Reparations Part II: A Lecture by Prof. Hilary Beckles

[easy-media med="3125"]The lecture is not short. Watch it at your own leisure. You may well not agree with it, all of it or some of it or a little of it. But if you have anything at all to say about the question of reparations, you will have no ground on which to stand unless you engage with the ideas he puts forth.Here is a taste:

When the world sits down, the western world, the European world, when they sit down to discuss the Caribbean, Africa, when they look at their past and the enslavement of our peoples, the victimization of our peoples, the destruction of Africans' potential, and the consequences that followed slavery, the apartheid that was put in place in the Caribbean after slavery, they speak about [the idea that] the time has come to move on.And they discuss moving on in the context of certain key words. These are the words that they use: Let's be progressive. Let's move on. Let's have progress. Let's have equity. Let's have democracy, equality, time for healing, time for atonement. We must have redemption, and forgiveness. The time has come for reconciliation ... Justice.These are the key words [around which] the conversation takes place about the legacies of slavery. But if you look at these words very carefully—and these are all very important words because these are the key words in western civilizations that speak to human progress—but there's a word that is missing from there. There is a word that is missing from the dialogue. And that word is what we call the elephant in the room. There's an elephant in the room. There's a word that nobody wants to say in the western world. There's a word that they do not want to use. But without that word, all of the precious words of hollow. Without that word, the justice, the forgiveness, the atonement, the equality, the progress, the reconciliation—without that word all of those other words are hollow. And that word of course is reparations.

I thought I was liberal and open minded about race … until I realised what was going on in my New York building | Chloe Angyal | Comment is free |

The additional suspicion with which my black guests are treated is not a form of obvious violence. Compared to the actions of the Klan, being asked to wait a few minutes in the lobby is, some will point out, not a big deal. But these are microaggressions, small and common instances of discrimination, and "their slow accumulation over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience… social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly." The violence this time is psychic.via I thought I was liberal and open minded about race … until I realised what was going on in my New York building | Chloe Angyal | Comment is free |

Worth the read.

Concerning Reparations for Slavery: Part One

This past October, a tiny tempest-in-a-teacup erupted in the wake of a fairly routine report on a decision taken by CARICOM to sue the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands for reparations for slavery. Following the report, which headlined, somewhat misleadingly, as "BAHAMAS SUING UK OVER SLAVERY", was a flurry of communications on both sides of the debate, along with a quick opinion poll by the Tribune which suggested that one-third of the people who took it were in support of the lawsuit, two-thirds against. The matter has since seemed to go away, sinking into the mire of superficialities which passes for public debate in our nation. But I want to suggest that what CARICOM has initiated is something that will eventually occur, and which may, when it does happen, change the future of the region if we let it. Whatever the noise in the market, the matter of reparations for New World slavery will not go away. A great wrong was committed against millions of human beings in the name of nothing more than global domination and profit, and that is a debt that will one day be paid.Here's why I say that. It seems to me that the resistance against the idea of reparations for slavery takes one of several forms. The first is the idea expressed by the UK government representative contacted by the Tribune to respond to CARICOM's lawsuit: that "governments today cannot take responsibility for what happened 200 years ago". The second is subtly connected to the first, but it shifts the focus from the enslaving nations to the nations founded on slavery, and argues that as the ills of the present cannot be solved by placing the blame on past wrongs, the past should be buried and the future considered. There is a third: that the debt has already been paid with independence, and that the political freedom of the people who were once enslaved is all that is necessary to right the wrong. A fourth argues that instead of focussing on the slavery of the past, the continuing enslavement and exploitation of people today is more a more pressing matter to consider. And there are countless other objections to the idea.What all of these objections have in common is that they deflect the idea of reparations from the principle on which the idea rests to the practicalities of the issue. In so doing, they inadvertently make the case, at least to me, for the very thing they oppose. What not one of these objections admits is that the institution of transatlantic slavery was a crime against humanity of such magnitude that makes it nearly impossible for us to deal with even two centuries after the beginning of its abolition. What they all do, instead, is continue to perpetuate the crime that lies at the heart of the reparations movement: that the enslavement of Africans by Europeans in the process of founding the so-called "New" World depended upon the fundamental dehumanization of those enslaved, and was accompanied by the very different dehumanization of the enslavers which occurred in the process.What these objections do is focus on the people enslaved, on the practical difficulties in addressing the wrong, on the pragmatics of the issue, which affect so many things about our current existence that it is almost impossible to conceive of living any other way. What not one of them does is address the idea that the crime for which restitution is being sought is not a crime against the person; it is a crime against the very idea of humanity and the concept of human beings. And it does not address the idea that until we begin to think about reparations from this perspective, we will continue to commit that crime.In case I'm not making myself clear, let me say it this way.For me, reparations for the transatlantic exercise of slavery (which is the specific offence that is being addressed in the CARICOM lawsuit) are not being sought for some past wrong that ended two hundred years ago. They are being sought for the continued dehumanization of the people who were enslaved, the people who enslaved them, and the people (us) who have inherited the world that rose up to maintain the slave system. It is a world whose structures, certainly in The Bahamas, remain very much intact, thus giving life to, enabling, the narrative that suggests that the past can be buried. But the past is not yet dead. It lives on in the very discourse that we use to discuss--or to dismiss--the call for reparations, and it is this which needs healing.This meditation is only a beginning of an exploration of the topic, and the start of my personal attempt to make sense of the issue, and to explain why first, I support the call for reparations; why second, I am convinced that no amount of ridicule and dismissal will make the call for reparations disappear; why third, I am certain that the arguments being brought against the call will eventually dissolve and peter out, and why the call for reparations will swell until restitution is paid; and why last, I am convinced that one day reparations of some kind will be paid by European governments (or by the EU itself) for their part in the system of transatlantic slavery.If you doubt me, consider this move, initiated this past May in France, pushing Europe to do what it has already done: to declare slavery a crime against humanity. And consider the language that accompanied it:

