SENATOR Mark Golding, the minister of justice, believes that Rastafarian victims of the infamous Coral Gardens, Pinnacle and Back 'o' Wall incidents deserve both an apology and reparation from the Jamaican State which he said had brutalised and oppressed them.
Golding made it clear in an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday that he was stating his personal views at this time, but would raise the matter in Cabinet next month, possibly through the just-released report by the public defender on the bloody Coral Gardens incident that claimed several lives in 1963 in St James.
“The treatment of the Rastafarians is a matter of social justice. There were decades of fairly brutal and oppressive conduct by the State towards them. After the Coral Gardens incident there was a sort of witch-hunt. All of this was quite improper,” said Golding.
The justice minister also listed the controversial destruction by police of the Leonard Howell-led Rastafarian community at Pinnacle, St Catherine, and the demolition of Back 'o' Wall in Western Kingston, among actions for which he believed the State should pay compensation and apologise to their victims.
Golding took his cue from the report sent to Parliament last week and copied to him by Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry, who received an investigation of the Coral Gardens matter as a work-in-progress from her predecessor Earl Witter.
In that report, the public defender recommended, among others things, that the State establishes a trust fund of no less than $10 million “for the benefit of properly identifiable surviving victims of the Coral Gardens incident”, and that a co-operative society be set up exclusively for the benefit of Rastafarians and be granted a licence to cultivate ganja.
It further recommended that: “The State uses 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.”
In what could be a controversial recommendation, the report also called for “urgent conisideration” to be given to the acquisition of the Outameni property owned by the National Housing Trust in Trelawny “with a view to allocating a portion thereof to the Rastafarian community” for the establishment of a cultural centre it says should be set up by the culture and tourism ministries for the preservation of Rastafari culture.
Goding earlier signalled that he would be taking an interest in the matter when he was the featured speaker last Thursday at celebrations marking the 91st anniversary of the birth of late prime minister and People's National Party (PNP) leader, Michael Manley, at PNP headquarters in Kingston.
Speaking on “Michael Manley and social justice”, Golding outlined the famous social legislation of the 1970s Manley Administration, such as equal pay for women; maternity leave with pay; Status of Children Act; National Minimum Wage; and introduction of the Family Court, among others.
He then listed some issues still not yet dealt with, including: “Apology/reparation for past abuses inflicted upon the Rastafari community (Pinnacle in the early 1950s, Coral Gardens atrocities, and the Back o' Wall demoliton in the 1960s.”
He also mentioned recognition of the Jamaican language and modification of methods of teaching children for whom 'Jamaican' is their first language; more effective responses to domestic violence and violence against children in the home; and tolerance for the LGBT community and the elimination of stigma and discrimination.