Disrespect, class bias cited in Mario Deane's death
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — For Raymond Pryce, the shocking death of 31-year-old Mario Deane after he was beaten in a St James lock-up reflected the disregard by some police personnel for ordinary people as well as the need to decriminalise ganja.
Another youthful parliamentarian, Pryce's colleague and People's National Party (PNP) backbencher Dayton Campbell said that the tragedy underlined an even more fundamental problem. It was testament, he said, to deep-seated class divisions and a prevalent "house slave" mentality 176 years after 'full free' of slaves in Jamaica.
Campbell told Comrades at a North West Manchester constituency conference in Hatfield recently that while he understood and empathised with the discussion about ganja, he thought Deane died because of the social class from which he sprung.
"In my mind it is because it is somebody (Deane) from a lower class... Jamaica have a problem... we look down on a certain class of people," said Campbell, the member of parliament for St Ann North West.
By contrast, he said, when "other people" (from higher social classes) got into trouble with the law including for traffic breaches, officialdom often sought to intervene on their behalf.
Deane, a Montego Bay construction worker, was allegedly beaten by cellmates in early August after being charged with possession of a ganja cigarette. He was kept in a lock-up for an extended time rather than being granted bail allegedly because a police officer was offended by his comment that he disliked police.
The incident has caused national outrage and public demonstrations in Montego Bay. Two of Deane's cellmates have been charged in connection with his death and several lawmen on duty at the police station at the time have been interdicted or suspended.
As a direct result of Deane's death, the Jamaican Government has issued instructions that people should no longer be arrested for small quantities of ganja. Rather they should be served Court summonses.
But, said Campbell, ganja was not of itself the fundamental element in Deane's death, since the same fate would have awaited him even had he been initially charged for some other offence. It was simply because of the contempt with which he was regarded, Campbell argued.
"How is it that a man fi get bail, say im don't like police and that lead to extended time? Dat ca' right because if I say I don't like police where is the crime in dat? How is it that I must spend more time in prison because I say I don't like police... you end up prove why the man don't like police... I have to tell the truth if a so unno (police) ago behave I don't like unno either," declared the MP to loud applause.
"The problem we are having is that when you are from the lower class, people tek advantage of you... when yu black, people tek advantage of you," he said.
Claiming that he had been accused of "bringing race into this thing", Campbell said he was not saying "white people a tek advantage" rather he said, it was "black people a treat dem own" poorly.
"Black people who bleaching because they feel if they don't bleach they can't reach, because they have a problem with them skin, they have a problem with their identity," he said.
"We have to move to a point where we comfortable with ourselves and respect each other ... We have to move away from this plantation thing and this slavery thing ... we feel that because we are house slave we better than the field slave we have to move away from that thing," he said.
"We have to get to a point where if police stop you and you come and say 'top of the morning to you, sir', or if you come out and say 'wha a gwaan?' im (police officer) treat you with the same level of respect," Campbell added.
He urged the Christian church to "come out and start talking about these things" just as it had raised its collective voice on other issues.
Speaking just prior to Campbell, Pryce, the MP for North East St Elizabeth, told of being verbally abused and threatened by a policeman while he was a university student, on his way to doing an exam.
At one point, he said, the abusive policeman who had taken his car documents and caused him to be late for his exam, threatened to "fling" him "inna di back a di police car and dump yu body over Riverton". Eventually, he said, an inspector intervened, returned his car documents and sent him on his way.
"What happened with Mario Deane could easily have happened with me. If I had a spliff — I don’t smoke but I drink the tea — they could have taken me and I could have been in a lock-up. When I heard what happened to Mario Deane I felt, I recalled, I remembered the anxiety and the panic that I felt," Pryce said.
Pryce, who has moved a parliamentary motion for the decriminalisation of ganja, reiterated that the society needed to "stop criminalising our young men over this matter".
He hailed Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her government for taking action to make the possession of small quantities of ganja a non-custodial offence.
The NW Manchester constituency meeting at the Hatfield Primary School reaffirmed the chairmanship of Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips. The latter's father, Finance Minister Peter Phillips, updated PNP delegates, workers and hardcore supporters on the Government's debt reduction and economic recovery programme.