Written declaration, under Rule 123 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, on establishing a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery1
  1. European colonisation not only caused political submission and the economic plunder of the colonised territories and population, but also the extermination of native peoples and the deportation and reduction to slavery of millions;
  2. Under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, enslavement is recognised as a crime against humanity;
  3. Colonisation had among its effects that of depriving the colonised territories of their lifeblood, impacting negatively on their development capacity;
  4. The political, economic, demographic and psychological consequences of European colonisation are still resonating;
  5. The Commission is hence called upon to support the establishment of a European day in recognition of the victims of European colonisation and colonial slavery;
  6. The Council is also encouraged to take ownership of the initiative by supporting it at European level;
  7. This declaration, together with the names of the signatories, is forwarded to the Council and the Commission.
It's a beginning. It is a small step, true, and principally symbolic, as it was accompanied by no restitution; but it is a turn in the direction of rightness.I'm going to return to this topic over the next month or so.You're warned.

Sonny Singh on the Zimmerman Verdict

This deal with race is not easily solved. Simply declaring that people are equal does not make us all so. At best there are wounds and scars that will not heal because they have been opened again and again; at worst there remain institutions and attitudes that continue to reify racism. The idea that skin colour and cultural identification makes people worth different things will not die, in part because we will not face it fully and with a view to healing it.On the Huffington Post, one commentator, a Sikh himself, writes about the nuances of racism, showing how it's not simply black vs white. I recommend the read, which I discovered via Craig Smith's facebook status. Something to think about.From the Huffington Post:

Racism is messy. While some want to characterize everything as black and white, others, as I mentioned previously, mystify the brutal realities of white supremacy through post-racial rhetoric. This is even more dangerous. In post-racial America, we easily come to the conclusion that if Zimmerman is Latino, then this case has nothing to do with racism. Perhaps this is why many progressive activists and commentators have characterized Zimmerman as a white man. Because it's easier. It seems more simple. The general public will more readily see the injustice of anti-black racism in the killing of Trayvon Martin if George Zimmerman is white. But it's not the reality of the situation. Racism has infected all of us, not just white folks.To really understand racism in the United States, we have to understand power. Racism is not just about attitudes; it is a system of oppression. What this means is that white people receive unearned privileges and advantaged simply because of the color of skin, while people of color are systematically disadvantaged and marginalized. That does not make the experiences of all people of color alike, nor does it mean that people of color cannot perpetuate racism, as in the case of George Zimmerman. In fact, we are often rewarded for doing so.

--Sonny Singh, Zimmerman's Racial Realities, Beyond Black and White


The protests around the world: The march of protest | The Economist

A FAMILIAR face appeared in many of the protests taking place in scores of cities on three continents this week: a Guy Fawkes mask with a roguish smile and a pencil-thin moustache. The mask belongs to “V”, a character in a graphic novel from the 1980s who became the symbol for a group of computer hackers called Anonymous. His contempt for government resonates with people all over the world.The protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.Yet just as in 1848, 1968 and 1989, when people also found a collective voice, the demonstrators have much in common. Over the past few weeks, in one country after another, protesters have risen up with bewildering speed. They have been more active in democracies than dictatorships. They tend to be ordinary, middle-class people, not lobbies with lists of demands. Their mix of revelry and rage condemns the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the folk in chargevia The protests around the world: The march of protest | The Economist.

