Columns

It's time for our MPs to check themselves

Jean LOWRIE-CHIN

Monday, February 24, 2014    

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NO one is perfect, and even more so, no law.

The Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Bill, commonly referred to as anti-gang legislation, was passed in Jamaica's House of Parliament last Wednesday with 22 amendments. We have to agree with human rights activists that this Bill could be tough on misguided young folks, as it will see persons associated with gangs locked away for a very long time. However, the terrible crimes that are now being reported call for a strong response.

A Jamaica Information Service report on the passage of the Bill quotes Attorney General Patrick Atkinson: "While it is understandable that civil society and persons are concerned about their individual rights, we must bear in mind that this piece of legislation will not exist in isolation... Indeed, when the police act under it they still have to go to court and prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the allegations against the particular person they take before the court are proven."

Guyana's Stabroek News also reported on this development, and quoted former Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who "challenged his parliamentary colleagues to dispense with political capital in order to dismantle criminal gangs": "In this Parliament, some of us, all of us, will have to be prepared to give up some political capital to dismantle some of these garrisons. I think that we are never going to fully break up the gangs until we agree, between us, both sides and all politicians, that we must free the minds of our members in our communities so that they respect how others exercise their vote."

The report stated that some of Mr Chuck's colleagues retorted: "Speak for yourself!" To which we would say, it is time that all parliamentarians check themselves and their fellow MPs before they wreck this country!

Our human rights activists, government agencies and all concerned citizens must now move quickly to help protect at-risk youth. We need to have more social workers on the ground to counsel our young people and assist them in making themselves employable. I would like to recommend such sustainable models as Dr Henley Morgan's Agency for Inner-city Renewal in Trench Town, the St Patrick's Foundation in Olympic Gardens, and the Stella Maris Foundation in Grant's Pen.

Valerie Facey's 60 years of volunteerism

When I hear folks criticising Jamaica and Jamaicans, I have to remind them that because 'bad news sells', we don't hear enough about the heroes in our midst. It was therefore important that the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD) had a special event last week to honour Valerie Facey for her 60 years of voluntary service to the organisation. We learned how she worked to establish the Danny Williams School for the Deaf when she discovered that there were many deaf youngsters virtually locked away for years with no skills training. In the 1950s, this 20-something American-Jamaican was knocking on doors in such communities as Jones Town and Passmore Town to encourage parents to allow their children to develop skills. A brochure circulated at the event showed exquisite restoration of old books at the JAD bindery.

As expected, Mrs Facey passed on the kudos to her father-in-law Cecil Boswell Facey, who was chairman of the organisation founded by Rev F W Gilby in 1938, and to R 'Danny' Williams who was also invited by his father-in-law Lister Mair to volunteer. But those who have worked with Valerie Facey know of her hands-on commitment to any cause

she espouses.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen saluted Mrs Facey's "powerful influence for good" and her "tangible commitment to the marginalised and overlooked". We saw Valerie Facey at work on the Advocacy Committee of the Women's Leadership Initiative. She inspired us with her insight and respect for the opinions of the young mentees with whom we worked. A great lady indeed.

How many 'Claudias'?

The speaker at both the JAD event and the Annual Cobb Lecture Series was a lady from St Mary, Jamaica, who became deaf at eight years old and was kept out of school for three years. She was none other than Claudia L Gordon, award-winning Jamaican-American equal rights advocate who now works at the White House.

Ms Gordon remembers a woman who would frequent her community and make guttural sounds. She said everyone called the woman "Dummy" just because she was a deaf mute. Claudia said that if her ambitious mother had not decided to move with her to the US when she was 11, she would have probably ended up being another "Dummy" in her community.

Instead, Claudia was taught sign language and excelled at the Lexington School in Queens, New York. She then graduated cum laude from Howard University, and gained a degree from the Washington College of Law, from whence she started her dynamic career of public service.

"Every child deserves quality education," she declared. "It is an undeniable right. It is important that deaf children be taught in their own language. In the US, there were laws that ensured that I had equal access. I had the same opportunity as others because I had an interpreter."

She spoke of the reliability of the system: "At Howard University, the interpreter came every day and it didn't cost a penny, because that's the law in the USA. I was given the tools that levelled the playing field for me."

Ms Gordon challenged us: "What are we not doing? We should be influencing attitudes, beliefs and perceptions about people who are handicapped. When I was eight my friends disappeared as they thought if they came near me, they would

go deaf."

"We need to see the disabled as persons; not for what they cannot do, but for what they can do." She called for our children to be given the opportunity and that we find solutions to the communication issue. Further, she asked: How many Claudias are there in Jamaica who are not being empowered?

"We need strong, solid interpreters, a training programme in which deaf people will be included," she suggested. "You should invest in a school to benefit our island." She pointed out that Jamaicans abroad are "doing amazing things", and that we should be striving to build a Jamaica that reflects a new diversity... Disability will touch us at some time in our lives. We're doing ourselves a favour for later."

The trailblazer encouraged the JAD to empower deaf people to serve. "Assistance is different from empowerment," she observed. "If deaf people can lead themselves, we'd have done our jobs." It was a great endorsement for future plans of the JAD, who plan to build a facility of higher learning.

We don't like you either!

In reporting on Robert Mugabe's 90th birthday last Friday, the BBC noted that "the late Zimbabwean politician Edgar Tekere told the BBC's Brian Hungwe that when organising the independence celebrations in 1980, Mr Mugabe wasn't keen on having Bob Marley perform. The prime-minister-in-waiting is said to have stated that British pop star Cliff Richard was much more to his taste... His dislike of Rastafarians is well known -- he once warned young Zimbabweans: 'In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke marijuana, the men are always drunk. Men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some then dreadlock their hair. Let's not go there.'"

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com

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