Jamaican police claim equal danger faces gays, straights

Devon Watkis, asst. commissioner, Jamaican police. (Photo courtesy of Jamaican Information Service)

Devon Watkis, asst. commissioner, Jamaican police. (Photo courtesy of Jamaican Information Service)

LGBT Jamaicans and straight Jamaicans are equally at risk of violence, the Jamaican police allege.

“I have no specific evidence outside of those isolated ones, that [LGBT people are] a target group as opposed to the ordinary citizen,” said Jamaican Assistant Police Commissioner Devon Watkis.

The “isolated” incidents that he referred to are a recent series of attacks in Jamaica that have targeted allegedly gay men and a cross-dressing youth, who was killed at a street party.  Watkis did not suggest, however, that heterosexuals are targeted for their sexual orientation.

Watkis implied that LGBT people can live peacefully in Jamaica as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret. He said:

“I won’t dispute that there has been some cultural intolerance manifested in the public, but I have known individuals who have chosen that lifestyle but they have practiced their choices with responsibility and as a result they have not been subjected to any major taboo from the citizens of Jamaica.”

LGBT rights activist Maurice Tomlinson left Jamaica for safety in Canada because he received receiving death threats after his marriage was publicized in his home country. Tomlinson’s decision to marry his partner apparently would not qualify as “practicing his choices with responsibility,” in Watkis’s viewpoint.

In its report on Watkis’s statement, the Jamaica Gleaner said:

Jamaica has been described by some human-rights groups as the most homophobic place on Earth because of a perceived high level of violent crime directed at LGBT people.

The United States Department of State said in 2012, that homophobia was widespread in the country, and through the songs and the behaviour of some musicians, the country’s dancehall culture helped perpetuate homophobia.

In its Human Rights Report, the State Department said that during 2012, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-sexual and Gays received 68 reports of sexually motivated harassment or abuse, which included 53 cases of attempted or actual assault, including at least two killings and 15 reports of displacements.

Political sociologist at the University of the West Indies Professor Anthony Harriott believes that every Jamaican is susceptible to violence.

“From my ongoing study of homicides, I can say that there is nothing extraordinary about the killings of gays to the extent that one can discern from the information in the police records that the victim is gay.

“As it relates to other forms of violence such as beatings, I do not know, but from my observation there might be a tendency of advocates for gay rights to name all violence against gays as anti-gay and we have to be careful with that,” he said.

He added: “I think there is a lot of loose talk in just lumping up all victimisation of people who happen to be gay as victimisation against gays. Truth is, I have encountered cases of murder where it is evident that it is as a result of one being gay, but those are few.”

Tomlinson told Gay Star News that the frequency of homophobic attacks has been  “unprecedented.” He said, “We would normally expect to hear about an incident a month. It is not just the level of the attacks, but also the severity.”

Few or none of the recent attacks in Jamaica fit into Harriott’s category of “victimization of people who happen to be gay” rather than “victimization against gays.”

The attacks include:

Dwayne Jones in his casket

Dwayne Jones in his casket

1) The murder of 17-year-old cross-dresser Dwayne Jones at a public street-party in St. James (the Montego Bay area) on July 22.  Jones was attacked after a female party-goer complained that Jones was a man dressed as a woman.

2) A mob attack on a Kingston police officer suspected to be gay on Aug. 1. He had to be rescued by other officers firing shots in the air and firing teargas into the crowd.

3) A mob attack on the home of two gay persons in St. Catherine, also on Aug. 1. They too had to be rescued by police.

4) A mob attack on a cross-dresser in St. Catherine on Aug. 10. The police again had to rescue the individual.

5) A mob attack on five allegedly gay men, who were trapped in their house in Green Mountain on Aug. 22 until police arrived and escorted them to safety.

6) Threats by a mob that surrounded two allegedly gay men who were involved in a minor traffic accident on Aug. 26  in Old Harbour in southern Jamaica. The mob said that homosexuality might be acceptable elsewhere, but not in Old Harbour.

4 thoughts on “Jamaican police claim equal danger faces gays, straights

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