Makes me wonder. If the protests are so widespread, why are they not happening (yet) in the Caribbean?

The Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting and American Gun Culture : The New Yorker

And here, in the Bahamas, some of us discuss, seriously, that Bahamians should be allowed to carry handguns. We happen to live in that part of the world which was founded on the concept that it is some people's god-given right to sail across an ocean, map out other people's lands, eradicate those people, resettle those lands, import other people, and make fortunes out of the process.We are the broken men and women who are struggling to create civilizations out of that history. But we cannot, because we were created out of a philosophy that sees human life not as something sacred, but as something expendable—something that is less important than profit, or than massacre. The genocide and enslavement on which the "New" world was founded have left a legacy in which massacre is enacted again and again, and presented to the world as freedom.And here in The Bahamas, we believe that nonsense. We believe that true freedom consists of the right to kill other people. We believe that some people are "bad" and others are "good" and the "good" people have the right to arm themselves and eradicate the "bad" people. We ourselves are always the "good" people. Who, then, are "bad"?

Every country has, along with its core civilities and traditions, some kind of inner madness, a belief so irrational that even death and destruction cannot alter it. In Europe not long ago it was the belief that “honor” of the nation was so important that any insult to it had to be avenged by millions of lives. In America, it has been, for so long now, the belief that guns designed to kill people indifferently and in great numbers can be widely available and not have it end with people being killed, indifferently and in great numbers. The argument has gotten dully repetitive: How does one argue with someone convinced that the routine massacre of our children is the price we must pay for our freedom to have guns, or rather to have guns that make us feel free? You can only shake your head and maybe cry a little. “Gun Crazy” is the title of one the best films about the American romance with violence. And gun-crazy we remain.via The Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting and American Gun Culture : The New Yorker.

Larry Smith on The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements

This is an issue that needs research, reflection, and discussion, not knee-jerking. Larry Smith starts the ball rolling at Bahama Pundit.

... the deeper we delve into the so-called 'Haitian problem', the more we come face to face with ourselves. The squatter settlements that give rise to so much public angst are a clear example of the alternate reality that many Bahamians live in, and we are not the only ones grappling with these issues....The reality is that squatters include indigenous Bahamians, Haitian-Bahamians, immigrants with work permits and illegal immigrants. But these one-dimensional labels merely mask the complexity of the problem, as the following three examples illustrate.A 2003 news report on squatters focused on a young man who, although born here, was not a Bahamian because his parents are Haitians. He had never been to Haiti, and though he had applied three times for Bahamian citizenship and spent about $4,500 on paperwork and lawyers, he had nothing to show for his efforts.A friend of mine knows of a "true-blood Bahamian" who works as a messenger and had a daughter with a Haitian woman. "The daughter was educated here and is hardworking, but has no status. She is confined to the fringes of society because her father can't be bothered to help her get regularized."Then there is the Haitian who has worked here for years and become a permanent resident. "He has several children," my friend told me. "One son is here on a work permit, a second son went to R M Bailey and appears to be a Bahamian, and a third son just arrived from Haiti and can't speak English. The second son is intelligent and well-educated, but has no status and is very angry about it."These examples put a human face on the problem, and we can multiply them many times throughout our society. The root question is, how do we deal with them? One answer is to deport immigrant children who are born and raised here. Another is to regularize them to become productive members of our society.The other key point to bear in mind is that squatting is often the only option for low-income people with no collateral or savings who subsist on temporary jobs. They can't afford the cost of land or housing, so they are forced to rely on irregular arrangements facilitated by Bahamians.Squatter settlements are the inevitable result.via The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements - Bahama Pundit.

