TAMPA, Florida — Jamaicans in Florida have consistently poured out their support for jailed international Reggae star Buju Banton. His songs get good rotation here and there was even a short-lived 'Free Buju' movement.
As the entertainer's Monday trial date looms, supporters living here have expressed their desire to see the four-time Grammy nominee freed of the drug-related charges against him.
Some supporters here believe that the artiste is innocent and that he had been set up. They are, however, split on just who set up the Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie.
On one hand there are those who believe, as Banton's legal team is contending, that the Government had set up the artiste. But there are those who believe that he was set up by the "powerful and influential" gay community.
One of those who believes that the gay community is behind the arrest of the artiste — whose anti-homosexual lyrics have earned their wrath -- is Kenyo Rose, 33, of Tampa.
"I believe the gay community is behind the arrest because of the fight they always give him," Rose, himself a Reggae artiste who goes by the name J Rose, formerly Wicked, told the Sunday Observer yesterday.
"In the US the gay community has a lot of power and money too. When somebody wants you they are going to find a way to get you," said Rose.
Banton and the gay community have been at odds since the 1990s when he made the monster hit single Boom Bye Bye, which advocates death for homosexuals. The gay community's protests have led to several of the artiste's shows in the United States being cancelled.
The years of acrimony between Banton and the gay community and the financial toll it has taken on the artiste forced Banton last year October to meet with members of the gay community in Los Angeles.
Though Rose feels that Banton may be innocent, he said the only way the artiste could walk was if he cuts a deal with prosecutors.
Another Jamaican, who gave her name as Kizzy, did not want to ascribe innocence or guilt to the artiste but said that Banton deserved a second chance, in that he should be acquitted.
"I think he deserves a second chance," Kizzy, 33, told the Sunday Observer. "But if he did what they say he did, that's wrong.
Another Jamaican, who gave his name only as Donovan and who is a soldier in the US army, said Banton deserved prison if he is found guilty as charged. Donovan, who was visiting family in this city, bemoaned what he said was a great deal of drug-related crimes being committed in Jamaica.
The trial against Banton is expected to start tomorrow at the Middle District Court in this Florida city.
Banton and two other men — James Mack and Ian Thomas — were arrested last year in south Florida and charged with conspiracy to possess more than five kilogrammes of cocaine with intent to distribute. Mack was also charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offence.
However, Banton's two co-accused recently copped plea deals with prosecutors, agreeing to testify against the artiste in return for light sentences.
Banton's legal team said it was not perturbed by the development, and expressed confidence that a jury would return a not guilty verdict.