Allan G. Douglas, Guest Columnist
Is it just me that finds that our evangelical church services - and, in particular, funeral services - are the truest form of excellent Jamaican theatre? Where else does one find the drama and richness of our culture and what we are as a people? The colour, the rhythm, music and passion are all to be found on such occasions.
I just recently attended the funeral service for a great Jamaican that had worked as a gardener at the quarters that I occupied while living in Up Park Camp. He was a truly dedicated and totally loyal worker who embodied the richness of us as a people - full of humility and in fear of our Lord. So I went and joined the many others that turned out at the Church of God of Prophecy, Seven Miles, Bull Bay, for the funeral service.
The warmth and sincerity of all were evident, and the proceedings were conducted with the greatest of theatrics, albeit not choreographed or rehearsed. The outfits of the ladies were spectacular and well fitted. Every hymn was belted out with passion and love to the accompaniment of hand-clapping, and the beating of drums and tambourines.
The swaying bodies and the rhythm were totally captivating and, on occasion, made one forget the solemnity or sadness of the occasion. And adding even more genuine drama to the service, I witnessed an approximately 80-year-old lady taking to the aisle of the church to dance and prance in keeping to the music being played, all with the energy and moves of a teenager in praise and exultation of our Lord! This brought a warmth to my heart that I have not felt since the birth of my first child!
Filling that church and spilling from the conduct of that service was the potpourri of our culture and what it is to be Jamaican. That abiding faith, our passion, beauty and simplicity were all there on display and ever so evident. There was no air conditioning, and for the two and a half hours of the service, I was more comfortable and mesmeried then than I have ever been.
CONDITIONED TO VIOLENCE
How could such a lovely people as we are not all love each other in everyday settings as well? What causes us, outside such settings, not to truly care for each other? Why are we so conditioned to violence?
Mr Lattibeaudiere, my deceased ex-gardener, had lived his adult life on the slopes of Wareika Hills, where he raised his three sons. It was those same Wareika Hills where I was to witness my first encounter of state-sponsored brutality. I had just returned from officer training to return to the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), where I joined my regiment as a platoon commander.
On my very first day as a platoon commander, I was deployed with my platoon to assist the police in capturing some gunmen who had robbed a bank and made their way to Wareika Hills. My platoon was to link up with the police party already there and hunt down and capture the bank robbers.
On arriving at the pre-arranged meeting place at the foot of Wareika Hills, I observed a very large crowd gathered along with some police vehicles. I got out of my vehicle and went in search of the policeman in charge.
As I made my way through the crowd of very angry-looking bystanders, there was much muttering about police brutality and cruelty. I observed what appeared to be a police cordon around a guinep tree in the distance, so I made my way there and through the cordon.
In front of me, seated on the ground handcuffed, was a young man being beaten by a lone policeman. With every blow and kick, the young man bawled for mercy. I went forward and asked the policeman to desist, and he reluctantly agreed, while saying in protest, "Officer, is one of the tief gunman bwoy dis, and him nuh want to tell mi weh the other bwoy dem is."
As he backed away, I knelt down beside the beaten young man and inquired about his role. In his now barely discernible voice, he denied any involvement with the robbery or any gunmen. He further added - and to this day, I still remember his exact words, "Sir, even if mi did know, you tink me woulda a tell him who a beat mi like me a dawg!"
So, there was my first encounter of state brutality and cowardly behaviour of one Jamaican to another. And throughout my military career, I would come to witness and learn of other excesses by our security forces, from Green Bay to Tivoli, to the Michael Gayle murder, to the recent savage killing of the pregnant woman in St Thomas.
ACT WITHIN THE LAW
The guiding principles of internal security operations, if I recall correctly, are justification, act within the law, and minimum force. The members of our security force should at all times act within the law, be able to justify before the law their actions, and, above all, use force only as it is reasonably necessary.
When and why have we become so disrespectful of each other? Where is our love and care for each other? Excess use of force by security forces must be rooted out. The State cannot continue to sponsor brutality.
We are a simple people, peaceful and beautiful, and to preserve our integrity as a people, the State must take the lead in ensuring that there is respect and love for the life of every Jamaican.
If this article now brands me as a bleeding-heart liberal and a traitor, I wear those labels with pride because it is to be Jamaican to love and care for each other, and this paradise is to live and die for.
Colonel Allan G. Douglas is a retired JDF officer. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.