Developing democracy in The Bahamas

A year and a half ago, I had the privilege of attending a weeklong faculty seminar in Maryland. The topic: globalization and democracy. The Wye Faculty Seminar was established to bring faculty from all over the USA together to think deeply about democracy, particularly, though not exclusively, the democracy practised by the United States of America.It was the first time I'd studied for any real length of time in the US. OK, so it was only a week, but it was long enough for me to realize several things. One, that watching US TV and living on the edges of the country is not the same as being there. You learn a lot when you're the fringes -- more on that later, maybe -- but it's not the same as being immersed -- being surrounded by, eating with, talking to, US citizens. And in this case, reading excerpts from the founding documents of the USA and discussing those ideas with the others who had been chosen to attend the retreat.The result: a series of sparks of ideas in my head. In The Bahamas, on what is our concept of democracy founded? Do we have a concept of democracy? Our constitution, such as it is, is an adaptation from a boilerplate supplied to us by an anti-imperial Britain at the tail end of the colonial era. Is democracy important to us at all?Today, I had at the almost equal privilege of finding an answer. Two thirds of the way through a class, I realized I was part of a classroom debate whose focus was hope and agency in the globalizing Bahamas. That wasn't what we thought we were talking about at first. The discussion had grown out of our long-term study on the economics of Junkanoo, in which the members of this particular class participated; but before we knew it, we were discussing Bahamians' constitutional rights and the conviction that too many young men on the streets of Nassau have that they have no rights at all -- that the only people they have to depend upon are themselves. And one of my students was outlining the only concept that makes sense today: that we need to imagine a different way of living, that we need to create a philosophy of citizenship, that we need to build what he calls an illusion of our own.The "illusion" that drives American democracy, that sets the standard, for better or worse, whether we like it or not, of democracy in the world, are the principles on which the American nation is founded. What we need today, perhaps forty years too late but not a moment too soon, are our own democratic principles. We need a movement that gives us our own "illusion" -- Bahamian ideals by which our actions, collective and individual, may be measured.Ever since last year's sojourn in Maryland, I've been thinking about the ideals in which we believe. We need them more than ever today. We need them to give us the impetus, for instance, when politics lead to absurdity, to call our politicians out. We need them to judge our own actions, and those of our society at large, and adjust our behaviour accordingly. I suspect they're similar to, but not entirely the same as, American ideals; they're strengthened by our history of freedom and republicanism and tempered by our close encounter with racial apartheid. They need to be written down in a place where we can all find them when we need them.It's time to build our own declaration of democracy. I'm ready to start working.

A tiny ethnography of the earthquake

I want you to know that, before the earthquake, things in Haiti were normal. Outside Haiti, people only hear the worst -- tales that are cherry-picked, tales that are exaggerated, tales that are lies. I want you to understand that there was poverty and oppression and injustice in Port-au-Prince, but there was also banality.via Mobile.

The writer of the above is Laura Wagner, an American PhD candidate in anthropology who was studying in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. She was injured in the quake, which killed at least one of her friends, and she still does not know what happened to the rest of them. Read the article. It gives a far more balanced account of what happened -- and what still is happening -- than most other writing, which focusses on the sensational, the (mostly foreign) heroics (because of course poor black people are incapable of their own heroism) and the predictable -- "looting" and "social breakdown".This is what anthropology is good for, which is something that I keep reminding myself as I teach it, and as I situate myself in this hybrid, postcolonial, complex society on the edge of the written world. It's good for getting inside places and people, for jettisoning the expected and the prejudiced, and for telling the story of individuals, the kinds of people who don't generally get stories told about them on any global level. That isn't to say that anthropologists and ethnographers are the "voices" of these people. They're (we're) not. But they/we do stand sometimes as interlocutors, challenging prejudice with actuality, and provide pieces of the puzzle of reality that are often overlooked, often missing.So go read the piece. And let it add just a little to whatever idea of "Haiti" and the "earthquake" you have in your minds. Let it make those ideas just a little more complicated. A little more real.

Now that the first journalistic burst has ended, now that the celebrity telethons have wrapped, the stories you hear are of “looters” and “criminals” set loose on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the same story that has always been told about Haiti, for more than 200 years, since the slaves had the temerity to not want to be slaves anymore. This is the same trope of savagery that has been used to strip Haiti and Haitians of legitimacy since the Revolution. But at the moment of the quake, even as the city and, for all we knew, the government collapsed, Haitian society did not fall into Hobbesian anarchy. This stands in contradiction both to what is being shown on the news right now, and everything we assume about societies in moments of breakdown....Social scientists who study catastrophes say there are no natural disasters. In every calamity, it is inevitably the poor who suffer more, die more, and will continue to suffer and die after the cameras turn their gaze elsewhere. Do not be deceived by claims that everyone was affected equally -- fault lines are social as well as geological. After all, I am here, with my white skin and my U.S. citizenship, listening to birds outside the window in the gray-brown of a North Carolina winter, while the people who welcomed me into their lives are still in Port-au-Prince, within the wreckage, several of them still not accounted for.via Mobile.

Peter Hallward, "Securing Disaster in Haiti"

Well worth reposting, reading, and savouring in days to come. Sobering commentary indeed.

Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010, it's now clear that the initial phase of the U.S.-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island's recent history. It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti's own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor. All three tendencies aren't just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to counteract them.via Peter Hallward, "Securing Disaster in Haiti".

