Sunday 18 August, 2019

'DISRESPECTFUL!' Rastas dissatisfied with apology, $10-m trust for Coral Gardens Massacre

Legal advisor to the Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, Miguel Lorne has described the apology issued by the Jamaican government, for the April, 1963 Coral Gardens Massacre, as unsatisfactory.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament on Tuesday apologised and announced that a $10 million trust fund for the victims had been set aside. Some 21 families have been identified as being victims of the assault by agents of the state.

Holness also announced that six plots at the site of the first formal Rastafarian community, Pinnacle in St Catherine, would be set aside and marked as heritage sites in honour of the Rastafarian faith which has been instrumental in placing Jamaica on the world map, through reggae music, vegetarian cuisine and other positive lifestyles.

But Lorne was not impressed. The attorney said Holness didn’t do enough. He said the apology should have been issued to the entire Rastafarian community, not just the victims of the fateful incident.

“The apology falls short. While we accept the apology, because it’s a start, it is not enough. You must apologise to the Rastafari community worldwide,” Lorne said.

On the fateful day in 1963, seven Rastafarians were killed by police and dozens more injured after bearded men set a gas station alight and killed its owner during a land dispute in the St James community. In the aftermath of the attack, the Rastas and a policeman were killed, and another policeman chopped several times and hospitalized for months.

The incident sparked a nationwide persecution against Rastas, allegedly endorsed by the then Jamaica Labour Party government. That, Lorne said, has not been addressed as many Rastafarians who had nothing to do with the Coral Gardens incident faced the wrath of the state who called on the populace to help round up, maul and trim Rastas.

“Rastas in Portland, Manchester, Kingston and all over the island felt the hands of the police and citizens, who were paid one guinea (approximately J$3) for every Rasta they brought in. It spilled over a decade after the atrocities," Lorme said.

"I too suffered from persecution. I was fired from the Half-Way- Tree Court after two weeks because I had dread-locks. When I graduated from law school the Justices in the High Court held a meeting and voted whether or not to allow me to practice law," he continued. "Families would put out their own children who became Rastas. Rastas were stoned and beaten. They were not accepted on public transport and had to travel in gullies. “So, an apology to the victims is barely enough.” 

Lorne said the police, and the courts in particular, were merciless against Rastas as many brethren would be imprisoned for periods up to seven-years for the possession of a marijuana spliff.

Lorne also had problems with the amount of money the government announced as reparations for what he described as a “most heinous act.”

“That amount is disrespectful. We cannot accept that. For what has been suffered they should offer much more. We may seek legal redress,” he said.

Rastafarian author, filmmaker and former Jamaican senator, Barbara Blake Hannah was more reserved in her view of the government’s apology. She said the apology is long overdue, especially from a JLP government. She regards the $10 reparation as “a good start,” and believes land will also be offered to the Coral Gardens Benevolent Society.

Blake Hannah says she hopes the funds will be placed on deposit and the interest used to finance not only the needs of the 21 families presently identified, but invested in businesses, farms and other ventures.

“Some will say it's not enough…..but to be realistic it's a good beginning,” she said.


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