Diaspora: Jamaica needs soul-searching, too - Countrymen overseas condemn US racism, call for greater protection of vulnerable back home
FLORIDA, United States:
Jamaicans in the diaspora have expressed solidarity with their African-American counterparts in the United States in their sweeping fight across the country against racism and police abuse.
The latest round of protests was sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparking marches, riots and looting across the US. At least 200 cities have imposed curfews during the protests, affecting more than 60 million US residents. Solidarity protests have also been held in several countries around the world.
Black people in America have been behind the social, economic and political eight ball ever since the first set of slaves were forcibly transported there from Africa four centuries ago, and a significant portion of them are of Jamaican and Caribbean descent. They, too, have been the victims of racism.
Fifty-five-year-old Michael Bartholomew is the director of the Shelter Exit Transit Programme in Bronx, New York. He has lived in the US for decades and has come face to face with racism on many occasions since a teenager.
“We absolutely stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters here. It’s been 400 years of second-class citizenship for black people everywhere. It’s time that they relinquish all that privilege and power they have been holding. People are not seeking revenge; they just want to exist without being summarily murdered for no reason,” Bartholomew told The Sunday Gleaner.
The black struggle in America has been personified with the recent killing of Floyd and the shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in the state of Georgia and Breona Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. But while these incidents have grabbed the attention of the world, Jamaicans abroad still have their eyes trained on the land of their birth and are livid at the atrocities taking place there.
Recent reports of the horrific death of Noel Chambers, who spent 40 years in the Jamaican penal system and died without being given a trial, have not escaped their attention. Chambers was deemed mentally unfit to plead by a court and was incarcerated at the governor general’s pleasure.
The Independent Commission of Investigations has revealed that there are at least 146 other mentally challenged persons in Jamaica’s prisons who have not faced a judge, with some being held for more than 30 years.
Further, news of a wave of murders in the island over the past two weeks have hit a raw nerve, prompting members of the diaspora to call on their countrymen to conduct deep introspection with a view to addressing the injustices wrought on the weak and powerless across the island.
Images of Chambers’ emaciated body have been circulating on social media. Tears streamed down the face of Daniel Wilson, a West Palm Beach, Florida-based chef, as he reflected on the situation.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice. It is true that when a white police officer kneels in a man’s neck in the US, black people everywhere should be enraged, but that is not the end of the story,” Wilson said. “Let us not lose sight of our own home and what is happening there. How can a man be in prison for so long and die without even someone in the prison system realising that this gross injustice was meted out to our black brother? He was voiceless and powerless and we stood by and did nothing,” Wilson said.
Human-rights advocacy group Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) has condemned the practice of incarcerating persons at the governor general’s or court’s pleasure, saying it is a hangover from colonial times which needs to be eradicated.
“While our leaders have maintained for decades that they possess the legal authority to indefinitely imprison persons without a criminal trial, this system is unjust,” the JFJ said in a release. “It offends the core principles of human rights and should offend us all. It has persisted, in part, due to the absence of a credible system of review and accountability for these cases, widespread disregard for persons deprived of liberty throughout the justice system, and for decades, the lack of decisive action by policymakers to address the issue.”