A Government Opposing Itself – Does the Government have multiple personalities?

opposites[1]

When you stay false, how can I stay true?

Tell me why do you always do the opposite of what I do.”

Here’s an idea – if you want to teach your child about opposites, feel free to use this administration as an example.

The quote above is a line taken from the Sesame Street song, “Opposite of What I Do” .  I must say, though, that yellow-haired blue muppet has NOTHING on the current administration, because it appears that for every promise made, it has done the exact opposite.

On December 20, 2011, during the leadership debate between leader of the People’s National Party, Portia Simpson Miller, and Jamaica Labour Party leader, Andrew Holness, an audience member asked the question:

How is the People’s National Party different from the Jamaica Labour Party since both parties have been accused of corruption, bribery and mismanagement, and such the like?”

This was Mrs. Simpson Miller’s response:

“The People’s National Party is different because we’ve put in place a number of institutions to deal with corruption.  I’m very strong in terms of fighting corruption.  I will not tolerate any form of corruption in a People’s National Party Government.  And that’s why, when I’m returned to power as Prime Minister, I will ensure the strengthening of these institutions like the Office of the Contractor General, and all the institutions having to investigate corruption and deal with corruption when they are reported.”

–          (Jamaica Leadership Debate 2011 – comments at 9:15)

Eighteen months later:

“The Portia Simpson Miller-led Cabinet is to consider a submission, which is aimed at amending the Contractor General Act to prevent the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) from getting involved in certain strategic investment projects at the pre-contracting stage.” (“Gov’t looks to limit OCG’s powers“)

Funny, isn’t it, how time changes things?

Question 1: Who determines what these “certain strategic investment projects” are?

Question 2: If there is a valid concern about the procurement of contracts for a particular project, and the OCG is made aware of this during the initial (say, the bidding and selection) stages, is it that we would have to wait until the contract is signed and money spent on the project before we decide to investigate a breach (a la Spalding-gate)?

It actually sounds like a case of “It’s easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission.”  God forbid that there is a breach of procurement guidelines, the horse would have already gone through the gate, money would have already exchanged hands, and we could all brush it aside as “nine-day talk”.

But kudos to this administration, though – only they could convince the people that one can strengthen a body by reducing its power.  I guess this is what governance is like in the twilight zone.

Carry on.

                                  

“You have the right to remain silent…” (for Ja Blog Day 2013: Police & Security Force Abuses)

Jamaica Blog Day

“You have the right to remain silent…”  

EDITORIAL NOTE (for the sake of reflexivity): When I decided to write a piece for Jamaica’s first Jamaica Blog Day, I did not anticipate that it would have been as emotionally exhausting as it has been.  The purpose of this piece is to focus on the victims of security force abuses.  The intent is to remind us that these are real people, with real faces, who lived real lives.  The primary source of information was a search of the online archives of The Jamaica Gleaner.  It was after doing that search that I realized the gravity of emotions and sentiments pertaining to this issue.  At first, the task would have been to identify those whose life had been extinguished as a result of altercations with the police. Most news reports stated that they died in a shootout.  In response to this, public sentiment channeled through the comment board on each story highlights the brokenness of our systems of national security and justice.  

People who are desperately hungry for justice cheer for the death of these individuals, seemingly applauding a form of justice that is swift and appears to have been done.  We weep for the many victims of crime.  But year after year, having seen report after report of extra-judicial killing, it is clear that justice for these victims doesn’t rest in creating more victims.  We continue to grapple with what really is the meaning of ‘justice’.  And it is that conflict – that inner struggle – which has made this piece a difficult one.

After combing through a multiplicity of reports about security force excesses, I’ve listed only a few.  I would like to say that the jury is still out on whether or not most of them who have died were deserving of their sentence, but…there would be no jury.  Their voices have been silenced.  For those that I’ve listed, the accompanying news report would show that their deaths, based on the facts known to media at the time, are indeed questionable.

