Editorial

A missed opportunity to show political maturity

Thursday, November 29, 2018

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If anyone thought that tribal politics is over in Jamaica we would refer them to the meeting of the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament on Tuesday.

It would be short-sighted, of course, to say that the virulent nature of our tribal politics has not been somewhat diminished, but to say that it is not there, ready to rear its very ugly head at a moment's notice, would be a big mistake.

The committee had just heard, for the second time in a week, from Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry about the appalling conditions in which detainees are being housed after being taken into custody under the state of public emergency (SOE) in St James.

Ms Harrison Henry, on Tuesday, shared an experience with a foul-mouthed police officer who, clearly objected to her team seeking to protect the rights of detainees at the Freeport Police Station in Montego Bay, expelled a string of obscenities.

In her previous appearance at the Internal and External Affairs Committee sitting, Ms Harrison Henry painted a chilling picture of what was happening to residents of St James who have been taken off the streets randomly and without legal basis.

Some were on their way to work, a football field, pool party, church, funerals, or from their communities when they were taken into police custody, deprived of their liberty, locked up behind bars at the station, and kept with persons who are charged in the regular system of criminal justice, having nothing to do with the SOE, she told the parliamentary committee.

This clearly cannot be what any well-thinking Jamaican could want, as desperate as we are for the murder rate to be held in check. To deprive innocent Jamaicans of their rights is to set us up for even more anger and resentment against the system in the future.

A perfectly sensible suggestion was made that the committee hears from former detainees and/or family members of detainees to get first-hand information that would show whether the public defender was exaggerating or interfering unjustifiably, as the dirty-mouthed cop seemed to have been suggesting.

We had expected to see unanimity in the committee about righting the wrongs against fellow citizens. Instead, what transpired was the resurgence of tribal politics as the suggestion was voted down along party lines.

It may well be that the Government members interpreted the suggestion made by the Opposition members as an attempt to embarrass the Administration. That, we would like think, was foolish. On the other hand, if the Opposition saw it as an opportunity to score points, then it, too, would have been foolish.

For all we know, some detainees voted Jamaica Labour Party while others voted People's National Party. In detention, they were all just Jamaican men, women and children.

The fact is that all Jamaicans should be ashamed that something like this was happening in our beloved country.

What a wasted opportunity to achieve bipartisanship in making sure that the rights of fellow Jamaicans are protected.

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