Tue | Sep 28, 2021

‘Violated!’: Rasta woman compares alleged haircut by cop to gang rape at 16

Published:Tuesday | August 3, 2021 | 12:10 AMOlivia Brown, Tameka Gordon and Cecelia Campbell-Livingston/Gleaner Writers
Nzinga King, 19, with a handful of her dreadlocks she saved after she was allegedly trimmed by a cop.
Nzinga King, 19, with a handful of her dreadlocks she saved after she was allegedly trimmed by a cop.
Nzinga King watches as her mother, Shirley McIntosh, vents about the forcible haircut allegedly administered on the teenager by a policewoman in Four Paths, Clarendon.
Nzinga King watches as her mother, Shirley McIntosh, vents about the forcible haircut allegedly administered on the teenager by a policewoman in Four Paths, Clarendon.
Anthony King said that the forced haircut of his daughter reminded him of the Coral Gardens Incident of 1963.
Anthony King said that the forced haircut of his daughter reminded him of the Coral Gardens Incident of 1963.
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The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is facing mounting pressure over a prospective lawsuit in the wake of allegations that a woman cop cut the hair of a 19-year-old Rastafarian on the grounds that her locks presented a suicide risk. The charge...

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is facing mounting pressure over a prospective lawsuit in the wake of allegations that a woman cop cut the hair of a 19-year-old Rastafarian on the grounds that her locks presented a suicide risk.

The charge spurred Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson to deploy investigators from the Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau to probe the alleged incident, which reportedly happened at the Four Paths Police Station in Clarendon on July 22.

Nzinga King's claims of personal and cultural violence are particular poignant as Jamaicans launched into a week of celebration of Emancipation and Independence – a period marking the end to centuries-long slavery and political freedom from the colonial descendants of the plantocracy.

The haircut also drew comparisons with the 1963 Coral Gardens Incident that led to the deaths of several Rastafarians and policemen.

King said the haircut by the policewoman resurrected memories of being gang-raped when she was 16 years old. The emotional wounds are deep and difficult to overcome, she said.

“I have been suffering from a recent trauma. I've been traumatised and this now, she's just bring me back to some memories of being sexually abused and now I am being physically and mentally abused,” King told The Gleaner on Monday.

The incident had its genesis in a case of alleged public disorder – a not-uncommon rite of passage for many black Jamaicans that often escalates.

King said that while she was aboard a taxi in May Pen, Clarendon, on July 22, two cops approached and ordered a male passenger to exit the vehicle. When the man refused to comply with the instruction, the policeman discharged pepper spray inside the taxi.

“A lady was there breastfeeding and the policeman behaved as if he did not care, so I came out (the taxi) and I was angry because you came there to remove one occupant and you pepper-spray the whole car,” she said.

King said that she removed her face mask as she struggled to breathe but was warned for prosecution under Jamaica's Disaster Risk Management Act that governs coronavirus safety protocols.

“I was there hyperventilating and I removed my mask. I was so upset because of the situation, so the policeman claimed that I had disrespected him,” she told The Gleaner.

She was told on her court appearance that she was being charged with disorderly conduct and was ordered to pay a $6,000 fine or spend 10 days in jail.

King said that her nightmare began when she was taken to the Four Paths Police Station.

“Corporal [name redacted] led me to the bathroom and she had scissors in her hand. I did not know what was her intention, but I was there in the bathroom, complying with rules and she said, 'Loosen you hair, young lady,'” she said.

King continued: “I didn't comply with loosening my hair and she said 'Young lady, yuh nuh hear me say to remove the scrunchie from your hair?' I then removed it and she start cutting my hair. After cutting my hair, the scissors she was using did not cut my hair properly so she call for another scissors.''

The 19-year-old said that she had managed to scoop a few locks of her hair from the floor before she was hurried off to a cell.

The teen said an inspector questioned the woman corporal about the authority on which she relied to cut her hair.

“She was there giving attitude and the inspector said, 'Okay, ma'am, only know say when problem come, nobody don't call mi name,” King said.

Caressing the locks she had retained in a plastic bag, King said she had never felt humiliated as a Rastafarian.

“I've been to a lot of places and I've been accepted. I've never been shunned or turned away or been put aside. I've never experienced this until the 22nd of July. That was the first time being violated because of my culture,” she told The Gleaner.

Nzinga's mother, Shirley McIntosh, said that a grave injustice was done against her only daughter. McIntosh, 49, said she almost fainted when she saw her daughter without most of her hair.

“Surprisingly on Monday when I went for her, they brought a little girl to me with no locks on her head. I couldn't even identify my daughter,” she said.

Anthony King, Nzinga's father, was livid when he spoke with The Gleaner at their home in Lionel Town, Clarendon.

“This feel like me woulda commit suicide or do things outa the way because every one a human, and if man attack we, this come in like a war.”

King likened the alleged injustice against his daughter to the 1963 Coral Gardens Incident in which tumult was sparked in a St James community after a Rastafarian sympathiser was shot. Several Rastafarians were reportedly abused and their hair cut in the state crackdown.

Attorney-at-law Isat Buchanan, who is representing the King family, told The Gleaner that he intends to sue the State on his client's behalf.

“There is no pier in law that could allow a police officer to scalp a Rastafarian,” he said, adding that he would be seeking redress from the court if the Attorney General's Department disagreed that this “aggravated and egregious act should not warrant immediate compensation”.

“Black hair is a symbol of our roots. Many state actors may resent it, but the Constitution says it must be protected. That is all I will say on the issue. As a member of the Rastafarian community, Princess Nzinga was scalped by a woman officer, and no justification in law will suffice,” Buchanan said.

Patricia Duncan-Sutherland, People's National Party caretaker for Clarendon South Eastern, described the incident as an “outrageous and unconscionable act of abuse” at the hands of the State.

And Anderson, the police commissioner, said that “claims of human-rights abuses are viewed by the High Command as very serious”.

Professor of culture, gender and society at The University of the West Indies, Donna Hope, has called for members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to undergo training in cultural sensitivity in the wake of the alleged abuse.

Hope said that the King haircut was a scar on the face of the nation, especially as the country commemorates both Emancipation and Independence.

“Cutting somebody's hair that they have grown for 19 years as a part of their identity, and which symbolises who they are and that carries their memories, is an injustice that should not be allowed to happen in Jamaica in 2021,” Hope told The Gleaner.

“We remember Coral Gardens that happened in the 1960s. Are you saying to me that we have not moved past this?” she charged, noting that the right to religious expression is protected under Jamaica's Constitution.

Uncut hair is at the core of Rastafarian religious identity – a sort of Afrocentric repudiation of cultural norms that find comfort in white-dominant European societies – and continues to spark clashes in conservative quarters of Jamaican society, especially in its schools.

McIntosh contends that King has been stripped of her identity and pooh-poohed the Emancipendence holidays as a farce.

“Mi angry! I don't even want to hear anything about no Emancipation Day. Mi no want nobody tell mi but no Emancipation. We are still being victimised in a time like this.

“Look how much Rastafarians have contributed to the country, to the world overall? Why are we still being victimised?” King's mother said.