They now remain silent.  Who will speak for them?

~~~~~

May 6, 2003 – Angella Richards – 45 years old

May 6, 2003 – Lewena Thompson – 38 years old

“According to the citizens, an unmarked white Hiace bus with policemen aboard, was driven to the gate of the premises. The police got out and began firing at a group of persons who were on the veranda. Terrified children and adults ran for their lives.

The villagers said that at that point, the two men ­ ‘Renegade’ and ‘Matthew’ ­ were cornered by the police and shot to death on the veranda.

Persons who said they were eye-witnesses said that the police then went in the room occupied by Miss Richards and where Miss Thompson and her eight-year-old daughter had been lying on one of the two beds in the room. Miss Richards hid under the other bed.

Miss Thompson’s eight-year-old daughter said the policemen told her (the child) to wait outside under a tree for her mother. The child said she later heard gunshots fire inside the room, then shortly after saw the police lifting the body of her mother out of the house.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030509/lead/lead4.html)

(**The officers would eventually be acquitted)

December 21, 2007 – Winston Malcolm Sr. – 40 years old

December 21, 2007 – Winston Malcolm Jr. – 20 years old

“Cries of police brutality and “we want justice” rang out along sections of St. Johns Road in St. Catherine yesterday morning, after the fatal shooting of a father and son by members of a police team.

Dead are 20-year-old Winston Malcolm Jr., and 40-year-old Winston Malcolm Sr., both of 54 St. Johns Road.

The police’s version is different from that of the residents. According to them, about 6:30 a.m., a joint military and constabulary team went in search of criminals in the St. Johns Road area and were fired upon when they approached a premises.

The police returned the fire and Malcolm and his son were later found with gunshot wounds.

The lawmen said that a 9mm pistol was also taken from the scene.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20071222/news/news1.html)

August 13, 2010 – Derrick Anthony Bolton – 15 years old

“Initial police reports said 15-year-old Derrick Bolton, who is also known as “Crabby”, and another man called Rohan Dixon, were killed in a shootout with the police.

Shortly after the killings, the police released a statement identifying Jerome Williams, who is also known as “Crab”, as one of the men killed by the police.

However, the police later confirmed Williams was not the man killed in the shootout, but instead Bolton.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=21843)

“Crabby is my son who is a dancer who stay in Brooklyn and practise him dancing, so me tell him not to come home until in the morning,” Geraldien Williams, his mother, told The Gleaner.

“The police dem hold him and dem ask him what the people call him, and him say Crabby, and dem say a him shoot the people a Tredegar Park, and a so dem kill him. It was a case of mistaken identity,” Williams argued.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100814/lead/lead5.html)

December 28, 2010 – Gregory Pummells – 26 years old

“The residents say the police mistook Gregory Pummells for a man who had robbed a woman in Toll Gate, Clarendon, earlier.

The man’s mother claims he was shot and killed even after the robbery victim stated that Pummells was not the perpetrator.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=25319)

May 3, 2011 – Orville Wray – 43 years old

“AFTER A policeman shot 43-year-old Orville Wray, he walked back inside the Alexandria Police Station in St Ann, leaving the wounded man slumped and clinging to life.

Wray was then pulled into his brother’s black BMW sport utility vehicle (SUV) and carried to hospital where treatment would fail. These details aren’t in any police generated report, but found on a video uploaded on to the Internet.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110523/lead/lead51.html)

October 17, 2011 – Dwayne Smith – 30 years old

“The police said they had gone in search of Smith, who earlier had allegedly threatened one of his children’s mother with a gun, when they were attacked. According to the police, Smith attempted to exit a back door, but was confronted by them. They said Smith, who reportedly had a shiny object in his hand, pointed it in their direction and he was shot.

Smith reportedly died on the spot.

Daughter of the deceased, Sydonne, described her father’s killing as a cold-blooded.

“My father was innocently and brutally murdered by the police,” she said.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20111020/news/news6.html)