The Bahamas & Haitians -

People who read this blog regularly know that Rick and I rarely agree on anything, and that when we do it's a cause for commemoration. But there is not one thing in this article with which I take issue.Here's just a taste:

There has always been a love hate relationship between Bahamians and Haitians. We love them when they do the physical labour we don't want to do, but hate them when they start to aspire to do more for themselves.When we consider the reactions to the government documenting and releasing 119 Haitians from the detention centre here as a result of the earthquake devastation to Port au Prince, Haiti one wonders how we can call ourselves a "Christian" nation.via The Bahamas & Haitians -

Go read the whole thing.

Learning about Democracy

Last week (August July 18-24) I had the privilege to attend the Wye Faculty Seminar of the Aspen Institute. This entailed joining 33 other members of faculty from around the USA in a retreat in the woods to discuss democracy, globalization and the American polity. The actual title: "Citizenship in the American and Global Polity".

I have to say that I began with a couple of suspicions. I am naturally sceptical when it comes to the exercise of colonial powers, and the USA is the twenty-first century's main empire (China's a distant runner-up).

I was pleasantly surprised. The focus of the readings and the discussions was idealistic, and the tenor respectful. Very respectful. And I got hooked on the ideals.

Bad idea, right? You attach yourself to ideals, you're bound to get hurt, right? You're bound to get let down, disappointed, burned, yes?

Well, maybe. But that's no good reason to avoid ideals altogether.

So I've decided I'm going to blog about democracy and the global polity as time goes on. It's time we gave some thought to what that means for us -- and by "us" I mean those of us in the Caribbean, where we by and large have slaked ourselves in the democratic residue of our colonial pasts. And where that residue is prone, often enough, to slake off, as fake skins tend to do. It's time for us to carve our own democracies.

So let's start the conversation.

Follow-up to African Reading Challenge

The fate of migrants is the same - Mediterranean, Atlantic Ocean, does it matter?Laila Lalami linked to this photo-essay taken in Italy of North African migrants.The similarities between the essay and what we see here with Haitian migrants are striking.I've been carrying around Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits for days now, trying to make time for it.  I will keep you posted.

There are days

There are days, Mama, when there is far too much to do to do anything much at all.This week has been pretty much like that.  It's a week when I wish I was like earthworms or amoeba -- slice me up and let me regenerate into six or seven mes.  (Biologists, don't bother -- leave me wallowing in my ignorance!)So it was with some relief that I read the following post by Helen Klonaris, which pretty well covers some of what happened this week, and more:Wellington's RainbowHere are some excerpts.

The conversation about the rights of gays and lesbians in this country is stuck in a Christian fundamentalist scriptural war that cannot see gays and lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people as integral to the wide spectrum of human existence. And the few (read one or two) public spokespersons for the GLBT community who dare to engage in this conversation publically are time and time again hooked into a circular argument which begs the question: how can you ask for human rights if God says you shouldn’t exist at all?And by presuming firstly that all Bahamians are Christians, and assuming, secondly, to know God as absolutely as they do, Christian fundamentalists not only reduce and limit that God, but reduce and limit the scope of what it means to be human. And I cannot help but see the metaphor: It is God lying in a pool of his own blood, head severed, and no one has been held accountable.

Hear, hear.I am often struck by the raw hatred that we so often spew in the name of God in this country, so much so that I'm glad that I didn't turn on my radio to hear the discussion about this crime today.  Homosexuals, after all, like Haitians (try not to be anything beginning with "H" in this Bahamaland, people, else we'll toss another "H" your way), are easy targets.  In anthropology, we study the phenomenon of witches, who are not what we think they are when we see the word.  In anthropology, witch-hunting tells us far, far more about the society that is doing the hunting than it does about the objects of the hunt.  The salient point about the process is that societies create scapegoats out of individuals who fall outside the social norms, who make the status quo uncomfortable, and every bad thing that happens in the society is transferred to them.When people call in to radio talk shows to talk about "them" (all those deviants beginnings with "H") and invoke God and divine law and the Scripture, I always wonder where and when the Gospels fell out of their Bibles.  Like where these bits went, or this bit, or this.But I don't need to say a whole lot more.  Helen's already said it.Go read it for yourself.

Womanish Words: Amnesty International Report 08

Womanish Words: Amnesty International Report 08Lynn Sweeting reviews Amnesty's 2008 report.What's most interesting, and relevant, is this part of her post:

But here is the biggest shocker of all:"The Bahamas has the highest rate of reported rapes in the world, according to a joint report issued in March by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Latin America and the Caribbean region of the World Bank."This horrific fact means to me that our Bahamian goverment is the most failed of all the world's governments when it comes to stopping the violence.

