Justice, Truth be Ours Forever…What does Justice look like?

Poor Governance… What are our options?

I was frustrated with the present government. I watched our Prime Minister deliver the main address at the PNP annual conference. I listened carefully. “So this is as good as it gets with the PNP? What are our options?” I was desperate for an alternative. But when I looked across to “greener” pastures, that hope dimmed. I blogged then about our need for a credible alternative, and opined that in their present state, I did not think that the JLP was much of a choice. I begged the JLP. I pleaded with them.

I was challenged, on separate, unrelated occasions by two people that I think highly of, whose opinions I respect, to think carefully about what I was saying. Their common thesis was “how can a credible alternative reside in another creature of the same system?” (my words). Think about it. How different are the JLP and the PNP really? Was I looking for mere respite or was I in search of a systemic fix?

The Tivoli Incursion and the Commission of Enquiry into it.

In May 2010, under a JLP government, turmoil in the community of Tivoli, itself a JLP garrison, resulted in 72 civilians being killed. Having initially resisted an extradition order for “community leader” Christopher Coke, then PM Golding eventually capitulated and ordered the security forces to enter Tivoli, where it was thought he was hiding, and extract Coke for hand over to the US authorities. Conflict arose when the security forces came smack dab against resistance from elements in Tivoli. The entire city remained on lock down for a few days. Property was destroyed. People died.  The nation and the world were appalled at what happened.

The Don Reigns Supreme

What were these barricades supposed to do? Who erected them?
Security Forces Ordered In… to do what exactly? What was their mission?

Fast forward to December 2014. The PNP is now in power and with the support of several civic groups and other agencies, has convened a Commission of Enquiry (COE) the terms of reference of which are summarised here.  It seems to me that the aims of this COE fall into two camps: discovery and recommendation. The events leading up to the incursion, the actions of the security forces and the impact on the people and community are all within the scope of the enquiry and the Commission has been tasked as follows: “The Commission… shall make a full and faithful report on and recommendations concerning the aforesaid matters, and transmit the same to His Excellency the Most Honourable Governor General, within two (2) months after concluding its enquiry.”
How Useful are Commissions of Enquiry

How many COEs have we seen in this island since Independence from Britain in 1962?
What has come out of them?
Has governance improved?
Has the standard of living of our people moved up?

The Tivoli COE: Facing what’s in the Mirror

We are now into the second week of the Tivoli COE and I am disturbed.
What I have seen and heard have caused me to confront some of my own prejudices and some ugly truths about Jamaica in 2014.

Maiden Cay
Out of Many, Two Jamaicas


From Day 1 of the enquiry, I have grappled with this observation:The COE is being conducted in two languages. For the most part, the people giving testimony are doing so in Patois, but the lawyers are questioning in English. The need for clarification has come up repeatedly. Conflict between the written statements of the witnesses and what they are actually saying in the enquiry come up over and over again. You see, the people speak only Patois. But their written statements are in English. Are the discrepancies evidence of lies or are they misalignments, “lost in translation” as it were ? 

I searched myself to uncover the discomfort I felt listening to the two languages operating in the same space. I think that it demonstrates that though we are “out of many” we are certainly not one Jamaica. We know this intrinsically (KPH vs Tony Thwaites, Prep school vs Primary School, Ft Clarence vs Maiden Cay, air conditioned SUV vs JUTC…) but the language divide throws this sad truth into sharp relief.  “Sad” truth because despite the passage of time…the years since 1838, the years since 1944, the years since 1962, right now, in 2014, with successive governments of our own choosing, from among us, there is a part of Jamaica that struggles to simply communicate with the seemingly more powerful, more resourced, more articulate in the universally accepted language of the World, part of Jamaica. With so much “lost in translation” will the nation get the truth? Will all stories be told and be understood? And if at the end of the day truth is not revealed, then what’s the use?  

Then there is the other question I asked myself in the face of the inability of sections of our population to converse fluently in English: are we really equipped to compete globally? Who else in the world speaks patois? This is not elitism at work. It is a simple, pragmatic question. I am not an academic seeking to publish an interesting paper on Patois speakers and their inherent expressiveness. Or on the history and structure of Patois as a language. All of that is nice, and it fills journals and makes for great presentations at international conferences. Jamaica has to compete globally. We have to communicate, express, market and sell. Think on these things.

What does Justice Look Like?

Albeit early days, most of the citizens testifying have come around to the matter of restitution. They want money. Sure some of them have declared that they want recognition as people, that they felt as if they were treated as animals. But it always comes back to money. I was again disturbed by this. How can they want justice yet they always come back to money? I was challenged when I voiced my discomfort: “So what does justice look like to you, Kelly? And what do you think justice looks like to that woman whose son was killed in Tivoli, Kelly? What does it look like to that man who was beaten, Kelly? Whose picture of justice is right?” 

