Mon | Jan 24, 2022

Mark Wignall | When cultures clash

Published:Friday | April 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport.

That most disturbing video of a male uptown reveller, sparsely clad, boldly striding among slow-moving traffic with his licensed firearm held down then playfully pointing it at cars was an extreme example of the assumptions of uptown privilege bubbling in a hot pot of youthful exuberance, alcohol, and the supposed social protection that wealth provides.

I am no fan of carnival, but that is not because I see it as impinging on our home-grown reggae-dancehall culture. Young people having a good time prancing on the streets once per year while there is significant economic trickle-down to many at the bottom rung of the social ladder is plainly a good thing, and it is, basically, no threat to our ethical mores. We will not suddenly descend into hell.

Carnival just doesn't grab me - and it never did in its infancy when I was in my 20s. Actually, it has more value to me as comic relief as I watch people long past their physical prime publicly grapple with the ripple effects of gravity being unkind to critical parts of their body.

It seems, I am not alone. One lady, 37 years old, told me recently, "I went once when I was in my 20s. I didn't buy any costumes, just decided to march along with some of my friends while I danced to the music. I have never been back as the reality of strange men, and women, rubbing up their bodies against me, I found quite disgusting."

I do not like dancehall music and I have seen the extremes antics that are the essential trademark of a dancehall event. It is the favourite recreational pastime of the vast majority of our people, and it, too, has visible economic benefits. I do not like it because the musical and lyrical elements are vexations to my spirit. It is just who I am.

The strongest element of dancehall is the ease with which its best exponents communicate ideas to the people, while in the process reinforcing what I consider to be social behaviour that is destructive to the country.

The police raided the Dub Club, an uptown spot on Skyline Drive, noted long for its expression of reggae music here and abroad. There were complaints that the music was disturbing the neighbours. Something went wrong and the police pepper-sprayed key people there.

Actually, this didn't surprise me as our policemen have never been known to prefer an application of reason and restraint over bluster and aggression. But in the main, we do not know the details in the process that caused that.

When entertainment minister 'Babsy' Grange commented and came down on the side of the operators of the Dub Club, many social and political factors were at play.


Babsy as judge


The minister of entertainment was not at the session when the police intervened, but even if we are to believe her version of events, her intrusions creates a host of problems for the governmental administration and the society.

We know about her professional involvement in music before she entered politics. That we know as a lead to where her natural biases may lie. But in her knee-jerk commentary, I fail to see how she, experienced a politician as she is, did not see the pitfalls ahead. Follow my reasoning.

Her proximate responsibility is entertainment, where she is the minister. Her greater responsibility is acting as part of a collective whole called government which, at all times, represents the rights of those at Dub Club, the police, carnival revellers, and the rights of the wider constituency of Jamaicans.

She intruded on the precincts of the courts of our land by loudly announcing a verdict of 'guilty' on our policemen. Who appointed her judge, and when did that happen? And remember now, it is immaterial whether the policemen acted rashly or not. The minister pushed to the head of the line while forgetting that it was never her duty to join the queue.

The partisans have appeared on social media sites like Facebook to support and to criticise her, but many supporting her have missed that simple fact.

What should her colleague minister, Bobby Montague, in charge of security, make of it? Aren't they sitting at the same table in Cabinet? Aren't they part of one cohesive, collective whole?

I have never been to the Dub Club, but I believe that I would find much there to my liking. Minister Grange missed the forest and crashed head first into a tree.


How does FLA dole out licences?


During the last election, he was the driver for a well-known politician of the fairer sex. And unsurprisingly, he was in possession of a licensed firearm backed by a licence issued by the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA).

But the thick document in front of me tells the story of a man who is totally undeserving of any such licence. The man is Jamaica-born but of US citizenship. In a letter dated April 19, 2010, under the heading of the US Department of Justice, United States Attorney Eastern District of New York to the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, the background is given, part of which reads:

"The defendants are members of a drug-trafficking organisation responsible for shipping multi-tonloads of illegal narcotics to the United States. The organisation transports large narcotics shipments, primarily marijuana, in container-cargo vessels and commercial airlines from Jamaica to destinations in the United States, including New York; Miami and Ft Lauderdale, Florida; and Savannah, Georgia."

In another document under the same court but filed in the Brooklyn office, the following is written of the person:

"Violation Four. Attempted International Distribution of Approximately 130 kilograms of cocaine. On or about and between September 23, 2008, and October 7, 2008, both dates being approximate and inclusive, within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the United States, the defendant .......... , together with others, did knowingly and intentionally attempt to distribute a controlled substance, intending and knowing that such substance would be unlawfully imported into the United States from a place outside thereof, which offence involved five kilograms or more of a substance containing cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance in violation of ... ."

You get the point. I am prepared to share this document with the FLA at its request. At one level is the utter shame that a politician (not the person mentioned in this column) would have as her driver a man who was previously involved in cocaine and convicted for it, but the question of the scrutiny carried out by the FLA must be debated.

As for the young man walking with his firearm and pointing it jokingly, or menacingly, at cars, it begs the question: What sort of background check was made by the FLA?

We know that prior to the advent of the FLA, the granting of firearms was riddled with corruption. In one jurisdiction that I knew of which is not necessarily rural, well-known druggists were given firearm licences for $250,000 a piece.

The FLA came under fire during the trial of Patrick Powell. Remember that case? Where Khajeel Mais was shot dead by a real bullet from a duppy gun. Well, many questions are back again on the front burner.

Certainly, there must be personnel at the FLA who are capable of developing psychological profiles of those applying for licences, even if we assume that uptown people are automatically all of sound mind, if not body.

Minister Montague has issued the warnings. I am willing to assist by sharing the documents I have with the FLA. As hint, the politician is from a rural constituency and she is a member of the ... .

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