of her in a protective gesture.
Last week a video came to light in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard saying the following, among other things:
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump, in his apology or justification, said this was just “locker room talk”. As discussion about his comments continues, a number of women are speaking out about their experiences with Trump kissing, groping or grabbing them in the past.
Is there need for more discussion about who has the right to grab women’s body parts? In workplaces, homes, social settings, the street, schools, universities, public transportation, church, Parliament? Is grabbing a woman’s body parts without her consent ever acceptable? Does it matter who you are or who the woman/girl is? If you have power or are a star or are in a moving vehicle is it okay? Does her age or what she’s wearing or the size of her breasts or her perceived level of beauty matter?
Across the world, to varying degrees, women’s bodies are viewed with a sense of entitlement by men, viewed by many as there to be grabbed in one way or another, physically, verbally, metaphorically, legislatively, in whole or in part – breast, bottom, vagina, uterus.
I have two memories of Hurricane Flora, which brought torrential rains to Jamaica between October 5-7 in 1963; neither memory has to do with the actual rain, but instead are of the aftermath. Perhaps staying home because of rain wasn’t particularly memorable to a 6-year-old, and memory is a strange thing anyway.
Hurricane “Flora” was one of the most destructive in recent history in Haiti and Cuba. It was unusually violent when it crossed Haiti during the night of October 3-4. Then it remained nearly stationary for more than four days (October 4-8) over eastern Cuba and produced unprecedented amounts of rainfall, which in turn resulted in devastating floods. Although final figures are not yet available, it appears likely that the death toll will number in the thousands and property losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hurricane “Flora” appears to have formed and intensified rapidly about 150 miles east of Trinidad on September 30, 1963. It seems possible that the original disturbance that eventually developed into “Flora” moved off the African coast on September 23. Later a TIROS VII photograph at 0942Z September 26 (Orbit 1464) showed a large cloud mass in the area between 10 and 15N and 35 and 40W. No additional information was received until a KLM jet airliner bound from Lisbon, Portugal to Paramaribo, Surinam reported a disturbed area near 12.4N 47.2W at approximately 2230Z September 28. On the basis of the KLM report, the San Juan Weather Bureau requested special ship reports in the area east of the Lesser Antilles.
Following ship reports and US Navy reconnaissance aircraft flying to the area on September 30, the first advisory for Hurricane Flora was issued, with hurricane warnings for Trinidad, Tobago and the Grenadines.
Flora followed a long and circuitous track through the Caribbean, part of which is clearly shown on this map:
Rainfall levels for Jamaica were record breaking, with the highest amount of 60 inches recorded at Spring Hill in Portland. (The highest amount recorded in the region was 100.39 inches in Santiago de Cuba.)
US Weather Bureau Monthly Review Vol 9 No 3, p. 136
The Gleaner headlines give an indication of the news in Jamaica at the time:
Daily Gleaner, Thursday, Oct 3, 1963
Daily Gleaner, Friday, Oct 4, 1963
Sunday Gleaner, Oct 6, 1963
Daily Gleaner, Monday, Oct 7, 1963
Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, Oct 8, 1963
Daily Gleaner, Wednesday, Oct 9, 1963
As a 6-year-old, I wasn’t aware of any of this news, the deaths, the destruction and the severe hardships being faced by so many. Children nowadays see images on television and the internet, bringing them far closer to the news of things that don’t touch their lives directly. I do remember that when we went back to school, we had to take boiled water with us and we had strict instructions not to drink water from the pipes, as it would make us sick. I carried my water in a regular glass jam jar, with its metal screw-on lid. All the water bottles were lined up on a shelf in the classroom, with our names labelling them.
We lived on Gore Terrace at the time, which is near to the Sandy Gully and one day, my father walked with my older brother and me out to the Sandy Gully Bridge on Constant Spring Road. It wasn’t raining , and there were many other people standing on the bridge looking at the water roaring through the gully and under the bridge. I don’t remember the sound, but the image of the rough torrents of brown water rushing through the gully is seared into my memory. When we crossed the road to the other side of the bridge, the water churned even more violently as it went down the slope in the gully. I clung to Daddy’s hand and that provided a measure of security, but I had a terrible sense of the danger of that water, which seemed like a frighteningly live thing.