March 5, 2012 – Nikita Cameron – 13 years old

March 5, 2012 – Ramon Stern – 28 years old

March 5, 2012 – George Edmonds – 74 years old

March 5, 2012 – Shawn Tyrell – 25 years old

March 5, 2012 – Karlton Alvaranga – 26 years old

March 5, 2012 – Wesley Simpson – 84 years old

“Cameron’s aunt, Tanisha Stewart, said she was in the alley way of the large tenement yard with Simpson and the two sisters when the police showed up.

“Dem put the guns over the zinc (fence) and start firing,” she alleged.

Stewart said this was when Stern, Simpson and Cameron were shot and insisted there was no shootout.

“We need help … we need help ’cause dem a shoot we like we deh a Afghanistan or dem place deh whey have war,” Stewart said through tears.

She added: “So wha me waan know is if we no have no justice inna west Kingston.”” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120307/lead/lead7.html)

March 16, 2012 – Dianne Gordon – 45 years old

“Residents of the community are mourning the death of the 45-year-old office attendant, who they say was killed by police early yesterday morning.

Gordon lived with her husband, Hugh Collins, and two daughters. She was returning from a wake in the community where she had brought rum for the mourners. At least one bullet hit her in the head.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120317/lead/lead1.html)

March 20, 2012 – Vanessa Kirkland – 16 years old

“Reports are that about 9 p.m., Vanessa and five other people were travelling in a Suzuki Swift motor car when, on reaching the birthday party they were to attend on Norman Road, they were approached by a team of police officers.

Residents in the area said explosions were heard shortly after.

The Immaculate Conception High School student reportedly died on the spot, while the other occupants, including a 14-year-old, were admitted at the Kingston Public Hospital with serious to mild injuries.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120322/lead/lead3.html)

June 3, 2012 – Kavorn Shue – 21 years old

“According to the residents, at about 4 a.m., a police team entered Jarrett Lane and kicked open the door to Shue’s house and immediately opened fire, hitting him several times.

“A policeman tell me say them have information that there was a wanted man in there and them did come for him, but it look like them go the wrong house,” said one resident.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120603/lead/lead34.html)

September 4, 2012 – Kay-Ann Lamont – 27 years old

“The officer reportedly then held on to her hand and attempted to take her to the police station a few yards away. She resisted and her sisters protested. In the attempt to take her to the station, eight months pregnant Kay-Ann and the officer reportedly fell in the road.

Eyewitnesses said they began to laugh, which later turned to screams as the officer just “get vex and jump up”, brandished his firearm and shot the pregnant mother of two twice in the head while she was still on the ground.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120904/lead/lead6.html)

January 18, 2013 – Tevin Rose – 19 years old

January 18, 2013 – Shoyan Bird –

“While the police have confirmed that two men were killed in a confrontation with the lawmen, INDECOM has since identified the deceased as 19-year-old Tevin Rose of a Greater Portmore address, St Catherine, and Shoyan Bird of a Tanzania Park address in the Payne Avenue area.

“Two shots woke me up, then I heard about five more. I then look out and saw when the police put the bodies in a jeep,” a resident of the community told The Gleaner yesterday.

The residents are charging that the men were killed while they slept. A few women who claimed they captured images of the policemen in action said their phones were taken away by the police.” (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130119/lead/lead3.html)

March 15, 2013 – Andrew Brydson – 28 years old

March 15, 2013 – Triston Brydson – 24 years old

March 15, 2013 – Kingsley Green – 38 years old

“The men were slaughtered in cold blood … . They were no thugs … . They were law-abiding young men, and we are not going to have the police destroy their good names.”

In the incident, which sparked several days of protests in Westmoreland and in sections of St Elizabeth, brothers 28-year-old fireman Andrew Brydson and 24-year-old Tristan Brydson, and their cousin, 38-year-old chef Rupert Green were killed at a shop where they had gone to buy refreshments.” http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130323/western/western5.html

