In the face of mounting concerns over a recent slew of anti-LGBT violent crimes, Jamaica’s Assistant Police Commissioner Devon Watkis has officially stated that he doesn’t believe there has been any increase in violence, assaults or murders against the LGBT community in the past few months, claiming LGBTs are just as likely to suffer under Jamaica’s admittedly high violent crime rate as other groups.
“Our numbers generally show that we have had some violence committed against the citizens of Jamaica, inclusive of all groups. I have no specific evidence outside of those isolated ones, that this group is a target group as opposed to the ordinary citizen.”
Jamaica’s police force does not explicitly track anti-LGBT crimes, and Jamaican law in fact criminalizes homosexuality under at least three separate provisions, meaning that data on LGBT victims of crime is likely limited, if not seriously so.
Jamaica has repeatedly resisted calls to repeal its anti-gay laws and has been criticized by a number of human rights groups for its often institutionalized homophobia which in turn is seen as preventing LGBT victims of crimes coming forward and hampering HIV/AIDS intervention efforts.
Nevertheless, Watkis claims:
“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. 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. 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 practised their choices with responsibility and as a result they have not been subjected to any major taboo from the citizens of Jamaica.”
Below are five stories from the past few months that, contrary to Watkis’ claims, appear to demonstrate that anti-LGBT violent crimes might be on the rise, as many LGBT activists in and outside the country are claiming. They also demonstrate that if these cases are in fact the norm for Jamaica, as Watkins claims, then the international community must redouble efforts to engage with what is by any standards a dire human rights situation:
1. Dwayne Long Jones, 17, was stabbed, shot to death and thrown thrown into bushes during a public street-dance near Montego Bay on July 22, the attack apparently prompted by the fact that he wore gender nonconforming attire and was dancing with someone of the same sex. Dwayne’s death provoked international condemnation and vigils were held in several countries to draw attention to anti-LGBT violence in the country.
3. A 41-year-old hospitality worker named Dean Moriah from Montego Bay was reportedly stabbed and then his home torched while he was still inside. He managed to crawl from the house but subsequently died of his injuries. While the attack has not been confirmed as a bias-motivated crime, Moriah has widely implied to have been openly gay and there are strong suspicions that the so-called “domestic” nature of the crime, so labelled by police, had a very specific anti-gay taint.
4. On August 22, five reportedly gay men in the parish of Manchester were subject to attacks from fellow community members who said that they had to protect the youth of the village from being recruited by the men. The subjects of this assault were forced to take refuge inside a dwelling until police came to disperse the crowds. A video report has now surfaced.
A similar but separate incident involving two gay men from the parish of St Catherine had already occurred on August 1.
5. On August 26, two gay men in the town of Old Harbour were reportedly forced to flee the scene of a car accident after onlookers realized the men were gay. So insistent were the mob that the men were reportedly forced to take harbor in a local police station. The mob were pursuing them with the demand that they leave town.
Jamaican Christian groups are planning a so-called Love March for what they describe as “sexual purity,” therein decrying any attempts to decriminalize homosexuality. This event is set for Saturday, September 14. LGBT rights advocates are concerned that, as it did last year, this might provide a flash point for further anti-LGBT hostility.
Image credit: Thinkstock.