Hurricane Matthew has battered Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas over the past few days, and is now threatening the eastern coast of the USA. The news reporting is in real time, with non-stop images via cable, the internet and social media, which is vastly different from the type of reporting possible 53 years ago. As a comparison, you might watch these two short videos about Flora, one recent (using archival footage) and the other from 1963.
Jamaica has escaped with little damage, though at times it seemed as if we might experience Matthew’s category 4 strength. Today, as in 1963, we know that an October hurricane has dealt a far harsher blow to our regional neighbours than it has to us.
“PM, yuh think wi should start do something now? Open some shelter, sen out a bulletin, tell people fi board up?”
“No man, Desmond. Breeze nuh start blow yet, and only likkle rain ah fall. Wait till wi really start feel it, man. If it look like di storm surge covering the road and reaching people house, I will call Up Park Camp and ask them to send some soldiers to Portland and St Thomas same time.”
“But, PM, dem can reach in the middle ah di hurricane? By di time dem reach, people nuh wash wey aready?”
“No man, Desmond, wi mustn’t overreact. After all, look how many times wi prepare and no hurricane come. Evan seh Matthew might come, but he’s only a meteorologist; what them know about weather? And the National Hurricane Centre is in Florida, so they cyaan know what is going to happen in Jamaica.”
“Okay, I will talk to Major Davis. ODPEM must just watch Matthew a likkle longer. Dem shouldn’t move to NEOC Level 2 activation too soon. Dem cyan always prepare afta di storm.”
Sometimes it is necessary to imagine the ridiculous in order to highlight a situation.
There are some people who are angry with the government and the weather forecasters because they advised people to prepare for a possible encounter with Hurricane Matthew, and in the end Jamaica hasn’t been severely impacted. Based on the ongoing information available from meteorologists locally, regionally & internationally, Jamaica was in the cone of possible impact of the system, which on Friday night reached the level of a Category 5 hurricane, the highest strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
Matthew did a number of things which the weather forecasters didn’t expect. Its rapid intensification from not even being classified as a tropical depression on Wednesday morning (Sept 28) to being a Category 5 Hurricane on Friday night (Sept 30) was completely unexpected; it was described on Jeff Master’s blog on Weather Underground as ” a jaw-dropping stretch of rapid intensification” (October 1, 2016). The path of the hurricane was also unusual and it slowed down and wobbled before it took the predicted turn to the north, which took place later than initially expected. This is a satellite image of where Hurricane Matthew was on Sunday morning, at a point when it was moving west at a forward speed of 3 mph:
Image from Weather Underground
Our local forecasters gave their updates based on the data available at the time and reminded that the forecast could change. Forecast accuracy has improved over time, given the advances in technology and available data, but meteorology is not an exact science.
It would have been grossly irresponsible if the government, given the information available to it, had not begun serious preparations for the possibility of a major hurricane hitting or passing close to Jamaica. Advisories had to be issued for people to prepare well in advance of projected impact.
No-one enjoys the disruption to normal routines that happens because of hurricane preparations. (Except perhaps for children who get time off from school.) People may feel frustrated, impatient, angry, anxious, frightened or any number of other emotions. Spending money on hurricane supplies when money is in short supply is frustrating and if the hurricane doesn’t materialise, the frustration may intensify. Boarding up, moving to a shelter, closing a business, worrying about family who are vulnerable are among the stressful experiences associated with preparing. But preparing is essential.
As I tweeted yesterday:And I saw this tweet by a US meteorologist today:The government will obviously need to review its actions over the past week or so, to identify any flaws in its response and what improvements can be made. Meteorologists will definitely review the data about Hurricane Matthew for years to come, seeking to understand this unpredictable storm among unpredictable storms. And all of us can review our own responses to see what lessons there are for us to learn about how best to protect ourselves and our families.
As we watch Hurricane Matthew battering Haiti and Cuba, let’s remember that we were facing that possibility and if the track had wobbled a bit to the west and Jamaica had been hit, would we have wanted to be prepared or not?