~~~~~

Yes, you do have the right to remain silent in the face of injustice.  But will you?

– Durie Dee (@MizDurie/@THINKJamaica)

Remembering Armadale

Photo from Jamaica Gleaner (contributed)

 
Photo from Jamaica Gleaner (contributed)

On May 22, 2009, a fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre claimed the lives of seven girls (wards of the state).  Then Prime Minister Bruce Golding ordered for a Commission of Enquiry to be conducted to investigate the circumstances surrounding the events of the tragedy.  Justice Paul Harrison was appointed as the Commissioner.

Less than a year later a report was published, giving insight into what might have led to the outbreak of the fire that took the lives of the seven girls.  After the publication of the report, I wrote a paper (in April 2010) entitled ““Silence Means Consent” – Exploring Worker Silence and its Role in Perpetuating Social Injustice“.  Returning to this paper, I view the whole course of events with a new perspective.  The report criticized frontline staff, emergency personnel, and the directorate of the Department of Correctional Services for the role their actions (or lack thereof) played in the outbreak of the fire and demise of the girls.  As much as my analysis (outlined later) looks at the culture of silence in an organizational context, I cannot help but reflect on how much that culture plays out in our everyday social life.  To what extent are we willing to remain silent to protect the status quo?  To not be labeled a “troublemaker”?  To not be fatigued after being the “lone crusader”?  To reconcile the conflict that arises from our own values and identities?

To what extent are we responsible for the perpetuation of injustice in our society?

Below are excerpts of the paper I wrote.  Although the paper generally looks at “silence” or “turning a blind eye” in an organizational context, it compels us to understand this phenomenon of “silence” in a broader social context.

******

On the night of May 22, 2009, in the town of Alexandria, Jamaica, seven (7) female
wards of the state died tragically in a fire initially thought to have been set
by them during the staging of a riot at the facility (Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre) where they were being held.  An enquiry into the incident was commissioned to determine what exactly took place that night and, essentially, who is to be held responsible for the deaths of the seven young girls.  By the end of the enquiry, it was found that the Commissioner of Corrections, whose decision it was to house twenty-three (23) wards in a building space that was supposed to house five (5) wards, was
found to be in “patent breach of the duty to promote the best interests of the children, violated the statutory requirements and was accordingly negligent, in
all the circumstances” (The Armadale Report, 2010, p. 16).

The report noted that limited space, coupled with only one means of entrance/exit, restricted the ability of the girls to escape the fire (The Armadale Report, 2010, pp. 19-21).  

Though the enquiry has found the Commissioner of Corrections to be negligent in her decision, there is something even more troubling in this story.  In giving his account of what led to the events of May 22, 2009, the Property Manager for the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) informed that he was aware of the inadequate space in which the wards were expected to live, but “participated in moving 23 girls to [the] dormitory”, even though he noticed that it was “obviously overcrowded and insufficient” (pp. 14-15).  According to him, “[the Commissioner of Corrections] told us what was to be done” (p. 15).  As the Commissioner of the enquiry noted, neither the Property Manager nor the Director of Juvenile Services “raised even a whimper of protest or a contrary opinion at the decision of [the Commissioner of Corrections] to house over twenty (20) girls in that dormitory…” (p. 17).  One can only speculate that if someone protested that decision and took the position not to house the wards in that dormitory, the “unlucky seven” girls would still be alive today.  It can only be assumed that silence of those who could have given the girls a voice helped to perpetuate an injustice that cost them their lives.

How could it be that even when one is aware of oppression and injustice, one remains silent?  In a profession such as [Social Work], can one afford to be silent?  How, or in what ways, can social workers find their voice in speaking out against injustice and oppression?  