My picture of justice is filtered through my middle class lens. My basic needs are taken care of: I eat, I have shelter, I am safe, I am loved and I love. I have the space, fiscal and intellectual, to contemplate more seemingly abstract concepts of universal fairness, governance systems and sustainable development, for example. What if I did not know where my next meal was coming from? What if I felt oppressed by State Agencies put in place to enforce the law of the land, but I lived in a community with its own code of conduct, where loyalty and obedience to the Don were the immediate imperative, my survival depending on how well I did this? What if this was all I knew? After all, I had never traveled or read or conceived of an alternative way of living… What would justice look like to me then?

I don’t think that the mechanism of a Commission of Enquiry will uncover truth. All sides are lawyering up in order to get/preserve their version of justice. Just as I am not naive enough to believe that just because you speak English while wearing a suit means that you are telling the truth, I am not naive enough to believe that your colourful, expressive testimony in patois with your wrapped head and humble skirt means truth. Lies are told in both Patois and English. Motivations are the same: self protection and self enrichment. So where do we go from here?
The Cause of the Problem cannot be the Solution to the Problem

Consider this: Garrisons and Dons are a construct of the Politician. It was a way of securing and mobilising large blocks of votes in order to secure power. Both the PNP and the JLP have associated garrisons and dons. 

Over time, the Don has evolved beyond the politician as his power source. He amassed wealth through his own means and wielded influence outside of the Politician.The balance of power shifted. The Politician now had to kowtow to the Don in order to keep his voting blocks secure. 

The same Politician who birthed the Don and the Garrison, is the same Politician who sent in the Security Forces in the face of pressure and embarrassment. When the people demonstrate loyalty to their new boss the Don, and people die, that same Politician convenes a Commission of Enquiry to do what? Elicit truth? Seek justice? Justice for whom? And what does that justice look like? 

Don’t seek to differentiate between JLP and PNP. The scenario that played out in May 2010 and the COE in 2014 could well have happened in another garrison, with different administrations playing alternate roles. 

The Solution cannot reside with either the PNP or the JLP

Toggling between the JLP and PNP has landed us here. Their antecedents are the same. Their mechanisms are the same. Only the individuals differ.

The move from slavery to being a freed people under Britain, to becoming an independent nation took many years. It took challenging to laws of the day and agitating for change to move us along that trajectory. It took demonstrations. It took representation at the highest levels. Perhaps we just got too unwieldy and expensive for Britain to keep us on as a colony. Once we decided what we wanted however, we had to go after it. 

Perhaps Jamaicans will have to challenge the status quo in similar fashion… how else will the systemic issues that allow successive governments to build and secure enclaves and plunder and hide and lie and reward loyalty change? 

So What does justice look like?

The Jamaican middle class, the “Articulate Minority” stretched and growled in unprecedented manner the other day. Offended at the casual dismissal by a senior government official in seeking to differentiate between veranda talkers and tweeters here in Jamaica, and the voting, political base that keeps governments in power, middle class Jamaica lifted their voices. Stepping out of their comfort zone, they made placards and stood in New Kingston to voice their indignation at being dismissed out of hand and at the latest display of poor governance. 

The Articulate Minority Dec 1 2014

Perhaps we ought to stretch ourselves just a little more out of comfort zones and consider matters of justice that impact lives and society beyond our own.  

It is past the time to allow the Politician to hoodwink us. Do you really expect anything to come out of this COE given the roots of the issue and the authors of said issues?

It is time to press for real change…not just change of government, the same old systems remaining intact. Justice will come from systemic change that makes it difficult for corruption and inequity to prevail. 

The people of Tivoli need justice. The increasingly pressured middle class need justice. Members of the security forces operating under orders need justice. We who can, must articulate a vision of Justice. We must press for it. I am aware that significant change doesn’t often happen overnight. But still we must press. We must guard those institutions and systems that offer even a measure of protection from marauding politicians. Even while acknowledging that toggling between orange and green is not The Solution, I cannot distance myself from one of the basic mechanisms left to us to effect change. Perhaps incremental change towards new systems, enacted by the party that wants our votes the most will prevent total destruction while we crawl towards a better day. 

Clyde Williams, PNP member and lawyer, this morning posted this as his status on Facebook:

I have turned to Norman Manley’s speeches and writings to keep faith with the historical mission of the PNP, and to remind myself of some foundation ideals of this young democracy. In his address at the public session of Conference, 15 November 1964, Nettleford (1971, Selected Speeches) reports Norman Manley to have said, in talking about abuse of power, “Already men say when they hear of wrong: ‘what can I do about it?’ But for every time you allow wrong to pass unrebuked, you are breaking down the will to resist, and step by step you will find yourself left without courage to fight for what you believe in. Therefore, it is a duty to resist where resistance is right.”

The walls around our properties can only go so high. Our air-conditioned SUVs will continue to take us to select destinations until blockades and raging fires keep us prisoners in our own homes. To feel safe because you are in that section of society where a police will not drape up your son, or lock up your man for days, or where you can see your private health care provider in comfort and secure your child in private school is a to dwell in a fool’s paradise.  After all, “justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.

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