08 June 2008

Bullets can't kill Poverty

Bullets can’t kill Poverty
John Maxwell

On Thursday, August 29 1963, the Daily Gleaner’s triple decker banner headline led with
“200,000 in US Freedom March”
The second deck said
“Great Throng at the Lincoln Shrine” above a third deck
“End race bars, leaders call”
A picture over four columns next to the lead was captioned
“Support from local groups” and showed a section of a crowd of Jamaicans above the subhead
‘Local March backs Washington demonstration’.
Another story above the fold reported that President Kennedy had commended the marchers, saying that ” the cause of 20 million negroes had been advanced by the march”
Another story about the Jamaican solidarity demo was headlined
“Booing of Rabbi rebuked” and it reported among other things that
“Mr John Maxwell, journalist, in a speech said that some members of the crowd had ‘successfully removed a Jew, a member of the race most oppressed in history – a man who has come to show solidarity with you and you have run him away”
“What we fight for is right and we must get it. But we degrade ourselves when we use the same methods as the people who oppress us. What we need now is harmony among races. Not that we can forget what they [oppressors] have done to us – we can’t forget it. But we must approach our fight with a civilised view’
The crowd was upset by things that had nothing to do with Jews or with Rabbi Silverman. The government had threatened to ban the march as it had banned all other demos in the year since independence, including a proposed march of the unemployed. Small armoured cars – Bren gun-carriers, were reportedly stationed just out of sight of our march. Rastas –who were well represented in the march – had been suffering serious persecution. There were signs all over Kingston: “Birth Control – A plan to Kill Negro.”
Four months before the march the so called “Coral Gardens incident” had left several people dead, including innocent Rastas far away from Coral Gardens.
Some time after the incident a group of Rastas gave me their version of the reason for the “Coral Gardens Incident”:
”Many months ago Rudolph Franklin, one of the three Rastafarian brethren shot dead on Thursday, April 11, occupied a plot on the Rose Hall estate. The headman of the property, Edward Fowler, who also died on Thursday April 11, brought a policeman to eject the brother off the land. The unarmed brother was shot six times by the policeman, and believed dead, was not taken to hospital until hours after.
“The brother recovered after months of medical treatment, although he was told by a doctor that he would only live for a short time and he was immediately sentenced to six months imprisonment on a charge of having ganja.
The Rasta brethren say these are the facts which led directly to the altercation and killings at Coral Gardens on Holy Thursday 1963 (Peace and Love? Public Opinion, April 27, 1963)
One of these Rastas was a small man called William Cole who is the most peaceful and meekest person I have ever met. He was a good friend. Mr Cole carved alabaster ornaments for sale to Jamaicans and tourists.
He was at home in Deeside, about ten miles from Falmouth on the edge of the Cockpit Country on Good Friday 1963, with his wife and two year old child when “a body of people come down on me with gun and stick and start to break the house down with a force and demands me out of the house.” Cole had not heard about the Coral Gardens bloodletting the day before.
His young wife, in fear of her life, grabbed the baby and fled. A man found Cole hiding under his bed and, at gunpoint, ordered him out.
“They start with their stick them and their gun to murder me in the worst condition. Then they take me away to the Deeside lockup.
“They say – ‘we locking up all a you people who carry beard ‘ ”
Cole was manacled to another innocent Rasta, one Ellis, snatched out of a movie queue in Wakefield. They were thrown into a truck and taken to Falmouth. In the truck “the same continually murderation …they mashed out my toenail with their police boots, spit in my face and jook me with they batons.”
It was even worse in Falmouth where 15 or 16 policemen (one in uniform) and special constables fell upon him and Ellis, mocking them and telling them “Go back whey you come from”
“It was in the station there that they tried to kill us. They beat us until Ellis foot swell big so and they beat me until my han’ burs’ [BROKE] and they break my kneecap besides which they hit me so bad in my back that my semen run out of my line [loins] for three days straight, He was beaten senseless and according to his fellow prisoner Ellis, the police continued beating him even when he was out cold and thought to be dead or dying. About three days later he lost consciousness in his cell and was seen by a doctor who said he should be in hospital. The police left him on the floor in a cell with three bunks and 18 prisoners who took turns to sleep on the floor. He and another prisoner found ground glass in their miserable food when they were transferred to the Falmouth lockup The policeman on guard duty to whom they complained said” Me no business wid dat. A unnoo a kill people!” ( ‘Oh! It’s hard to be poor” Public Opinion, June 7 1963)
It was in Falmouth that William Cole head about Coral Gardens and that Prime Minister Bustamante had ordered that all Rastas should be brought in, dead or alive.
He was eventually charged with some unspecified breach of the Road Traffic law and when that lunatic charge was dropped he was charged with what he called ‘contemplation of making war” [Treason Felony] That too was also abandoned after he got a lawyer.
He lost everything, his house, his beat-up wreck of a car, his raw materials and finished work. He was unable to sue for redress and as far as I know. never got a shilling for his barbaric treatment
I have not seen William Cole since I left Jamaica in a hurry in 1966.I have tried to find him and have always wondered what happened to him.
I do know, however, that nothing much has changed in the police force sine 1963 despite the protestations of the Police Federation. I do remember that in 1963 I almost went to prison for my part in solving the murder of a young hotel waiter called Milton Cassells. The murderer was a policeman named George Porter.
In 1963 the Jamaican society was up in arms against Rastas. The Prime Minister was quite prepared to “shoot from top to bottom’. The Gleaner declared open season on Rastas in an infamous Leandro cartoon
At that time I suggested that what was needed was not hysteria, not policies based on fear but a programme to revolutionise the Jamaican way of life, to restore dignity to all people and to put some purpose into the lives of all … “if a call to violence can find a response in any great number of our people the it means that our society is afflicted with some deep sickness. If we admit that, as we do, we must also admit that the sickness is in ourselves.” (“Our invisible poor”, Public Opinion, May 18, 1963.
On the Heroes Day weekend in that same year I reviewed a paper by Dr Douglas Manley, on mental ability in Jamaican children and the unfair bias of the common entrance tests against poor children. His conclusions are borne out by history.
Manley’s study and another by Dr P.C.C. Evans [quoted by Manley] suggested
”While the avenues for social mobility have been enlarged by the system of free places it is the girls, the working class girl rather than the working class boy who benefits.
“The future [Douglas Manley feared] may produce a woman-directed Jamaica, with the women unable to find marriageable men at their level and a reservoir of unemployable, totally unskilled men, discontented and waiting for trouble”
(Bringing up trouble; Public Opinion Oct. 19 1963)
I have the feeling that history is telling us that while a Commissioner of Police can change a police force, the ‘curbing’ of crime is a matter for policymakers and the society. Douglas Manley, PCC Evans and a host of others were and are right. The fault is in a cruel, corrupt, unjust and sick society. Crime is only one symptom.
As Fidel Castro once said:”bullets can kill the poor and the hungry; bullets cannot kill hunger and poverty”
Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell

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