This fact makes me stop and think -- as it should make all of us.  Lynn, after all, has already commented on my post about trees. She said:

You’re experiencing the continuing rape of the feminine divine, as are we all, by the patriarchy and it’s misogynist god, in my humble, eco-Wiccan, womanish opinion. it is no coincidence that a country number one in the world for reported rapes is also the place where all the woodland is vanishing.

But there is one small ray of hope here. Note that the Amnesty Report refers to the highest rape of reported rapes. While rapes are clearly high here in The Bahamas, can we really assume that we are that different from the rest of the world?  Surely the reporting of the rapes shows us something else, something equally powerful -- that our women are resisting the violence, and are reporting and talking about the rapes?  Is that not something to highlight as well?  Agency is as important as victimization, to my mind.Which isn't to say we need to address the issue.  But it's to add another perspective to an already complex situation.

Can You See Us?

Thanks to Erica James at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, I was led to seek out this series on the statelessness of children of Haitian parentage growing up in The Bahamas.  You'll find it on YouTube.  I don't know who made the movies, but every Bahamian should watch them -- especially those Bahamians who view their society through the lenses of "Us" and "Them".

Can You See Us? Part I

Can You See Us? Part II

Can You See Us? Part III

I'll embed the videos later.

Edit: The video was made by the Bahamas Human Rights Network. Kudos.

Terror at Millar's Creek Fundraiser

I received the email below while I was away in Guyana, attending a regional cultural meeting and hearing about Guyana's difficulties with crime and civil liberties. As I read it, I found myself thinking Why am I worrying about Guyana? We have problems with civil liberties right here.And we don't talk about them.The email is in fact a press release put out by the environmental community group Millar's Creek Preservation Group, which had the fundraiser they were holding at the Millar's Creek community park raided by police, who proceeded to terrorize the patrons at the fundraiser and the organizers for several hours during the night.I'm not at all sure what the impetus for the raid was. There was an element of xenophobia in it, certainly. Worse, it was a xenophobia which was desperately misdirected. Perhaps not worse. As Lynn Sweeting writes,

Even if that event was packed to the rafters with illegals, a lawful, decent, humane immigration and police operation CANNOT BEGIN WITH MASKED GUNMAN FIRING SHOTS.


We are all in trouble when we cannot any longer tell the difference between the criminals and the police. The party-goers at the Millar’s Creek fundraiser know the horror of this first hand. All of them, Mr. McKenzie told me, are deeply traumatized, especially those legal and documented persons who were still locked up at the time of this conversation. Mr. McKenzie is asking: Who is responsible for the terror and trauma caused to these innocent people?

Here are a couple of excerpts from the press release.  The entire release is below the fold.

Thinking a robbery was taking place I, along with everyone else darted for cover. Some people headed across the creek where we were confronted by several men in masks who pointed guns at us and told us to get down. At this stage I was petrified and feared for my life. When one of the masked men proceeded to place hand-cuffs on me- I realized that these individuals might be law enforcement officers. The men started to drag me and others through the mangroves towards the dirt road on the other side of the creek. I started to ask for some identification and questioned the officers as to why the park was being invaded. I was told by one of the masked men to shut the F---- up or risk getting shot in my head. I immediately complied as these men did not display badge numbers or any other identifying signs.


After all the officers had left the scene I began to take an assessment of the past night’s operation. I found out that some of my workers who had work permits had been taken to the detention centre. The persons who were responsible for collecting money at the gate stated that the envelope containing the money was taken by officers. The person who was operating the bar explained that when he was told to lie down, a junior officer attempted to take about two-thousand dollars from his pocket. A senior officer instructed the officer to put the money back without any warnings or disciplinary action levied against this officer. Several cell phones had been tossed into the creek. Someone had his passport torn. Some patrons had been walked on and gun butted by unidentified officers. The most amazing thing I found out that some of the officers had consumed most of the food and drinks that were on sale at this event.

