Four men narrowly escaped being lynched by a homophobic mob in Kingston, Jamaica, on Valentine’s Day, last Wednesday, 14 February 2007.
A crowd of around 200 people besieged the men in a pharmacy in the Tropical Plaza shopping centre, abusing them with anti-gay taunts and threats to kill them.
Fearing a possible Valentine’s Day massacre, the pharmacy staff called the police. When officers arrived on the scene they homophobically abused the four men. One man – Gareth, a leader of the Jamaican gay rights group J-Flag – was struck with a gun butt and hit on the face and head by the police.
As the police escorted the four men out of the pharmacy to be driven to safety, another of the four men was hit on the head by an object thrown by the angry homophobic mob.
Below is a firsthand eye-witness account of what happened, narrated by Gareth, who was present throughout the incident. Gareth is a leader of the Jamaican lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights group, J-Flag. His full name cannot be revealed because this would enable him to be tracked down and make it likely that he would be targeted for assassination.
Acting in consultation with Gareth and J-Flag, OutRage! is urging people to protest to their local Jamaican Ambassador.
Brett Lock of OutRage! said:
“Despite abusive treatment at the hands of the police, it is progress that officers escorted the men to safety. In the past, the Jamaican police have been accused of allowing gay men to be battered and killed by homophobic mobs. Nevertheless, the abuse of these men by officers who are supposed to uphold the law is totally unacceptable.”
Mr Lock added:
“We urge LGBT individuals and organisations to press the Jamaican government to:
Please email your protest to the Jamaican High Commissioner in London:
His Excellency, Burchell Whiteman
Fax: 020 7589 5154
Jamaican High Commission, 1-2 Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BZ
A firsthand eye-witness account from Gareth of J-Flag:
“On Wednesday 14 February 2007, three guys were followed by an angry, homophobic woman into a pharmacy at the Tropical Plaza shopping centre in Kingston. She cursed and called them names, accusing them of being gay and saying that battymen (queers) must be killed. She attracted the attention of other shoppers in the plaza, who quickly gathered at the door of the pharmacy. This homophobic mob began shouting abuse and violent threats.
“I was already in the pharmacy purchasing items. I recognised the three men and went over and spoke to them, asking them to calm down. I advised them to deal with the situation in a different manner, since the store management had already escorted the woman outside and called the police.
“Because I had intervened to calm the situation, I was pointed at and referred to as a friend of the three guys. People said that I must be gay too. The crowd demanded that I come outside, so they could beat me. After hearing these threats, I decided to wait until the police arrived to escort the three guys out. I thought it would safer for me to leave with them, at the same time.
“The three men were supported by the store staff but verbally abused by the police and by the store’s private security personnel.
“I was violently abused by members of the police team. They slapped me in the face, hit me on the head, and the handle of a M16 gun was used to strike me in the lower abdomen.
“According to the medical report, my injuries were: soft tissue injuries to right side of face (peri-orbital), right panetal scalp with minor soft haematoma, and blunt abdominal trauma and muscular spasm. These injuries are deemed serious by the doctor who examined me.
“This assault happened because one of the police officers was being very aggressive and homophobic. I told him that he should not abuse us in that manner. The officers forcibly dragged me towards the door. When I told them not to treat me like that, they became more hostile.
“I was the only one injured inside the pharmacy. But one of the three guys was hit on the head with an object when he went outside to get into the police car.
“The police refused to tell us how we were going to get safely outside amid the angry mob of approximately 200 people. This made us very anxious.
“The homophobic abuse by the police was wrong and they must be held accountable. The Jamaican Government and police force must ensure that homophobic brutality stops.
“It was good that the police helped take us to safety. We thank them. But it is bad that they insulted and assaulted us.
“We need a full and proper investigation into allegations of police misconduct in the pharmacy and en route to the police station. The political leadership of our country must take a stand against homophobia and protect the rights of gay and lesbian Jamaicans,” said Gareth of J-Flag.
J-Flag media statement on the homophobic attack on 14 February 2007:
“A mob surrounded a store in the Tropical Plaza (shopping centre) on Constant Spring Road, calling for three men to be handed over to be beaten to death because they were believed to be homosexuals.
“The police were summoned, and when they arrived, according to eyewitnesses, they began to beat a man (Gareth from J-Flag) who was trying to make peace in the situation and ended becoming a target as a result.
“The police did eventually help the three men and the peacemaker to leave the store, but only after four of them (the police officers) had beaten the peacemaker (Gareth) with their guns and fists, insulting him and calling him a homosexual.
“The men were whisked away in a police car. While in the vehicle, all the way to the police station, the men were taunted by the police with anti-gay epithets. The insults continued even when the men arrived at the Half-Way Tree police station, where other police joined in the name-calling. The policemen at the station told them that they should
be grateful and warned them never to return to Half-Way Tree.
“Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays are united in their outrage at this blatant violation of police codes of conduct and the laws against battery by police against citizens. Rather than carrying out their duties fair-mindedly and without prejudice, the policemen were themselves the perpetrators of a violent, homophobic attack on a citizen whom they had been called to serve and protect.
“We applaud the actions of the staff at the store who showed a fundamental humanity and respect for their fellow Jamaicans, and who called for the assistance of the police. The response of the police however shows that citizens perceived to be gay remain vulnerable to attacks both from violent members of the public as well as from the security forces themselves sworn to defend against the violation of their rights.
“We call upon the Commissioner of Police, the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Public Defender to ensure that the policemen involved in this assault are brought to justice.
“We wish to reiterate that a society in which any Jamaican can be denied his or her rights as a citizen is a Jamaica in which no Jamaican is guaranteed his or her rights. We urge the authorities to accord this matter the attention it deserves as a matter of justice and human rights,” said J-Flag.
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