Christopher Serju | How Greenpeace ‘disarmed’ the JCF
Tuesday’s demonstration by Greenpeace International activists, supported by local environmentalists and non-governmental organisations, caught the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) off guard for the reason that it was peaceful. The environmental activists had the audacity to announce in advance that they were going to turn up at the gates of the Jamaica Conference Centre, the International Seabed Authority headquarters in downtown Kingston, at 8:30 a.m.
Armed with that information, the JCF pulled out all the stops to ensure that the protest did not unfold as planned. However, it apparently did not anticipate that the demonstrators would be bright, intelligent and able to hold a cogent conversation.
“It’s a peaceful, educated, scientific position that we are putting forward, and that’s what I want to be able to do as the delegates arrive today. This is the public sidewalk, and I can’t see too much legal problem with that. Obviously, the authorities have a slightly different opinion,” declared Frank Hewetson, Greenpeace co-ordinator.
He was right, as the police had come to thwart what they must have anticipated would have been a showdown of epic proportions. With members of the bicycle squad, at least two motorcyclists on standby, an assistant commissioner of police, a deputy superintendent, an inspector, and a host of rank-and-file members, the JCF was ready for any eventuality. Instead, what transpired was the triumph of common sense and logic over state intransigence.
They were disarmed by the calm, cool and collected stance of Hewetson, who was polite and charming and just as firm in the conviction that he was doing no wrong.
“I want to stress that we will obey the police, but we are going to exercise our constitutional rights,” he insisted. But even after he had explained a couple of times their reason for being there, Deputy Superintendent Alton Spencer was still unsure as to the type of disorder he was trying to quell.
“I am not even certain what their mission is, but we are here to basically ensure that there is no blockage. Nobody is impeded in terms of movement, and we are protecting the interest of those persons who are attending the conference,” he confided.
The senior police officer, however, must be commended for his multitasking skills: fielding questions from pesky journalists, directing his troops and attending to the many and varied concerns of Enoch Allen, head of security for the International Seabed Authority. He was a very busy man indeed.
Allen shared with The Gleaner his reasons for opposing the Greenpeace International demonstration.
“In general, when we have our conferences, it is of paramount importance that we, being the host, and the Seabed Authority in particular, ought to protect the delegates. There is a demonstration going on and we don’t know the entities involved, so we have to have all hands on deck and do our job as best we can.”
It boggles the mind that both men admitted to not knowing what they were opposing, while enunciating their strong opposition to the unseen, undefined ‘terror’.
In fact, with time on their hands and the storm in the teacup not quite bubbling to the boil, it must have been boredom that drove Assistant Commissioner of Police Steve McGregor to issue this warning: “When you leaving, I don’t want you to leave any of your paraphernalia anywhere because I will prosecute.”
I suspect but could be forgiven for thinking that Assistant Commissioner McGregor was guilty of trying to intimidate his audience. If he was, it didn’t work, and the attempt sputtered like a soaking wet squib.
By refusing to be baited, while firmly and respectfully toeing the line, Greenpeace International outfoxed the JCF, Hewetson telling Deputy Superintendent Spencer: “That’s not conflict. That’s peaceful assembly. If I disobey you it would be conflict, but I am not here to fight with the Jamaican police authority in any way at all.”
For the Jamaican police who were anticipating a chaotic encounter, it was a disappointing and peaceful ending, and something to which they are obviously not yet quite accustomed.
Christopher Serju is a reporter who writes about agriculture, the environment and rural development.