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Fish, foul swimmer and scammers

Published:Sunday | July 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Orville Taylor,Contributor

I would have loved to continue the analysis of the shame in Parliament last week, but the despicable, recalcitrant and unexemplary behaviour of one particular parliamentarian doesn't deserve more of my intellectual attention. Needless to say, I accept the apology of Lloyd B. Smith, except that he omitted to address his initial denial that he had instructed the marshal to remove J.C. Hutchinson.

Raymond Pryce's homage to his gentlemanly, St George's roots is also well received. However, his winding, though eloquent prevarication about the Christian symbolism of the fish was amusing and trifling as he skilfully avoided making a straight and direct response to Hutchinson's. However, if 'LLyde' B could not remember the point, it is quite possible that Pryce forgot too.

Nonetheless, we know, in popular parlance, what is meant by a 'fish', and it is defined by my tongue-in-cheek linguist friend as "a male who exhibits 'feminish' (effeminate) traits or who copulates with members of his own sex". It is a derisive term, and given the illegality of male homosexual intercourse, any reference to a member of parliament as this aquatic creature is serious. It means that such person is engaged in criminal behaviour and thus unsuitable to be seated there. Free speech carries major responsibilities, and parliamentarians must not use their tongues loosely.

BAILEY'S BOLD STATEMENT

But since we are on the topic of criminal behaviour and homosexuality, let's rewind the tape to a year ago. Then, Fitz Bailey, senior superintendent of police (SSP) in charge of the Organised Crime Investigation Division (OCID), made a bold statement based on the intelligence he gained. Bailey was trying to break the back of the scourge of the notorious lotto scam, which threatens the very stability of our democracy. In the Second City, Montego Bay, gangs and other criminal networks stepped up their activities over the past few years.

A well-organised and lubricated network, it involves the contacting of unsuspecting victims, in mainly the United States, with lies about their having won millions. This windfall is only collectible by the 'winners' sending money, usually through one of the money-transfer institutions. Around 30,000 telephone calls are made each day to the United States by these criminals.

Most of the people contacted are not sufficiently gullible to be caught by Jamaicans who do a very poor job 'imidaydin di amerikan hacksent'. However, some are dumb enough to be trapped, and others, usually senior citizens, with a touch of dementia and no means of earning back their nest egg, empty their accounts in pursuit of an illusive and elusive golden-age fortune.

Estimated by the American authorities as raking in a stunning US$300 million each year, it is big business and has changed the lifestyles of a nouveau riche set of young men, who own cars and houses well beyond the means of many an executive. Scammers are the new dons, and with their wealth in a sub-economy which has not grown in decades, distort the price of goods and services, making it too expensive for the average citizen to cope. Furthermore, by becoming the wrong type of role models, they potentially derail the next generation. Moreover, the US is issuing warnings which can also erode our image even more than the exaggeration of our homophobia.

Yet, the scammers are another threat. Disputes resulting from the distribution of the spoils invariably lead to conflicts, and violent crimes are the direct result.

Furthermore, as Bailey noted, "The scammers ... use a portion of their ill-gotten gains, either to purchase guns or to pay for protection. When the Stone Crusher gang was very active, that gang was supported from the proceeds of the lottery scam. So we have no doubt it is funding other illicit activities."

Let's be honest, though. Jamaican culture discourages fluency and good communication skills among males, and it is considered by many to be unmanly for young men and boys to speak proper English and to do so in an accent that is mild and pleasant to the ear.

Sociologists and anthropologists such as the late great Barry Chevannes have demonstrated that we raise our boys wrongly. Please correct me, but effeminate men tend to be more orally competent than macho youth who speak as if they possess goat DNA.

LIPPY PRO-GAY LOBBY

Last year, brave Bailey boldly declared that gays were "prominently involved in the 'lottery scam". With a knee-jerk reaction and Jamaicans for Justice's (JFJ) backing, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), with some interested lawyers in tow, jumped on him like a donkey found by mischievous schoolboys.

Labelling his comments as irresponsible, the groups, which have their own 'agender', and not necessarily a penchant for objectivity, complained that they further served to stereotype and thus, I imagine, stigmatise gays.

Refusing to budge, Bailey declared, "I have empirical data to support that. We have the responsibility to investigate these cases ... . We're not targeting any specific group or saying people should go and attack anyone. All I'm talking about is the profile of the individuals ... ."

This is what police do, and social scientists do it, too. We try to look at trends and tendencies. It was a rational comment, as offensive as it was. When the police say that the typical fraudster is a middle-class, computer-literate youth, they are not saying that all, or even most, persons of that category are crooks. Indeed, the majority of people of any demographic classification are law-abiding citizens.

And here I make the disclaimer that the buggery law, routinely breached by gay men, is not one of the points of reference. There is no special gene which gay men have which predisposes them to, or excludes them from committing, crimes.

True, it is difficult to know whether or not a person is gay because sexual activity is 99 per cent private. A self-declaration is unreliable, because only a small minority leave the closet, and there are some, such as asylum seekers, who paint their homeland as the most homo-antipathic country on earth. With regard to the lotto scammers, it is also likely that men will crossdress and exhibit unmasculine behaviour to deceive the police. After, all, there is evidence that at least one organised gangster has used female attire to elude capture.

BUILDING PROFILE

What was funny about the comments made by Bailey in July last year and in April this year is that nobody doubted that the scam was pulling so much from the Americans, although there was no independent confirmation. There was no debate that it was connected to the spate of shootings and killings, nor when it was suggested that it was a well-coordinated web, involving perhaps employees of some of the remittance outlets. And when the tentacles were revealed to even touch members of the constabulary, a few cringed, but none called Bailey a liar.

Inexplicably, as Bailey pulled together his information and attempted to build a profile of the typical person who was entangled in the scamming network, people looked askance at his utterances and, eventually, the commissioner issued an apology and withdrew the gay-association comment. Though conciliatory, the statement from the top cop never said that Bailey was wrong.

Then, two Saturdays ago, the police, acting on intelligence, raided a dance organised by suspected lotto scammers. At the end of the operation, more than 130 suspects were detained. Although most of the patrons were dressed in female attire, only 11 had the necessary biological paraphernalia to be called women, although they might perform female roles. While most of them were processed and released, as is the norm with any police raid, credible sources from the police suggest that charges are going to follow and breakthroughs made.

I think we will soon owe Bailey an apology.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.