More below.Millar’s Creek Preservation GroupP.O. Box CB-12254Nassau, BahamasPh: (242) 362-1366 / (242) 454-8411PRESS RELEASEEmail: info@millarscreek.comThe Millar’s Creek Preservation Group is a registered non-profit NPO that is overseen by residents of Golden Isles and friends of our natural environment. The group’s mission is to clean and restore Millar’s Creek and oversee the daily operations of Millar’s Creek Recreation Park which is located off Bacardi Road.The Banana Tree Café is located on Millar’s Creek and is operated by our members and is sometimes used as an entity to generate funds for our project and as a welcome centre for our guests. This club has the following licenses to operate; Proprietary Club, General Liquor License, Restaurant License and a Music and Dance License.On Saturday 19 April 2008 we contracted the band “All Stars” to perform at a fund raising event which attracted almost 300 patrons. We charged $10 at the gate for gentlemen and $5 for ladies. As a security measure we secured the services of three security personnel, one stationed at the gate to search guests as they entered the park and two others to patrol throughout the performance.The event started at 9:30 p.m and proceeded without incident until shortly before midnight when our function was disrupted by gunshots coming from the gate area. Thinking a robbery was taking place I, along with everyone else darted for cover. Some people headed across the creek where we were confronted by several men in masks who pointed guns at us and told us to get down. At this stage I was petrified and feared for my life. When one of the masked men proceeded to place hand-cuffs on me- I realized that these individuals might be law enforcement officers. The men started to drag me and others through the mangroves towards the dirt road on the other side of the creek. I started to ask for some identification and questioned the officers as to why the park was being invaded. I was told by one of the masked men to shut the F---- up or risk getting shot in my head. I immediately complied as these men did not display badge numbers or any other identifying signs.On the other side of the creek I was taken to an area where there were about 50 uniformed men and women in dark clothing, some of whom were unmasked. None of the individuals wore a visible identification number. A man, who I presumed was the person in charge, started to do a role call with all the other uniformed individuals. A middle aged Haitian national was also taken to this area at the same time. We were both terrorized and asked our names and nationality. I identified myself and advised the gentleman who gave orders that I was one of persons in charge of organizing the event. I again questioned why the park was being targeted. He cautioned me to shut up and answer the questions, and once again I complied. The officer seemed fixed on pressing me to see if I was Haitian or Bahamian. The other gentleman was also being questioned about his nationality. I saw his state of shock as he tried to respond to questions fired at him from several of the uniformed men. After finding out the individual was a Haitian national, one of the masked men proceeded to point a gun at this individual and threatened that if he did not have “papers” he was gonna “Muori” which means die in Creole. The person who seemed to be in charge, then started to ask me what kind of illegal operation I was running. I responded that our organization was legitimate and that this event was our first big fund raiser for the year as we had just fully completed our café and welcome centre. A lady in uniform interrupted that if our business was legal why where we catering to “these kind a people” I assume she meant Haitians. I told her that our group does not discriminate against any individuals and that we were aware that many Bahamians and Haitians would be attracted to a popular band such as the band we had hired. She then asked “ how y’all could let in illegals to y’all club then?.When I asked the masked men who held me if it was necessary for the handcuffs to be so tight, he told me to shut up and started to rough me up some more, pointing a gun at my head. A younger officer who was not masked came to me and asked me if I remembered him. I told him that I did not. He asked me if I used to be a teacher I replied yes. He then started to rough me up and ask me why I had lied about my name. I told him that I had my driver’s license in my pocket that could identify me. The Haitian man and I were told to sit down. I became even more fearful for my safety when I heard the uniformed men started to whisper to each other. The commanding officer started to use scare tactics by asking one of the guys if he had more rounds in his gun. I thought for sure I was going face an ‘accidental’ death so that I could not be a witness to this whole catastrophe.About 20 minutes later the men started to escort me and the others from the area on to Bacardi Road This is when I became aware that this was a major operation, with more officers I had ever seen in one area representing the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Immigration Department. I asked to see the commanding officer of the entire operation and was again told to shut up. The individual who escorted me squeezed the hand-cuffs so that by now they were cutting into my skin. We were then taken to the café and welcome centre where most of the patrons were lying on the ground.Our group’s public relations person, Vanessa Small, then came up to me and asked if I was all right. I told her I was not and asked her to call our lawyer. She told me that no one was allowed to use the phone at this time. Again I was told to shut up by the individual who escorted me, or faced being 'gun butted'. At this time I started to take an account of what was going on around me. I noticed that the place was in disarray. One patron seemed to have blood all over his shirt while others seemed to be in a state of shock.About 15 minutes later I was again asked to give the particulars of my identification. After it was established that I was the person who was in charge of the event, I was told by someone who identified himself as an inspector that I had to have my property searched and was told to follow two unidentified officers into the Millar’s Creek Office and cottage. I was then interrupted by a lady who did not identify herself. She started to ask me questions about my identification and my past and present employment. I told her that I had taught at a private school for about 10 years before pursuing the Millar’s Creek Project. She cracked some joke with the others asking me if I had been fired. After both establishments had been thoroughly searched, the