On Friday evening I received a call from a friend named Jermaine who works with the Colour Pink Group. Jermaine was panicked and upset and it took several minutes for me to understand what had happened.
Jermaine works with youth who have been kicked out of their homes and disenfranchised by society because of who they are. So they live in a gully nearby Kingston’s main business district. He visits them every Friday to distribute condoms (some of them support themselves through sex work) and whatever else he has been able to collect for them.
This past Friday, he brought his lap top so he could show them a documentary video someone had made of these youth talking about their experiences. They showed their faces and discussed some very intimate things. Apparently, this filmmaker had given them the impression that they could seek asylum and go overseas if they showed their faces. (This is solely Jermaine’s account of events; I do not know who the filmmaker is and have not contacted police).
“The impression that they got is that if they showed their face, they were going to work up” to go overseas. It must be said that some of these young men display antisocial behaviour and are more familiar with defending themselves on the streets than moving through mainstream society’s institutions such as schools and jobs. So while they are smart, they are likely not familiar with how the media works in terms of consent. This matters because they are at-risk and vulnerable. “They didn’t sign a contract, they didn’t get paid and they didn’t know their face would be shown,” Jermaine says.
In any case, Jermaine was showing them this documentary and the police drove by. Some of the young men ran, but Jermaine did not as he had done nothing wrong. According to what police said, there had been some larcenies in the area. So they took Jermaine’s laptop (which was given to him by fellow volunteer Amy. Here is her account of events.) to the nearest police station on the suspicion that it was stolen.
Jermaine went to the police station and was joined by Amy and Yvonne McCalla Sobers of Dwayne’s House, a civil society organization that is trying to provide housing for these young men. They vouched for Jermaine, but before the laptop was released, Jermaine was subjected to a verbal assault. “…the officer started to shout and intimidate me. He said I need the receipt…He said if he had a gun he would shoot them up…He finally let me go with the laptop and attitude as well.” Jermaine also said that the police officer used the derogatory term “battyman” numerous times. It should be noted that Inspector Murdock behaved professionally and I spoke to him on the phone and this was the case.
On a more positive note, Jermaine is about to launch more training sessions for the young men through the Colour Pink Group. They will receive vocational training and opportunities for employment. “We believe in poverty reduction through empowerment and we want to get them into jobs as well and out of shelters. I don’t believe in shelters. They are not homes.”