I’m a black man of Jamaican ancestry — who knows, our Kingston roots may be intertwined somewhere in the past — but because I am gay, they say they are at war with me.
They sing lyrics that incite their fans to murder and torture all gay people, even providing specific instructions:
Buju Banton incites listeners to shoot gays in the head, pour acid on us and set us on fire. Beenie Man suggests that his fans “Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope” and sings of a new Jamaica, “come to execute all the gays.” Buju suggests killing us with machine guns; Beenie recommends bazookas.
Banton and Beenie Man are both scheduled to perform in Miami’s James L. Knight Center at the ironically titled Reggae “Bash” 2009 on Oct. 31. This Halloween-night concert is a personal affront and a physical threat to people like me. They are bringing their message of hate into my city, and inciting people to violence in my neighborhood. I call on the the city and the Knight Center management to cancel the concert, and for companies to end their sponsorship of the event.
I am not alone in my outrage at the hateful and murderous message of Buju Banton and Beenie Man and their incitement of fans to violence against gays and lesbians. Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee venues have already cancelled the concert, and Toyota of Hollywood has withdrawn its financial support of the event. Nationwide, shows in Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Richmond and Minneapolis have been cancelled.
Unsurprisingly, concert promoters have done two things: downplay the incitement to violence as Banton’s youthful indiscretion and invoke his First Amendment right to free speech. “He was just 15 years old” when he wrote Boom Bye Bye, his first hateful call to violence, they say. “He doesn’t perform it anymore.”
That is simply not true. A Miami Herald reporter posted a video of Buju Banton performing Boom Bye Bye in Miami in 2007. Search the Internet and you’ll see him onstage in a video posted September 2009, screaming: “There is no end to the war between me and the f–gots!”
As for Banton’s right to free speech, I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. I firmly believe that Buju Banton and Beenie Man have a right to hate whomever they want, and to speak loudly against them, onstage and off.
But they go much further: They publicly advocate murder and other forms of indiscriminate violence against people like me and incite their listeners to commit assault. No venue, public or private, is obligated to provide space for those who use “fighting words” to incite violence.
Speaking out peacefully
It is a sign of deep respect for the First Amendment, not an affront to it, to meet hateful speech with only speech, not threats of violence. And that is what fair-minded Floridians — gay and straight alike — have been doing all across the state. We are speaking out against the dehumanization of people and the murderous message these two dancehall singers continue to spew for profit.
If the concert goes on, you can be certain there will be protesters outside, exercising our First Amendment right to free speech. But we will not be inciting murder or violence against anyone. That would be dead wrong and illegal.
George Byars is a member of Equality Florida. He previously served as development director of the civil rights organization.