Monday, December 15, 2014

Heartrending Tivoli Enquiry

Paulette Wellington testifying during the Tivoli Enquiry about the death of her 29-yearold son who she said was shot by soldiers in May 2010. (PHOTO: MICHAEL GORDON)
by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer column for MON 8 December 2014

It was May 2010, when we heard reports that women marched in downtown Kingston, pledging to lay down their lives for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke who was the subject of an extradition order.   It is alleged that Coke’s supporters erected barricades with LPG cylinders around the community of Tivoli Gardens.  I was abroad when I saw on the internet that two police stations had been torched and policemen ambushed and killed, in what appeared to be an insurrection against the state.  Then we heard reports that Coke had escaped, leaving loyalists and other members of the community to face the security forces.
So sad this girl, who said she was offered only a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound to the leg, as she testified at the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry taking place now at the Jamaica Conference Centre. She said she returned to another section of the hospital to get treatment, having seen her stepfather die from bullets, coming from whose gun, she was not sure.  And then there was the man who lifted up his shirt to show the scar from a gunshot, and the woman who showed where she was shot under her arm. 
These are members of our Jamaican family, enslaved by life in a garrison.  Multiply them by the hundreds, as greedy politicians of both parties pack them tight in yards or newer buildings, ensuring that there is a favoured thug to keep them in line.  See them scattered from one end of the country to the other, and nervous young people unable to break out of the cycle unless they play a cynical game.
Let every politician take a close look at the faces of these anguished citizens, untrusting and unsure, as they answer questions of fellow Jamaicans who were raised in different circumstances. No sniggering then from us, please – we who came from homes not ‘guarded’ by dons, with parents who could send us to ‘good schools’.  Here we are, face to face with, but for the grace of God, what we could have become. 

Our media … ‘Oxygen of Democracy’
There is a fresh new wind blowing in Jamaica, where more contending voices are being heard, thanks to our hardworking media professionals, and the unified voice of the Press Association of Jamaica which has thrived under the leadership of immediate past president Jenni Campbell and current president Dionne Jackson-Miller.  Let us not take for granted our journalists’ long hours, risky assignments, and tight deadlines as new headlines emerge by the second.
I remember my editor at the Daily News telling me, ‘Stop rewriting – we have to go to press now. By tomorrow it will be wrapping fish.” No more: news items live forever on the internet and can build or ruin the reputation of the reporter or the subject of those reports. 
Congratulations to the recent winners of Journalism Awards and to the sponsors who have stepped up to give substantial rewards for excellence. This year’s new awards were sponsored by Digicel, the European Union, the National Housing Trust, Sagicor and UNICEF.
Each year, veteran journalists are honoured at a luncheon sponsored by Wray & Nephew Limited – we salute those recognized this year, stalwarts Keith Brown, Ben Brodie and Lindy Delapenha, who have served the profession with distinction.

Kudos, Venesha Phillips!
Thanks to the media, Jamaica and the world were introduced to PNP Councillor for the Papine Division Venesha Phillips over the past weeks.  We first heard her name when she voiced her displeasure at the NHT Outameni purchase.  Then, last week, she was shot at, as tribalists tried to force her hand in distributing work on a sidewalk project in Elletson Flats.
We are glad that the PNP and JLP are of one voice in condemning the incident which left her unharmed, mercifully, and we applaud her for saying she would not back down from her principled position. 
Politicians like Venesha Phillips will help set a new standard for an honest Jamaica. Such courageous individuals are activists for Vision 2030, and we want to see all the politicians who keep expressing this dream for Jamaica as “the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business”, to show her quality of leadership.

Citizens protest 
Over several days at Emancipation Park, ordinary citizens demonstrated against the Government’s decision to keep the current Board of the NHT.  At our office and those of many colleague business owners, where by law we must pay three percent of staff contributions while they pay two percent, team members are angry, as some of them still cannot qualify to buy a home. 
PSOJ President Chris Zacca, who had joined the demonstration, expressed his position in a letter published in the press which stated, in part: “On July 31st 2013, I was honoured to sign the Partnership For Jamaica (PFJ) agreement on behalf of the private sector. Other signatories to this historic agreement were the Most Hon Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller on behalf of the Government, Mr Lloyd Goodleigh on behalf of the trade unions, and Miss Kemesha Kelly on behalf of civil society.”
He noted that in the PFJ, the GOJ reaffirmed “the key principles of transparency, accountability, integrity, genuine consultation, thoughtful people-centred action…”  He then observed: “The latest position of the NHT is that Outameni was purchased to become the "Emancipation Park of the West" and for the chairman to think that it is acceptable, or even the norm, that the NHT could establish such an important national symbol in western Jamaica without consulting with the prime minister and her Cabinet, and indeed the wider society, is totally at odds with modern concepts of good governance and not credible.”
He continued: “The fact that the website of the current Emancipation Park in New Kingston states that ‘the NHT board of directors together with the former Prime Minister the Right Honourable PJ Patterson visualised creating a park in the city where Jamaicans and visitors alike could relax and play’ underscores this point.”
At last Thursday’s PSOJ AGM, Chris Zacca announced that he would not be seeking re-election, and that the new Council on which he will continue to serve, will be choosing a new President at their first meeting on December 18.  Congratulations to Chris and the members of his Executive on their outstanding leadership.

“I can’t breathe”!!
The video of Eric Garner wrestled to the sidewalk and held in a chokehold by members of the New York Police as he called out in a strangled voice, “I can’t breathe”, has us wondering how a grand jury could have ruled that no one should be charged with the death of this unarmed family man.  The decision not to prosecute has resulted in a groundswell of multi-racial demonstrations throughout America as participants stage “Die-Ins” after chanting, “I can’t breathe”. 
Let us be inspired by the power of their numbers and strength of organization.  As we look to the celebration of International Human Rights Day this Wednesday, let us not be faint in speaking up for justice here in Jamaica, and wherever in the world the rights of our human family are threatened.

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