Testimonial – Police Harassment of MSM Support Group Members

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.

Body, Spirit Religion and Spirituality

One source of real pain for many of us is the rejection we receive from the church and our spiritual communities. Being raised in a spiritual community, whether Christian or other can and should be a very nurturing experience, but for many of us, our experience of such communities is the opposite. From an early age we are taught that to be anything other than heterosexual is evil, sinful, corrupt, and that we are destined to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity.
This kind of rejection by our churches and our communities is very damaging to our spirits. Many people internalise this message and it takes a lot of strength and courage to reject this way of thinking, especially when the fundamentalists have armed themselves with quote after quote from the bible to justify their bigotry. Fundamentalist Christian churches dominate the spiritual landscape in Jamaica, making it difficult for people to explore alternative thinking on homosexuality.

However, there are alternatives to the mainstream church, including some Christian churches which focus more on nurturing the spirit and drawing the positive from people, rather than on condemning people and focusing on guilt and sin. Some of these alternatives operate from a Christian perspective, and others present alternative belief systems.
Contact us for information on gay-friendly churches in Jamaica.

Check the links below for gay Christian and alternative spirituality sites.
http://www.outspirit.org/
http://www.gaychristians.org/
http://www.whosoever.org/welcome.html
http://www.whitecranejournal.com/wc00000.htm

This inspiring bishop was invited to speak in Jamaica in 2001 by the Universal Centre of Truth:
http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/jsspong

This is a listing of alternative gay spiritual sites:
http://www.whitecranejournal.com/wc05000.htm
http://www.othersheep.org/
Metropolitan Community Church:
http://www.ufmcc.com/
Gay muslim site:
http://www.al-fatiha.net/

JFLAG Page – Know Your Rights

The first defense against persecution from the police or any individual is to know exactly what your rights are and what rights the police do and don’t have. We have tried to outline below some of the laws as they relate to homosexuality. If you know your rights, you can better defend yourself if you are subjected to abuse or discrimination of any kind.

What Jamaican Law says about Homosexuality:
Contrary to popular belief, it is not actually illegal to be homosexual in Jamaica. Being a homosexual does not contravene any of the existing laws; however, the law makes certain ‘homosexual acts’ illegal, and these laws are used to persecute gay men. They state that “acts of gross indecency” and buggery [anal sex] are illegal. Although buggery refers to anal sex between a man and another man, a woman or an animal, in practice the law is predominately enforced against two men. Lesbians are also discriminated against in the wider society, however no laws target lesbians or lesbian conduct.

Offences Against the Person Act
This act prohibits “acts of gross indecency” between men, in public or in private. (This is a very general term which can be interpreted to mean any kind of physical intimacy)
Article 76 (Unnatural Crime)”Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery [anal intercourse] committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.”

Article 77 (Attempt)”Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of any assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hard labour.”

Article 78 (Proof of Carnal Knowledge)”Whenever upon the trial of any offence punishable under this Act, it may be necessary to prove carnal knowledge, it shall not be necessary to prove the actual emission of seed in order to constitute a carnal knowledge, but the carnal knowledge shall be deemed complete upon proof of penetration only.”

Article 79 (Outrages on Decency)”Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 2 years, with or without hard labour.”

YOUR Rights, Duties and Responsibilities as a Jamaican Citizen:
As a Jamaican citizen you also have, through the Constitution, the right:
To have your privacy respected within your home and family.
As a citizen, you have a DUTY to assist the police in the apprehension of an accused or wanted person.
If through your own actions, conduct or behaviour, you do not show RESPECT for other citizens, the security forces and the laws governing the country – whether within or outside your community – some of these rights may be taken away from you, by law. This means that you may be liable to prosecution and conviction leading to imprisonment or you may be sued.

POLICE Rights, Duties and Responsibilities:
In pursuing their duties as members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, police officers have the right:
To search the body of any person if they have reason to believe that an illegally-held item, relating to your search, is being concealed;
To search premises, once they have a search warrant, duly signed by the appropriate authority*;
To remove property which justifies their search, as evidence.
If through their actions, conduct and behaviour they do not show RESPECT for citizens, or they abuse those citizens’ rights or property, they can be removed from their professional responsibilities, by law. They may also be liable to prosecution and conviction leading to imprisonment or they may be sued.
*(Judge or Justice of the Peace. In the case of dangerous drugs, Sergeant of Police or higher officer.)

If you want to know what protections are available under the national constitution for you as a citizen of Jamaica, and what JFLAG is doing to have those protections widened to include protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, see our Parliamentary Submission.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also available online at: http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/index.htm