Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Mark Wignall | Is the public defender off base?

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Arlene Harrison Henry, Jamaica's public defender, has called for the state of emergency in St James to be rapidly brought to a halt because it has trampled on the rights of poor black youth and failed in some of its objectives.

Arlene Harrison Henry, our public defender, may have been punching outside of her weight class when she called for an end to the St James state of emergency (SOE) on the basis that poor, powerless, and voiceless boys are being locked up in inhumane conditions and are being underfed.

The very fact that the PD did not make the call specifically for better treatment for these young people while the SOE is in operation must mean that Ms Harrison Henry is convinced that no SOE can operate without young men being maltreated. In other words, maltreatment is a given in an SOE.

New National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has countered with, "We can see where, based on statistics, we have already saved over 70 lives." With a 60 per cent decrease in murders in St James, it does appear that public sentiment supports the position of Chang more so then the public defender.

Let us face the fact that all states of emergency are not driven and operated by police intelligence as much as we are led to believe. Most of it is netfishing - using the extended right of the security forces to pick up a young man simply because his body was available at the time the police and army personnel were passing through.

Held for as long as it is pleasurable for the State to do so, it is a more than 80 per cent chance that the person detained will be released with no charge levied against them. So a lot of luck is hoped for in this fishing expedition, and, certainly, detainees were never going to get concierge service and grilled lobster drizzled with garlic butter.

The most charitable conclusion that could be drawn on the individual positions held by Chang and Harrison Henry is that they are both, for now, locked in uni-dimensional mode. The PD is acting out her duty in standing up for the poor and oppressed, and all other matters must fit into that space.

Chang is probably of the view that with public sentiment so securely in his favour, not many will lose sleep over a few poor boys from Flanker or Montego Hills being fed rotted cabbage over rice while packed away like cattle.

"This administration's aim is to reduce criminal activity, especially in areas where it has reached intolerable levels," Chang said without even giving a one-liner on treatment of detainees. Complex social factors tend to play out inside the borders of these SOE areas, but they also exist in the wider society.


Uptown fully on board with SOE


Conduct a poll in any swanky uptown community and ask the question, 'Would you be prepared to give up some of your rights in an SOE if in doing so you know that it would benefit the nation in fighting violent crime?' and I bet you that somewhere in the region of 80 per cent would say yes.

They would answer yes because they know that no one would impose an SOE on Upper Mark Way and its environs. In other words, uptown people are willing to cede some of their rights only because surrogates in the form of poor, powerless youth are the actual ones giving up those rights.

Until quite recently (early 2000s), it was the norm for the police to pick up truckloads of young men from areas like Grants Pen in St Andrew and other inner-city pockets, detain them, beat them, then release them. One young man at the time told me, "Mi glad is only beat dem beat mi, but it look like nuff a wi get di beaten because dem nuh have nutten pon wi, so dem can't charge wi."

Residents of inner-city areas under an SOE support the security initiative and the giving up of some of their rights, but often the support is a perverse one. Most oldsters know that even though the 'box dung and kick up', police culture of the 1970s and 1980s has waned, it is foolish to assume that if their grandsons are picked up today in an SOE that total civility will obtain.

It is more than possible that the objectives of the PD can be partly met. She ought to know that the Government will not entertain her suggestion that the SOE be brought to an end. First, for now, it is good politics for the JLP administration. To the extent that significant declines in murders have occurred in St James, that factor has also driven the political support.

Surely, Dr Chang ought to have the clout among a few big private-sector players so that uptown can soothe its conscience. How about a few truckloads of tinned mackerel,

Dr Chang, from the distribution point to the detention facilities. If those facilities do not have working bakeries, surely Dr Chang, a big private-sector player could chip in with baked goods and many bales of rice. Someone's conscience would rest easier.


Is gay marriage next?


Founder of Hear the Children's Cry Betty Ann Blaine was hopping mad as we spoke on the phone last Thursday.

"I disagree with you, Betty Ann. I don't see Holness' stance in Europe as paving the way for gay marriage and other perversions as you state," I said to her.

"Mark, you do not know the agenda of these LBGT groups. They are aggressive, and once you give in to any part of their agenda, they will want more. How could the prime minister make the ridiculous statement that we have evolved on this gay issue? Maybe he has, but the nation and the Church have not,' she said.

People like Betty Ann are inflexible, driven as they are by biblical beliefs in the wrongness of what they classify as the gay lifestyle.

"PM Holness probably believes that it was Golding's 'not in my Cabinet' stance that took him out of power and he doesn't want a geopolitical blowback, so he is talking rubbish about our people have evolved."

I suggested to her that I was numbered among those who evolved from my antagonistic views towards gays from my teens, 20s, and 30s to acceptance and tolerance in my older years. If I have evolved, I cannot say that the PM is off base when he used the word 'evolve' to describe the Jamaican situation.

"But he also said that we have not yet reached that spot where we are ready to ditch the buggery law [and head to gay marriage]. I must confess that male-male marriage has me puzzled," I said to her.




A fair degree of paranoia has descended on sectors of the society over Holness' saying that he would not be using gayness as a judgement call on those entering his Cabinet. Some believe that PM Holness is bowing to the dictates of European giants (read funding partners) and taking a unilateral step to introduce 'perversions' into our society.

"This sounds to me like a sellout, Mark. I have never been hostile to homosexuals, so there is no evolving on my part. Unlike you, I do not view the lifestyle as normal as there is no gay gene. Researchers would long ago have isolated it if it existed. I believe, though, that the next step in Jamaica is gay marriage," she said.

Views on sexuality in Jamaica find congruence with Bronze Age biblical teachings and it doesn't appear that those arrangements are likely to change in the next generation. As for those who believe that Holness has opened the gate for gay marriage, I say to them that many, including me, have evolved on social issues, but we haven't quite reached there with one man saying to another man, 'I do.'

Those fears, I believe, are totally groundless.

- Mark Wignall is a political affairs commentator. Email feedback to and