Last edited: July 11, 2004

Accused Homosexual Tells Grim Tale of Abuse

Caribbean Today, January 31, 1997

Within moments of the police accosting him and three colleagues near Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport early on the morning of Saturday, November 16 last year, 20-year-old Adam (no his real name) began to know what it means to fall into the hands of the Jamaican police as an accused homosexual.

When finally he was bailed from Kingston’s Remand Center on Monday, December 2, 17 days after being arrested on a charge of gross indecency, he had been publicly humiliated, insulted by the police and had endured horrific beatings administered by inmates in the lock-up, abuse that he said was committed with the complicity of the police.

If convicted, Adam faces a maximum custodial sentence of about five years.

Shortly after arresting them, Adam charges, the police put the four on display at the Norman Manley International Airport to be taunted and threatened by members of the public.

In addition, some of the local media published the men’s names, general information about where they lived and details of their employment, disregarding their own knowledge of the special degree of prejudice to which accused homosexuals are subjected in Jamaica.

When Caribbean Today visited Adam to interview him on the night of Thursday, December 5, he was living with three other young men in a cramped efficiency apartment somewhere in the sprawling dormitory community of Portmore across the harbor from Kingston. The only furniture evident in the room were two large beds, which left little room for movement in the small space.

At the time Adam was interviewed, the skin near his right eye was swollen. A cellmate at the Remand Center had kicked him the face two weeks before, causing his nose to bleed and the eye to become grossly swollen, he said.

Adam and one of his roommates, a former soldier who said he was forced out of his job merely on the suspicion that he was homosexual, are living virtually as internal refugees thrown up by Jamaica’s unofficial but sustained campaign against homosexuals and suspected homosexuals.

Adam’s fellow refugee was sharing this small hide-away because gunmen recently fired on his house and demanded that he leave the community, this after his sister suspected that he was gay and announced her conclusion in the neighborhood, he said.

Adam’s nightmare began in the dark hours of Saturday, November 16—the arresting police say approximately 3:30 am. He and three friends had driven out to the Port Royal road and parked in the vicinity of the Manley International Airport.

Adam said that he and one of his friend were leaning side by side against the back of the car and talking when they saw the headlights of a car approaching with a third, elevated light—a searchlight.

Several men in civilian dress alighted from the car, demanded to know what four men were doing in such a place so late at night and immediately, in crude Jamaican vernacular, accused them of being homosexuals, Adam said.

He said the policemen demanded that they all remove their clothing, an instruction with which they refused to comply.

The four were handcuffed in pairs and driven to the small police post at the Manley Airport where they were held in the small kitchen area and instructed to remove their underwear, which was taken from them.

Adam said members of the police post told people in the airport’s busy arrivals area that they had arrested four homosexuals whom they had caught in the act.

"People wanted to see us, and they allowed some people some people to come in and look at us," Adam said.

He continued: "We held our heads down, and the policemen would come and say, ‘Hold up oonu head, bwoy! Mek dem see oonu!’ When we refused they said ‘Oonu gwine get some murder now!’."

Although a sympathetic policeman quietly told Adam that he and his colleagues were entitled to make telephone calls, all such requests were at first denied, Adam said.

He said the policemen did not themselves physically abuse any of the four but told them bluntly that they would see to it that they were beaten.

About 9:30 Saturday morning the four men, still handcuffed in pairs, were led from the police post, through the usual throng at the airports arrivals area to a police vehicle parked some distance away. As they were led through the crowd members of the public taunted them and threatened them with death.

"It was horrible," Adam said.

He said the four were driven to the Rape Unit to be medically examined. He declined to go further into the medical examination, indicating only that it was a deeply humiliating experience.

The police drove the four men to the Half-Way Tree lock-up, where it was discovered there was no room for them and so took them to the lock-up at the Central Police Station in downtown Kingston, which was also full.

"At Central, everybody came down (on us), police, everybody, even people off the street," Adam said. The desk officer there, on being told the charges against the four, urged the arresting policemen to release them, Adam said.

Instead, they were driven to the Remand Center, a purpose-built holding facility for persons awaiting trial. When finally they arrived at the Remand Center on Saturday afternoon, they had had no food or water since their arrest.

The four were searched, separated from each other and each was put into a cell with seven other inmates. Adam said the police, apparently softening in their attitude to the four young men—or perhaps to play a cruel joke—told them beforehand that when they were put into the cells they should tell their cellmates that they had been arrested at the airport for drug possession.

But on arriving in their cells, their hastily-cobbled story fell apart under questioning by their cell-mates. In one cell one person asserted that they had been arrested for cocaine, while another person said in another cell that they had been held with marijuana.

And the police at the Remand Center, who had to be told the charges against the four who were being committed into their custody, in turn told inmates that their new companions were accused homosexuals. Adam said a trusty passed to an inmate in his cell a note on which was written the word "Buggery".

It was then that the beatings began, Adam said. All four men were punched, kicked, slapped and struck with objects in a campaign of violence that went on day after day, he said.

He charges that the cells were sometimes unlocked so that inmates from other cells could enter his and his friends’ cell to beat them. When the beatings were in progress, he said, and the victims’ cried of anguish became alarming, their cell-mates would rattle the cell doors and shout to mask their victims’ cries.

At breakfast time, they were the last to be allowed out of their cells to collect the meal, and as they passed other cells going to and from their own cells, inmates would splash them with hot tea.

Adam displayed a scar on the ring finger of his left hand, the last remaining sign that an inmate had held his left hand on a concrete ledge and struck his fingers with the heel of a heavy boot, splitting the flesh on the ring finger.

