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The law in our hands

Monday, November 27, 2017

The acting CoP strutted and fretted about his stage, full of sound and fury about lawlessness. Nikki Crosby was vomiting, tearful and prayerful. Both came to my American Thanksgiving dinner—over my phone. Familiar words pulsed in my memory.

They’re Daniel Garrett’s. Without him, I might not be a writer. Thirty years ago he founded a writing community on the ashes of another, a place where many of us learned that words we’d ferreted away in our sock drawers mattered, made change. He and I struggled a lot, both far too young to know how to care for anyone. I disappointed him. I miss him.

Words last.

Beetham lives matter.

My small words last week celebrated the movement whose visionary three-word affirmation counters US criminal justice’s devaluation of Black lives; and Angela Davis’s lesson that she’s “no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” She now campaigns to abolish prisons.

I was surprised, following Thursday’s lawlessness towards Beetham motorists, to find across social media (alongside the calls for genocide) a repeated sense that someone other than Beetham residents shares responsibility for their lives.

Me Too. Another movement taking off in the US, motored by those two words, is revealing how commonplace and under-addressed sexual harassment has been, and prompting a complex examination of accountability.

Two confessed killers made T&T headlines this week. Their gruesome homicides involved 50 injuries after an unwanted sexual advance was alleged. Nadia Pooran, then 21 and deemed a prostitute, has completed 13 years’ imprisonment for killing Ralphy Ramcharan. Anderson Gould was sentenced Wednesday to 14. Oral Brathwaite, 47, picked him up, at 26, to discuss employment Gould said. Then kissed him on the neck.

Justice is complicated. Thursday’s protests killed no-one. TTPS has killed over 40 this year. Prosecutors, media reports suggest, did not pursue allegations Gould met for sex. Se-Shauna Wheattle’s UWI-commissioned study (in Equal Rights Review #16) explores similar “sodomitical attack” defences. My own work questions whether justice is guaranteed when shiny white lawyers overturn sodomy laws.

Bahamian and South African homophobia outlived decriminalisation. St Lucia’s Labour Code protects gays/lesbians from employment discrimination, notwithstanding sodomy’s criminalisation.

When lawyers work together with movements, as the Rights Advocacy Project lecturers—Jamaican Tracy Robinson, Guyanese Arif Bulkan in T&T, Trini Westmin James in Barbados—behind Wheattle’s report do, we can plan thoughtfully for sustainable justice.

Justice requires machinery. As much as we cling to our fetishes of propriety and rules, public intellectuals agree the institutions and systems we inherited at Independence don’t deliver justice—and often inequality. We have always been a land of rogues and steelbadjohns, precisely because of this. Used comedy’s words and Carnival’s manifestations to cope.

I imagine when justice comes through law reform, it entails a guarantee of redress for wrongdoing—something amending T&T’s Equal Opportunity frameworks to cover more people can easily deliver, while flowery Constitutional promises of an economy whose material resources are fairly distributed that provides adequate livelihood for all remain unfulfilled.
What do we do? This is the question on everyone’s lips. “Seek justice; do justice,” Verna has long invoked. Begin to engage, in whatever ways we can, in demanding that systems—and people in them—improve on how they deliver justice. Not enforce rules. And for others; not just us. Small acts—like small words—matter. Enrol others. Make movements. In words that became epigrammatic for other writers of his generation, Daniel wrote, “We live as outlaws—men in search of our own constitution.” Unruliness is justice-seeking. –[email protected]


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