The Burden of Being the “Lone Crusader”

It is a possibility that an individual worker who finds that he or she is the sole dissenting voice in the organization would be intimidated by the enormity of the task of speaking out against injustices.  This is particularly so when the general consensus or status quo is threatened.  So, not only would there be a fear of being singled out as a “troublemaker”, but if there is perceived to be no support from other colleagues or supervisors, the likelihood of raising such concerns is limited.  This concept of “lone crusader” is one adopted from Jan Fook’s (2000) writing about a personal experience being involved in an argument with a colleague.  As she shared her experience of coming to the defence of an Asian student whom she believed was being discriminated against, she highlighted that with being a lone crusader there is the assumption that “no one else is on these missions…It’s all up to me” (p. 191).  Taking this into consideration, if there is a strong perception of being alone on these ‘missions’, then it suggests that more room should be made for dialogue to ascertain how other employees feel about the pertinent issue to dispel any unwarranted fears of being “the only one”.

Accountable to Whom?

Workers could also be silenced by being placed in a precarious position where there are conflicting demands of accountability.  When the question is “Accountable to whom?” workers are faced with the dilemma of prioritizing needs and risks, and where there appears to be no congruence between those needs, it renders them powerless to speak.  Questions of accountability become even more complex when there are issues of funding and/or access to resources to continue a program or project (Morrison and Milliken, 2000).  If power and knowledge are intertwined (Burr, 1995), then what we see as how things are or should be is shaped by those who hold such power…

The Insider/Outsider Dilemma

Postmodernism has brought with it the concept of ‘voice’ and ‘emancipatory practice and research’ that allows for persons from the margins to speak from their own experiences against oppression and injustice.  However, this concept makes it more challenging to be an ally as a worker (depending on their social location and identity) would not want to take away from the voice of the marginalized.  Therefore, that worker is silenced particularly if he or she is an ‘outsider’, having no shared experience with the oppressed group.  Boushel (2000) comments on this as she raises the concern of conducting anti-racism research without what she termed “experiential affinity” (p. 76).  Without having shared experiences with the marginalized group, how can one truly speak on their behalf while allowing them to keep their own voice?  Many workers are face with this dilemma and are unsure about how to come to a resolution.  As a result, they opt not to speak out for fear of acting out of turn.

Intersectionality of Social Identities

It is possible, too, that where one’s social identities intersect, there is little space to be vocal about concerns of discrimination and injustice.  Steinhouse (2001) alludes to this as she addressed the challenges of “understanding and negotiating identities” (p. 11).  When there are several conflicting identities, one is forced to identify a “primary allegiance”.  For example, how does a Black female probation officer speak out against police brutality on her client (a Black man) who was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend?  In this case, she is an agent of the state who is expected to uphold the law protect the safety of citizenry.  However, her client has been made a victim himself, though to advocate for him would be detrimental to the safety of his girlfriend.  Her professional role conflicts with her identity as a woman of colour. 

When one point of identity comes into direct conflict with another, a worker who is reflective and recognises this faces the dilemma of having to inevitably make against himself or herself.  This is no easy feat, and such a worker is more than likely compelled to say nothing, so as to protect the status and acceptance of his or her already marginalised self.

POSSIBILITIES FOR CHANGE

Taking all of these contexts into consideration, there are many avenues that can be pursued to dismantle what appears to be the pervasive silence that exist in social service organizations when it comes to addressing oppressive attitudes and policies.

Shifting the Lens and Creating Knowledge

One way in which we could address the problem of silence is to expand research and discourse that validates the experiences of people who are marginalised.  By doing this, what now exists as the status quo is challenged to become less oppressive for persons whose identity and experiences are marginalised.  Therefore, social workers could become actively engaged in critical social scientific research that “critique and transform social relations…by revealing the underlying sources of social relations and empowering people, especially less powerful people” (Neuman, 1997, p. 74). 

If research is expanded and continuous, this legitimises the experiences of the marginalised, increasing the discourse around their oppression and raising awareness around such issues.  Thus, there would less likely be a stigma attached to speaking out against injustices on behalf of oppressed populations, and the label of ‘troublemaker’ is more likely to lose its effect.  Additionally, expanded discourse and knowledge around issues of oppression and marginalisation may actually garner more allies against injustices in the field, reducing the likelihood of any one worker feeling burdened as a ‘lone crusader’.

