Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Diaspora demands Wright move

- JLP gags House women from discussing controversy, says insider - Overseas J’cans press for MP’s resignation

Published:Sunday | May 16, 2021 | 12:17 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

George Wright, the legislator elected to the Lower House last September on a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) ticket as one of its 49 members, remains in that position despite condemnation amid an uproar over a viral video in which a man was seen beating a woman.

The police had sought Wright as a person of interest in the matter, but closed its investigations, citing the unwillingness of Wright and Tannisha Singh, the woman believed to be in the video, to continue the matter after they had both made conflicting reports to the police. The police also said the video footage was inconclusive.

Wright has not denied that he is the man in the video, although he sought a two-month leave of absence from the House “for rehabilitation”, The Sunday Gleaner has been reliably informed. He is set to return as an independent member but still a member of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) when his leave expires.

Female members of the House, who raised a firestorm after the abduction, rape and murder of 20-year-old Khanice Jackson in March, have now gone eerily silent reportedly on instructions from the JLP’s leadership, according to party sources.

“A shut-up order was issued. The instruction is that not a single word [should be uttered] from anyone about the matter,” an insider told The Sunday Gleaner.

Since the reported gag order, a peeved Gender Minister Olivia Grange said the Gender Committee, which she chairs, had blindsided her with a public statement amid a raging public debate.

Despite efforts to have the matter die, many Jamaicans are still upset with how the matter has unfolded and believe Wright should vacate his Westmoreland Central seat.

Among those speaking out are members of the diaspora.

Communication specialist and author Diane Young, who lives in Connecticut in the United States, said she was shocked by the video, which shows a man beating a woman with his fists then a stool.

“I watched the video in question, and for the first half of it, I was watching to see what was happening, and there wasn’t much going on that I could recognise, … but then afterwards, my mouth was open and couldn’t close after I saw the start of the beating,” she told The Sunday Gleaner last week.

“As a woman, as a mother, as a Jamaican, I was horrified. I couldn’t believe that we could have somebody who is supposed to be a representative of our nation, of our politics, of our people [seeming to] behave in such a manner. Wright should not be going back to his regular job. I cannot fathom how the police cannot secure a positive ID because based on the level of technology that we now have, police can determine the height of the individual and the built of the individual to identify a particular image,” Young said.

DANGEROUS PROPORTIONS

For her, the matter has taken dangerous proportions for Jamaicans overseas.

“Jamaicans living abroad who wish to retire in their homeland are scared about doing so because they think about when they become older and have to live with the crime and violence escalating in the country. Many people do not feel safe and find it difficult to return home if the police are not equipped to deal with situations such as these,” she stated.

“If the police have no way of securing a positive ID, we are not safe. So I’m very appalled about this situation and basically what is going on right now in the country with the level of crime and violence being so high. We can’t tell our boys not to hit and abuse girls when the people in charge [seem to] display this kind of behaviour,” she said.

Lorraine Smith, a licensed professional counsellor in New Jersey, had one question: “What message are we sending to our young men and women, especially now in this climate with so many domestic violence incidents or intimate partner violence?”

A community leader in Washington, DC, who did not wish to be named, said it would be troubling if the man in the video is indeed Wright and he has the luxury of remaining in a privileged position of public life.

“We intend to investigate how justice can be served not only for this instance but for the entire group of women brutalised in Jamaica,” said the US-based Jamaican.

Young believes the police should pull out all the stops to identify and charge the aggressor in the video as failure to do so would set a dangerous precedent.

“If nothing happens, it means that when a young man does something similar, nothing should happen. When the boys on the street carry on with their lewd behaviour and treat women with disdain, nothing [would be] expected to happen because the very heads of society take no responsibility,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

LOCAL LEADERS SILENT

Except for a few such as Councillor Scean Barnswell, the minority leader in the Clarendon Parish Council, local leaders have been largely been silent.

Repeated attempts to reach individuals of some local organisations, which had issued calls for Wright’s resignation, were unsuccessful. Others reached did not respond to requests for interviews.

Barnswell told The Sunday Gleaner that the People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement has written to him, asking him to give support to the position of women against gender-based violence from The University of the West Indies.

The letter asked for him to lead discussions at the local level.

“The incident in which a woman is seen being beaten savagely and nothing has come out of it, with the police reporting that the case is closed, is really an indictment. I believe that the police, seeing the evidence, given that the female was reported to be in a very bad shape, they should have made an arrest whether or not there was a statement,” Barnswell told The Sunday Gleaner.

He called for amendments should be made to the Standing Orders for the reasons for leaves of absence for parliamentarians to be disclosed in the future, a contentious issue in the wake of Wright’s request.

House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple Philibert had shut down attempts by the Opposition to raise and discuss the matter after the damaging videos dominated the public space. She said the action of the Opposition was necessary but premature.

She relented the following week to disclose the reason for Wright’s request as time needed to attend to urgent personal matters, stressing that such a decision to reveal the reason was hers alone to make.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com