State must apologise, compensate Rastas

State must apologise, compensate Rastas

Bustamante: Bring in all Rastas, anything with beard, even if it’s ram goat!

Friday, December 25, 2015

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Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry on December 9, 2015 sent an explosive report to Parliament, the result of an investigation into several incidents, including the blood-stained Coral Gardens affair, for which she has recommended reparations and apology by the Jamaican State to Rastafarians. The Jamaica Observer presents part six and final of an edited version of the report:

It was not only Rastafarians who shared their experiences of abuse by police and civilians. Other persons reminisced and recounted their observations during the throes of the Coral Gardens incident, as the effect spread across the country. Some of the testimonies are recorded below.

Mr Aston Garell: Mr Garell said that he witnessed Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante giving the order to "bring in Rastas".

Mr Luther Irving: He witnessed Rastas in lock-ups at Barnett Street Police Station. He said the Rastas looked sad and thirsty and were begging for water.

Ms Erica Johnson: She witnessed a Rastafarian by the name of Bongo Rashi being arrested and abused. She saw her brother, who was a barber, helping Rastas to voluntarily trim. Since 1963, Holy Thursdays have had bad memories for her — up to this day.

Sylvester Sawyers: On Good Friday, 1963, he was living in the area of a Rasta camp. He witnessed first-hand, the rounding up of Rastafarians by police. He had to hide to avoid the police, and so he relocated to Westmoreland.

Ralston Donaldson: He was not in St James on that fateful Friday in 1963, because he had left on Holy Thursday to visit his grandmother in Hanover, and returned to Montego Bay the day after Good Friday. Ralston Donaldson had three children with Rudolph Franklyn’s daughter, so he knew Rudolph Franklyn. He said that Franklyn was a Rastafari sympathiser, but not a Rastafarian.

Alric Denham: On April 11, 1963, he travelled from Kingston to Montego Bay on the train. He went to the hospital and saw several dead Rastas on the ground. He saw a truck at the police station with bound Rastas and police using bayonets to poke Rastas. He saw bundled Rastas fall from the truck. He saw Rastas being hosed.

Trevor Craig: On April 12, 1963 he saw Rastas being hosed and beaten. They were tied up and bloody. For many years after, he had nightmares.

Sonia Edwards: In 1963 she lived in a Rasta commune in Granville, St James where the Rastas were tradesmen and "combhead". On April 12, 1963 the police came, rounded up the Rastafarians in the commune, and ordered them to lie flat on the ground. She witnessed the police take a Rasta off the pit-toilet and beat him.

She saw a policeman stole £4 from one Rasta. She saw her stepmother being verbally abused. Many Rastas fled into hiding, and many cut their locks. She went to take clothes for the Rastas at the police station but the police refused to accept the clothes. She witnessed a Rasta named Banjan Roper being beaten by police officers.

Cleavon Hamilton: In 1963 he was living in Glendevon, Montego Bay. He was a member of the Ethiopian World Federation Local 32. He became afraid based on the news reports he was hearing on the radio, of incidents involving Rastafarians; so his family removed all pictures of Haile Selassie from the house. The president of the organisation, Aubrey Brown, was detained, beaten and trimmed.

Senior Superintendent Everald Rose (retired): In April 1963, this police officer was stationed at Barnett Street Police Station. The divisional headquarters and the area headquarters were co-located at Barnett Street. On April 11, 1963 he was at the station when he heard about what happened at Coral Gardens. There was a large crowd at the police station in the afternoon, including many Rastafarians who were detained. As the day progressed, more Rastafarians were brought in, as a result of what happened at Coral Gardens. They were detained for various reasons, questioned, processed and put in cells. The station was filled to its capacity and Rastafarians therefore had to be taken to other police stations in Hanover, Trelawny, Westmoreland and St Ann. Retired Superintendent Rose does not recall seeing Prime Minister Bustamante at the station nor does he recall seeing any Rastafarians being beaten or sprayed with water.

Special Sergeant James Marshall (retired): Retired Sp Sgt Marshall was stationed at the Barnett Street Police Station in April 1963. He was involved in the confrontation between the police and the Rastas at Coral Gardens. He said that he witnessed the killing of several persons, including a police officer and Rastafarians. Upon his return to the police station, he saw Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante; Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Roy McNeil; and Commissioner of Police Mr Andrew Locke. He saw Prime Minister Bustamante stand on the staircase and say:

"All Rasta man must come in!" After that civilians began to carry Rastafarians in to the station. They would bound the Rastafarians with rope, put them in motor vehicles, drive to Barnett Street, and simply throw them out on to the street in front of the police station.

In a short time, the lock-up became filled with Rastafarians. Some had to be moved to neighbouring police station lock-ups which also soon became filled. He stated that up to that point, the police officers had not received any instructions from their superiors as to how to proceed. Some of the Rastafarians were charged, others were not. The following day Sp Sgt Marshall received instructions from Superintendent Ricketts, directing him to go to Amblin in Trelawny "to seek Rasta to bring them into the station".

He witnessed barbershops filled with Rasta men cutting off their locks. He said he did not see any Rastafarians being beaten by police or civilians. However, he recalled some having wails on their skin when they arrived at the station. The commissioner of police assembled the police in groups to search different areas. He says they searched many men, not only Rastafarians.

Special Corporal Clinton Somers (retired): On April 12, 1963, he was at home when he heard about what had happened in Coral Gardens from a neighbour. He went to Barnett Street Police Station where he saw a crowd of police officers talking about Coral Gardens. Two civilians offered to fly their planes to assist in the search for the Rastas.