His cell-mates also lit plastic beverage bottles and splashed their victims with fiery droplets of molten plastic, Adam said.

Where the abuse was not physical, it was odious and humiliating, he said, citing the cleaning of the toilets in the lock-up as an example. He was given the small metal cap from a plastic beverage bottle, Adam said, with instructions to use the serrated lower edge of the metal cap to scrape the toilets clean. The toilets were unimaginably filthy, and the operation had to be performed with bare hands, he said. Under duress all four had to clean other inmates’ cells and toilets as well.

Two of the four made bail five days after their arrest, and the third was bailed 10 days after being arrested. For Adam, bail would remain a dream until Monday, December 2, because no one in his family "could face my bail". In addition to being disinclined to involve herself in his case, his mother did not have the means to stand the surety of $150,000—later reduced to $75,000—and his brother would have nothing to do with him in consequence of the circumstances of his arrest.

Bail was finally arranged by the ex-soldier, who rallied other people to help. Adam said the only person who showed any kindness in the lock-up was a convicted murderer on remand for a separate charge. He declined to beat any of the four and even gave them water when no else would.

For this kindness, Adam said, the Samaritan was ostracized by other inmates, who accused him of being homosexual himself. But as a convicted murder, his dangerous reputation shielded him from any physical assaults.

Finally out of the lock-up, Adam was attempting to pick up the pieces of his life. He and his colleagues had been the subject of gossip and island-wide media attention. He said his gospel singing ground had rejected him because of his "immorality," and he viewed with apprehension the prospect of going back to the fundamentalist church in which he had been active as a choir member before his arrest.

Obviously needing money, he said he tried to get a job with a former employer, who told him he could not take him back because other employees would not stand for it.

Philosophically, Adam explained how he tried to carry on a normal life since his release.

"From ever since I got locked up, I don’t look at it as what they charged me for. I just try to build my courage and go on," he said. Ironically, he said he sometimes imagined himself as an accused murderer, in which event he could walk the streets with much greater respectability.

Caribbean Today raised Adam’s with the office of Jamaica’s commissioner of police and the Jamaica Council for Human Rights (JCHR).

Repeated attempts to get a comment from the commissioner’s offer concerning police conduct in the case yielded no results.

The day after interviewing Adam, Caribbean Today spoke with the JCHR’ s office in downtown Kingston. Citing severe budgetary and staff constraints at the JCHR, Orlando Dawkins, the council’s Privy Council clerk, said: "The only way we can become involved in the matter is when we are approached for assistance. We have not heard anything from relatives and we have heard nothing from (the accused men)."

In a written response to questions later faxed to him, Dennis Daly, the JCHR’s chairman, said the council condemned the abuse of any prisoner, regardless of the charge against him. Briefly sketching a picture of broad police excesses in Jamaica—including summary executions—Mr. Daly said the abuse of accused homosexuals was only a part of a pattern of police misconduct.

"I agree that, given the attitudes of Jamaican males towards homosexuals, they are especially at risk," said Mr. Daly, who is an attorney.

He said abuse of persons in custody "is not confined to persons on homosexual-related offenses, nor is it done only by other prisoners. It has also been done by prison warders and the police against persons on apparently innocuous offenses such as smoking ganja (marijuana). We presently have a suit in court for precisely such beatings administered daily on a man by prison warders over the period of a week. When the man was eventually taken to the doctor his wounds were full of maggots and a finger had to be amputated. This man was only on a ganja charge..."

Mr. Daly said the council uses its limited resources mainly to deal with "basic issues of life and liberty, of which the poor are systematically deprived in Jamaica."

"...until we can get past the point at which poor persons are killed and jailed with impunity by the servants of the state, these issues over-shadow all other civil rights issues," he said.

He continued: "In 1996, which records the highest number of the murders committed in Jamaica, the police summarily executed one person for every six murders committed, but they were not called murders. If the Miami police kill one-quarter of the number of black people as the Jamaica police killed each year, that city would be torn apart by race riots and a presidential commission would be set up to report on the causes. I have not even mentioned the persons illegally detained and beaten up by the police."

Jamaican crime statistics show that the island, with a population of approximately 2.5 million, recorded 920 murders in 1996.

Mr. Daly said the JCHR seeks redress for "anyone whose civil rights are abused or who is significantly ill-treated, regardless of whether such persons are homosexuals or not."

The JCHR now has the Jamaican government in court on behalf of an accused homosexual who was brutally beaten by other prisoners on the instigation of the police, Mr. Daly said.

"The case in the nature of a test case as the category of tort is not well defined in our jurisprudence," he said. "Unfortunately, the case is unlikely to come to trial for another two or three years."

He said it was possible that more accused homosexuals did not approach the JCHR to report abuse because they were hesitant to reveal their sexual orientation.

Asked whether he believed homosexuals were a persecuted minority in Jamaica and whether the law against homosexual conduct was a contributor to this, Mr. Daly said:

"I am of the view that homosexuals are a persecuted minority. I think the law against homosexual activity facilitates and encourages their persecution but I do not consider it to be the foundation for the persecution which occurs.

"The foundation, in my view, is related to very complex sociological and historical factors which have resulted in an extraordinary sense of insecurity in the Jamaican male, hence the widespread homo-phobia in the society. The extreme propensity for violence is also partly the result of this insecurity."

Asked the JCHR’s position on the Jamaican laws that proscribe homosexual activity, Mr. Daly said that while the council had not officially expressed itself about the laws criminalizing homosexual activity, the council’s "position in support of human rights makes it obligatory that it be opposed to any law criminalizing homosexual activity in private between consenting adults."

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