Changing Managerial Attitudes

At the most simplistic level, workers can help to challenge managerial attitudes that foster a culture of silence by, as Donna Baines (2007) puts it, “being good at your job” (p. 62).  Baines informs us that by doing this, workers are likely to increase their supervisors’ “willingness to listen to their ideas and concerns” (p. 62).  At a much higher level, organisation board members could prevent against foster a culture of silence within their organisation by hiring managers with the skill-set and characteristics that encourage foster open communication and even facilitate negative feedback.  As Morrison and Milliken (2000) suggest, to overcome employee silence, top-management turnover that reflects more positive driving assumptions about employees and feedback would be necessary (p. 722).

Creating the Space for Dialogue and Change

Social workers would also benefit from having the assurance that there is a space to actually present concerns that go against the grain of organisational politics and expectation, especially where they have implications for social justice and oppression.  Encouraging upward feedback and putting in place mechanisms to facilitate that would be a good place to start, allowing workers to feel that their opinions are valued and needed.

Additionally, it would also help if workers, through team/staff meetings or other such formal and safe spaces, were given the opportunity to be reflective and engage in active discussions with other colleagues on issues regarding how their identity and social location, or even the positioning of the organisation impact a particular case, and the ramifications for justice and equity.

CONCLUSION

There is no doubt that employee silence exist in our social service organisations, but its presence is increasingly questionable, especially when such silence allow injustices and oppression of marginalised populations to persist.  In order to break this pervasive culture of silence, it is important to look at the underlying reasons for its presence which may include an emphasis placed on maintaining the status quo, the organisational structure and politics, and other individual reasons.  Perhaps not all of these reasons are present at any given point in time, but the existence of these conditions will make it more likely for workers to refrain from giving voice to important issues.  It is therefore imperative that mechanisms be put in place to guard against the perceived fear of repercussions or backlash for speaking out, and encourage feedback and dialogue from the bottom of the chain of command upwards.  By doing so, frontline workers who actively engage with clients and face the day-to-day realities of the conflict that arise from the oppression and marginalisation of some of these clients would be able to have their input valued and utilised for the benefit and progress of the organisation, as well as the pursuit of social justice.

*****

REFERENCES

Baines, D.  (2007).  Bridging the practice-activism divide in mainstream social work.  In D. Baines (ed.) Doing Anti-Oppressive Practice.  Halifax:  Fernwood.

Boushel, M.  (2000).  “What kind of people are we?”  “Race”, anti-racism and social welfare research.  British Journal of Social Work, 30 (1), 71-89.

Burr, V.  (1995).  An Introduction to Social Constructionism.  Routledge.

Fook, J.  (2000).  The lone crusader:  Constructing enemies and allies in the workplace.  In L. Napier and J. Fook (eds.) Breakthroughs in Practice:  Theorising Critical Moments in Social Work.  London:  Whiting and Birch Ltd.

Milliken, F. J., Morrison, E. W., Hewlin, P. F.  (2003).  An exploratory study of employee silence:  Issues that employees don’t communicate upwards and why.  Journal of Management Studies, 40 (6), 1453-1476.

Morrsion, E. W., Milliken, F. J.  (2000).  Organisational silence:  A barrier to change and development in a pluralistic world.  The Academy of Management Review, 25 (4), 706-725.

Neuman, W. L.  (1997).  Social work research methods:  Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches.  Allyn and Bacon – Pearson Education

Ng, R.  (1990).  State funding to a community employment centre:  Implications for working with immigrant women.  In R. Ng, G. Walker, J. Muller (eds.) Community Organization and the Canadian State.  Toronto:  Garamond.

Reimer Kirkham, S.  (2003).  The politics of belonging and intercultural health care.  Western Journal of Nursing Research, 25 (7), 762-780.

Steinhouse, K.  (2001).  Bisexual women:  Cosiderations of race, social justice and community building.  Journal of Progressive Human Services, 12 (2), 5-25.

The Armadale Report.  (2010)