Police Harassment of MSM Support Group Members
Documented by Robert Carr, PhD, DipSW, MSW
In September of 2001, a group of 12 members of Jamaica AIDS Support’s Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community (GLABCOM) intervention had just left a safer sex and behaviour change support meeting at about 10pm. As they headed home from the meeting on foot, the group noticed a police car drive past them, stop, turn around, and drive past them again and stop. Three policemen got out of the car. About half of the group became suspicious of the policemen’s behaviour and turned back to walk another way. One of the policemen then addressed the remaining six members of the group and commanded them to approach him with the phrase “Battyman, come here.” [Editor’s note: Battyman is a derogatory term for a male homosexual; who engages in anal intercourse.]
Some of the men stopped; one member walked on. When this member heard the policeman demand to be told where the group was coming from, and realised that his peers were paralysed with fear, decided to rejoin the group and try to provide some leadership to the group in handling the situation. The men responded to the policeman that they were coming from a meeting. One of the policemen then asked “A which meeting oonu battyman a come from?” The men did not respond out of fear of bringing reprisals and harassment on the GLABCOM meeting.
One of the policemen then told them that none of them were to move because they were all going to jail that night. While he was saying that, one member asked him ‘what for,’ and the policeman responded that they had broken the law already, and there was no need to explain it, while another one was on his radio calling for backup saying that there was a situation on that road and they needed a van. One of the policemen pointed at one of the guys and said that he knew him and that he was always on the street and asked him then and there if he was “a battyman.” The member did not respond. The policeman then asked him for his name; the member gave him a false name. The policeman then responded that he knew that was not his name. The member who had come back to help the situation interjected and argued that the policeman was not in a position to tell the young man he was lying as the policeman did not know his name. The policeman responded by trying to intimidate him into silence in order to prevent him from continuing to intervene in defence of the group members’ rights.
He then said he wanted to talk to the members of the group individually. They started doing this and so the group lost contact with what was being said and asked of whom. Then the member of the group who had turned back to lead the fight for the group’s rights asked if he could make a call to the organisation that had held the meeting to straighten the matter out. The phone booth was clearly visible from where the policemen and the group were. The policeman asked if the member was planning to call more “battymen” because if that was the case they would simply arrest everyone.
The lead member of the group then called Jamaica AIDS Support collect and contacted the then Director of Targeted Interventions, Mr. Michael Johnson. Mr. Johnson came to the scene. One policeman looked at him and announced “a di battyman leader dat.” Mr. Johnson asked the policemen what was the situation because he had gotten a call to say that the police were harassing the group. One of the officers said he was not to use the word “harass” because they were only doing their job. Mr. Johnson again asked what was happening. The policeman then said he recognised Mr. Johnson from his other job at a bank. Mr. Johnson confirmed that he did work at a bank.
The policeman then began referring to Mr. Johnson as “sir,” and offered to take him aside and explain what was happening. He told Mr. Johnson the group was “loitering” and pointed to one particularly effeminate member and said that what he thought that member was doing he thought the whole group was doing and that he cannot support “man with man because God never mek man with man.” He said the only reason he was not arresting the group was because they knew Mr. Johnson. The policeman told Mr. Johnson that what Mr. Johnson needed to do was to talk to the group about being gay, and the fact that being gay is wrong and against the law, and that the next time they were not going to give them a break. Their last comment was to point to the effeminate group member they had singled out and say that they had marked him as the ringleader and a marker of homosexual activities and so anyone he was with they would know was a homosexual and so liable for arrest.