officer who carried out the search said that he was satisfied that there was nothing illegal found. They then took my laptop and digital camera. I told them I needed to be present when they went through my documents. They told me I did not have any rights.It was only after the search was done that another officer presented me with a search warrant. He advised me that they were in search of illegal weapons and drugs. I realized then that our organization had been set up. I responded that no illegal activities were allowed in this area as the park is an area for family events and the Welcome Centre was offered free of charge to anyone who wanted to have a non-profit event. I further stated that if illegal drugs or any other illegal activity was allowed I would not have gone through the trouble of having individuals searched at the gate before entering. An hour later I again asked to see the chief commander. One of the inspectors pointed him out to me but cautioned that I had to be profiled first and have a picture taken with which I complied. I spoke to the person in charge of the entire investigation who did not identify himself or show any other form of identification. I told him that this was a big misunderstanding and that what they were doing was against the law. I was cautioned by an inspector who insisted that he knew for sure that we harboured illicit drugs and guns in this area. I then asked him to show the proof of this. He produced a receipt that he claimed was dropped by someone who had paid for drugs on the property. I found it ludicrous that someone would incriminate himself/herself by writing a receipt with his/her name on it for selling drugs. I did not relay my thoughts to the inspector.At this point I believed all the high ranking officers knew that they had made a grave mistake. They did several background checks on me and found that I had a clean record and an impeccable past. Ten minutes later one of the inspectors came to me and said I had a warrant for a minor traffic offence that was committed in 2006. He continued that I must be placed under arrest and that only a judge could 'free me'. I told him that I was responsible for securing the place and that the government would be responsible for any vandalism or stealing that could occur if no one was there. This is when an officer who introduced himself as Evans told me that I would be free to secure my place over the weekend but I needed to see him at the Carmichael Road Police Station on the following Monday. I told him I would do so as soon as I spoke to our lawyer. Before leaving I was cautioned by an inspector about what to say in regards to that night’s operation. He reminded me that they had done me a favour by not locking me up for a traffic warrant. He, along with the unidentified chief operation officer, insisted that they knew for sure that this place had illegal activities and they would continue to target it. I reiterated that this was false and for the record I was not going to accept this statement.It was about after 3:30 am when the unidentified squad team started to wrap up their operation- I was released from my handcuffs. All Bahamians were asked to vacate the premises first, followed by other individuals. I insisted that Vanessa Small, our group’s public relations administrator stay so we could take an account of everything.After all the officers had left the scene I began to take an assessment of the past night’s operation. I found out that some of my workers who had work permits had been taken to the detention centre. The persons who were responsible for collecting money at the gate stated that the envelope containing the money was taken by officers. The person who was operating the bar explained that when he was told to lie down, a junior officer attempted to take about two-thousand dollars from his pocket. A senior officer instructed the officer to put the money back without any warnings or disciplinary action levied against this officer. Several cell phones had been tossed into the creek. Someone had his passport torn. Some patrons had been walked on and gun butted by unidentified officers. The most amazing thing I found out that some of the officers had consumed most of the food and drinks that were on sale at this event.On Sunday 20th April I began to take a full report from all the individuals who had worked or had been present the night before. Many individuals complained that money had been removed from their living quarters by officers.Today, Monday, 21 April I am still in a state of shock as I write this report. I have contacted about 50 individuals who are willing to testify and verify these reports. The Millar’s Creek Preservation Group has decided to forward this report to the Ministry of National Security and Immigration, the Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Director of Immigration, with the hope that an explanation will be forthcoming; and that the irregularities mentioned in this report concerning the actions of some officers will be investigated and dealt with immediately.The Millar's Creek Preservation will be holding a press conference at 2 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2008 at the Millar's Creek Recreation Park located off Bacardi Road. We have invited victims who attended the function to be a part of this conference.E. Emmanuel McKenzieChairmanMillar’s Creek Preservation Group

The Long Silence

I am never sure how to address this question -- the question of my silence. It's not that I am not thinking. It's not that this blog isn't important either. The challenge I have, though, is my position as a senior government official. More and more the things I have/want to say seem to be in conflict with that fact. It isn't that everything that is current is politically charged -- but it seems as though there are many things that invite comment, and that comment is liable to be critical.So the question is, what do I do?I want to post, for instance, the story of an incident that occurred recently (two of them, in fact), because I think that the responsibility of a writer is to raise awareness, to speak out about injustice, and to point at things that are wrong in a society so that we can fix them. Let me just say this. The two stories to which I refer have to do with the abuse of power of our uniformed branches. Now I am a supporter of the police and the defence force. In my position I see the best of them; they work with us in securing major events and help us with logistics on a national level, and they do difficult jobs very well. But what I have heard on both sides are so egregious that they cannot be kept silent about.So the question is -- how do I do that?Well, I'm just going to do it, I guess.Watch this space.