He heard that Superintendent Scott had been killed, so he went to the hospital to see the body. Upon his return to the police station, he observed that police officers were agitated and boisterous. They were loud, saying they wanted to go out and hunt down those involved in the killing of their colleagues. He witnessed Prime Minister Bustamante, the Minister of Home Affairs McNeil and Commissioner of Police Locke arrive at the station. He described how these three officials addressed the police officers at the station. According to the retired Special Corporal, Bustamante said: "Bring in all Rasta, anything with beard, even if it’s ram goat!" at which they all laughed.

Retired Special Corporal Somers said that Rastafarians were being brought into the station at the time. He received information from a group of civilians that a group of Rastafarians were celebrating the fall of Babylon in Canterbury. He and other police officers rushed to the location where they arrested six Rastafarian men and charged them for breaching the public order. They had no attorneys and were convicted and sentenced.

He said many Rasta men from all directions were brought in by soldiers and civilians. According to Special Corporal Somers, he saw a Rastafarian man named Leon Pinnock (now deceased), and whom he knew, being hit in the head with a baton by Constable Leonard Birch (also deceased).

Special Corporal Somers said that he did not hear Prime Minister Bustamante say that they were to bring in all Rastas dead or alive.

Constitutional rights analysis

The fundamental rights and freedoms secured by the constitution and which are enforceable are:

· Freedom of the person (right to personal liberty)

· Protection of the freedom of movement

· Protection from inhuman treatment

· Protection for privacy of home and other rights

· Right to a fair trial

· Protection of freedom of conscience

· Protection of freedom of expression

· Protection of freedom of assembly and association

· Protection from discrimination

…It is a cardinal principle of English constitutional law that every imprisonment is prima facie unlawful. Therefore, any deprivation of personal liberty is unconstitutional, unless justified by the circumstances outlined in the constitution, the burden therefore being on the State to show that such circumstances existed. Section 15(4) expressly stipulates that: "Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained by any other person shall be entitled to compensation therefor from that person."

…From the material received none of the complainants was deprived of his personal liberty in any of the circumstances and limitations of section 15 (1) (a) – (k) of the Constitution.

Having analysed the material collected, it appears to the Public Defender that, initially, over 160 Rastafarians living in the western parishes of Jamaica were ‘rounded up’ into police custody. The facts proved in the case of R v. Larman, Bowen and Jarrett demonstrated that the attack on the gas station and on the police was limited to a handful of men who appeared to be Rastafarians and did not involve the Rastafari community as a whole.

The essence of the wrong is that the Rastafarian community paid and suffered for the wrongs perpetrated by the band of bearded men at Coral Gardens.

…It is plain that those 160 Rastafarians who did not participate in the unlawful actions at Coral Gardens but who suffered incarceration were deprived of the right of freedom movement as safeguarded by the provisions of section 16 (1) and (2) of the constitution which provide for freedom of movement and freedom to move about Jamaica.

The imprisonment of that group appears to have been the result of their simply being Rastafari, or appearing to be Rastafari and accordingly could not be said to be in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health. Their imprisonment was arbitrary and unlawful and contrary to the protection offered by the constitution.

…It appears from the material collected that the 160 Rastafarians were not taken into police custody on reasonable suspicion of having committed or being about to commit any crimes, or for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, or protecting the rights or freedoms of others, but on the sole basis of having been Rastafarians.

It could not reasonably be argued that the house-to-house, camp-to-camp search of Rastafari and their homes was justifiable in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, and public revenue. Therefore, the trespass on the homes and/or persons of the many victims, without reasonable cause, amounts to an infringement of section 19 of the constitution.

…Despite the many complaints that Rastafarians were sentenced without trials and without pleading guilty, the Public Defender’s assessment of the material collected has been rendered difficult by virtue of the lack of court records supporting such claims.

State must apologise, compensate Rastas

Based on the material collated the Public Defender finds:

(1) Throughout the period from its inception and in particular the events of Coral Gardens, Rastafarianism as a religion has been subject to discrimination, denigration and scorn.

(2) Its adherents have suffered extreme acts of violations of basic human rights. The Public Defender is constrained to say that though she has identified constitutional breaches she has not found any yardstick by which to recommend individual monetary compensation. However, the recommendations are designed to offer redress to the community as distinct from individuals. In accordance with her statutory mandate the recommendations are:

(1) The State use appropriate language to apologise to those persons who were directly affected by the events of Coral Gardens 1963 but who were not involved in the unlawful events or activities which led to the tragedy.

(2) The Ministries with responsibilities for culture and tourism establish a centre, specifically for development and preservation of Rastafari culture.

(3) Urgent consideration be given by the State for the acquisition of the Outameni property in Trelawny with a view to allocating a portion thereof to the Rastafarian community for the establishment of the cultural centre at paragraph (2) above.

(4) The State provides financial, technical and legal resources to the Rastafari community for the purpose of organising a co-operative society, exclusively for the benefit of Rastafarians.

(5) That a trust fund of no less than J$10,000,000 to be established, subject, however, to review if further due analysis of the issue suggests need for a greater sum, for the benefit of properly identifiable surviving victims of the Coral Gardens incident. Such trust fund to be managed by a board of trustees of persons with expertise in finance, law and accounting.

(6) That the State considers the granting of a licence to the co-operative society, once established, for the growing of ganja in order to supply institutions legitimately involved in scientific research on the plant; and legitimate users/consumers locally and overseas, if and when commercial use becomes legalised.


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