Devon Dick | Correcting the commissioner of police
Dr Carl Williams, commissioner of police, stated, "This Force continued in service until 1865 when the Morant Bay Rebellion highlighted the vulnerability of peace and law in Jamaica, leading to the establishment of the JCF in 1867" ('Polygraphs and the police', September 11). He wrote this article to counter the misinformation and misconceived perceptions by Gleaner Patria-Kaye Aarons, and also to "empower readers with accurate information".
The commissioner outlined the issues clearly and this article is not to counter those points but rather to challenge the historical account. Williams seems to be blaming the protesters led by Paul Bogle, then Native Baptist pastor, now national hero. He states that the formation of the JCF after 1865 was due to vulnerability of peace and law. This is a discarded understanding of the rationale for the formation of the JCF of blaming the protesters. Many persons have changed their views about the events of 1865.
One such person is the late Earl Thames, who was recently cremated. Thames is known as perhaps the only Rhodes Scholar who became a trained ordained minister of religion. In 1965, Thames, while commending the effort at developing a national image and spirit, said that the "emphasis on the Morant Bay rebellion has ... elevated violence to a new status in our history ... [and] by enshrining this event, we have made violence an important part of our national history ... . By elevating the rebellion to the status of a national monument, we have tacitly supported the use of violence as against more constitutional methods, in obtaining redress for grievances. We have elevated Bogle above Gordon, Malcolm X above Martin Luther King" (The Cross and Machete p. 35). However, Thames, in a 2013 Issachar lecture, was singing a different tune and called Bogle a Christian who decided to "seek justice another way". It is time that Williams join the chorus of those who celebrate Bogle and his followers not as rebels but as peacemakers.
In fact, the Commission of Enquiry did not call the events of 1865 a 'rebellion', but rather a 'resistance to lawful authority'. Those commissioners expressed doubts whether the event was a rebellion (p. 150). An English Baptist publication said it was not a rebellion.
THE BRUTALITY AT STONY GUT
In July, BBC TV from London erected a plaque at Sony Gut, St Thomas, to remember those who were killed and brutalised by the authorities. During an interview with one of the journalists from the BBC, I was asked whether what the colonists did were crimes against humanity. Next month, this documentary will be aired worldwide. It is sad that we, the beneficiaries of the outcome of resistance to injustice, cannot understand that Bogle and the people were brutally killed, with miles of dead bodies on the road and a whole village flattened.
When Bogle and his protesters entered Morant Bay on October 11, 1865, they carried no guns, fired no shots, were dancing, singing, and given to merrymaking. This was no sniper attack. This was no attack on peace and law. This same group marched to Spanish Town in vain to see Governor Eyre. This same group wrote a letter about the terrible conditions. This same group attended Underhill meetings to air their grouses. Let us not stigmatise the victims of injustice.
Unfortunately, the JCF was born out of the crucible to support the status quo. Worse now, there are some who engage in police brutality perhaps out of a misunderstanding of their roles due to the historical antecedents. The JCF needs to be a peacekeeping entity and be renamed Jamaica Peace Corps, with one of its mandates being to defend the less fortunate from oppression and injustice.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.