Letters to the Editor

Understanding the celebrations for the 'returned resident'

Monday, January 21, 2019

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Dear Editor,

I wish to explain the groundswell of celebration and welcome given to the release of a leading reggae proponent from prison in the US.

While I do not honour the moment in the name of Mandela's “long walk to freedom”, nor that it was a situation similar to Marcus Garvey's imprisonment in the United States, it is an occasion that should not be ignored.

I hope the experience of the person released is similar to that of Malcolm X. He was educated in prison; he learned to read, write, and became a world-class orator in prison. He expressed that he “felt free for the first time”; he found freedom in prison.

There is that thinking in Jamaica that the law exists to control and oppress black people; black Americans feel the same way about the law un the US. The immediate post-slavery experience saw the emergence of crime in Jamaica; punishment was ever present. In the 1990s drug enforcement agents (DEA) were in Jamaica reportedly 'setting up' small businessmen, among others, to export drugs, then subject them to arrests. These two periods represent turning points in the double standards in the law and justice system in Jamaica.

There is the general perception among the black masses that the law is geared only towards the small, black man, while ignoring or giving special treatment to those from the elite classes generally, and more specifically in the illegal drugs trade — ganja and cocaine. This article has no support for the illegal cocaine trade.

In the decades after Emancipation crime began to be a serious social aberration in Jamaica. It was mainly related to petty matters, mostly praedial larceny. When prisoners were set free, members of their communities held 'welcome home' celebrations. This tradition was grounded in the idea that one man's justice is another's injustice. It was not about celebrating crime. It was a heroic welcome for someone that was believed to have been unjustly arrested and imprisoned.

The cases are many in the newspaper archives; probably the most popular one was that of the late Ben Monroe against a DEA agent. There were forces in and outside of Jamaica enticing, tricking and deceiving Jamaicans into entrapment in the cross-border drug trade. There is a popular view that this practice is wicked, illegal and immoral. This approach is seen as a political act and as such deemed by many black people as injustice. It is also seen, within in the context of the history of crime and punishment among black people, as a continuation of the politics of control and domination.

The recent celebration, then, is monumental and should not be ignored. It is not about the crime, it is a condemnation of the political action of entrapment of people in the national and global illegal drug trade.

We wish the 'returned resident' well, hoping there will be lots of lessons to share in making the error and overcoming that moment in time. We will never return to the good old days, but we may be able to create better days ahead. Much of this leadership will rest on the resurgence of the militancy and new morality from the members of the cultural community, especially from the singers, players of instruments, and largely on the Rastafarian movement.

Louis E A Moyston, PhD


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