Trumped-up charges and grop­ing for par­dons

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Dr Orville Tay­lor, se­nior lec­turer in so­ci­ol­ogy at the UWI and a ra­dio talk-show host, is the au­thor of ‘Bro­ken Prom­ises, Hearts and Pock­ets’. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and tay­loron­black­line@hot­

ON THE eve of Na­tional He­roes Day, I at­tempted to grab a lit­tle black cat that was on my ve­randa, but some­how, I was not as much a star as I thought, and the lit­tle puss es­caped and scratched me. The sex of the fe­line is un­cer­tain, but hope­fully, it was fe­male be­cause af­ter all, gen­der al­ways trumps other so­cial sta­tuses.

You might have thought that this was a dis­course about the bil­lion­aire who is an em­bar­rass­ment to his party and who gives a dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion to the ex­pres­sion ‘skirt­ing around the is­sue’ as he mas­terly de­bated with him­self in­stead of his fe­male coun­ter­part. And you are prob­a­bly right. How­ever, at a time when we cel­e­brate our heroic fig­ures, in­clud­ing a leg­endary woman, we need to look past im­me­di­ate news­grab­bing hys­te­ria and see things for what they are.

The prob­lem with his­tory is that hardly any­one makes con­nec­tions among events across time and coun­tries. So, for ex­am­ple, for the last decade, we have been push­ing the Amer­i­can govern­ment to par­don and pos­si­bly ex­punge the records of our first na­tional hero, Mar­cus Mosiah Gar­vey. This great black man, sec­ond only to Je­sus as the most in­flu­en­tial ‘darkie’ who trod the Earth, was con­victed in 1923 for mail fraud. Noth­ing tells me that Gar­vey had crim­i­nal in­tent, but the naked truth is that most lawyers would agree that he tech­ni­cally did it, be­ing led by his naïveté.

Nonethe­less, we in Ja­maica con­victed him for dar­ing to pro­pose a higher level of scru­tiny for our judges. He merely put for­ward in Plank 10 of the 1929 Man­i­fest of his Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Party (PPP) that judges who, “with dis­re­gard for Bri­tish jus­tice and con­sti­tu­tional rights, dealt un­fairly”, should be im­peached and im­pris­oned. For this he was charged and con­victed of sedi­tious li­bel and sent to prison. How dare the lit­tle black man on his own is­land ques­tion the sagac­ity and in­tegrity of the rul­ing colo­nial class of Bri­tons who them­selves wrote the laws and ad­min­is­tered them!

This reg­u­larly over­looked fact means that the rul­ing classes al­ways make laws to suit and pro­tect them­selves, and de­spite ‘democ­racy’ and ‘univer­sal adult suf­frage’, laws have not yet fully evolved to be truly egal­i­tar­ian. Monied peo­ple and stars with money get away with lots of things. And Gar­vey might have fin­gered the judges as a class, but he didn’t put his hand on any of them. Only a crim­i­nal so­ci­ety could have even thought of the trumped-up charges Gar­vey was con­victed of.

Fi­nally, af­ter decades of ac­tivism, in­clud­ing at least 12 years of my ask­ing in these col­umns for his con­vic­tion to be fully ex­punged, Jus­tice Min­is­ter Del­roy Chuck has an­nounced that Gar­vey, as well as other na­tional he­roes, with crim­i­nal records, is go­ing to have his crim­i­nal­ity re­versed.


Now tell me, what level of un­used brain ca­pac­ity was ded­i­cated to the fail­ure to no­tice that Ge­orge Wil­liam Gor­don and Paul Bogle were also con­victed felons? In­deed, in 1865, Bogle went from Stony Gut to the Mo­rant Bay Court­house to protest and ad­vo­cate the ame­lio­ra­tion of life for the poor and was pushed into a fight, which ul­ti­mately be­came bloody.

Gor­don did noth­ing ex­cept crit­i­cise his fel­low leg­is­la­tors. He did not con­spire to sub­vert any author­ity and cer­tainly did not ad­vo­cate or per­pe­trate the mur­der of any­one. Not even did he at­tempt to hide Bogle or dress him in a wig and con­ceal him in the back seat of his buggy. Yet he was a mar­tyr.

For the record, has ev­ery­one for­got­ten Sa­muel Sharpe, who, in 1831, led the fa­mous Christ­mas Re­bel­lion and was later hanged for his ef­forts? He might have been a ‘slave’ and not a hu­man within the con­fines of Her Majesty’s laws, but I imag­ine that the crim­i­nal code un­der which he was ex­e­cuted needed to have la­belled him a crim­i­nal, too. So, where is his par­don or ex­on­er­a­tion?

Free­dom fight­ers who rebel against un­just so­ci­eties and laws In this 2012 Gleaner file photo, cus­tos of Kingston, Stead­man Fuller, places a flo­ral trib­ute at the shrine of Na­tional Hero Mar­cus Gar­vey, at the Na­tional He­roes Park, Kingston.

are not crim­i­nals and should be resti­tuted as soon as his­tory ab­solves them.

The whole world knows that I am a strong Gar­veyian, but fair is fair. Gar­vey’s po­ten­tial par­don by a for­eign na­tion is for his lack of busi­ness acu­ity

and swal­low­ing bait set by his de­trac­tors. We sent him to prison and cre­ated a fic­tional ‘Ba­gawire’ to take the fall for the shame we should have faced for in­car­cer­at­ing a truth-seeker. Thus, if we want to im­press the Amer­i­cans, we must first bleach our records with a stronger sub­stance than the World Boss used to lighten his skin.

It is not un­usual for Amer­i­cans to par­don free­dom fight­ers. For ex­am­ple, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s run­ning mate, Vir­ginia Gover­nor Tim Kaine, in 2007, posthu­mously par­doned en­slaved African Gabriel Prosser, who led an un­suc­cess­ful re­volt in 1800. Prosser and 34 other col­lab­o­ra­tors were hanged af­ter two in­former slaves be­trayed them.

Amer­ica is still strug­gling with the pe­ti­tion to ex­on­er­ate Nat Turner, who, four months be­fore Sharpe, led the blood­i­est slave up­ris­ing in Amer­ica, killing more than 50 white planters, over­seers, and their fam­i­lies. The re­fusal to par­don Turner is an in­di­ca­tion that Amer­ica still has work to do in be­com­ing a just so­ci­ety.

As we grope through his­tory, our small writ­ing hands take us back to Trump. Rich men like Trump wrote Amer­i­can laws and the con­sti­tu­tion. Tax loop­holes that would swal­low up his dic­tion and man­ner­ism were cre­ated by pow­er­ful ‘star’ white men who de­nied their wives, moth­ers, and sis­ters the right to vote un­til 1920 and black peo­ple un­til 1966.

Yet, the sad thing is that this so­ci­ety, for all its talk about gen­der equal­ity, has only 19 per cent fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Congress and is ranked 73rd in gen­der equal­ity glob­ally and yet to elect a fe­male pres­i­dent or vice pres­i­dent.

Even sad­der, few seem to no­tice that Trump’s op­er­a­tive words were “they let you do it”. Even law-school dropouts know that that im­plies con­sent and not as­sault. There­fore, it also speaks to the state of mind of women who al­low and ac­cept such boor­ish be­hav­iour be­cause they, too, are part of the his­tor­i­cal cul­ture that so­cialised them.

Let’s open our minds and learn to see in the dark like the big cats – and lit­tle ones, too.



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