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Did Jamaican Police abduct Reggae artist’s children and cut off their dreadlocks?
On Saturday, news broke from Jamaica that Rastafarian Reggae artist JahDore has accused Jamaican Police of unlawfully taking his children—before returning them with shaved heads.
Did Jamaican Police really engage in child abuse by shaving the locks from the heads of JahDore’s kids?
This is the story that emerged Saturday, in the Jamaican newspapers, The Gleaner, and the Jamaican Observer.
JahDore, whose real name is Sean McDonald, accused Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) officers of taking his children, ages four and eight, from his wife. JahDore says he received a call from his wife telling him about the alleged abduction of the children, from their home, in St. Andrew. JahDore eventually went to the police station to protest. There he said he was beaten sustaining injuries to his left eye and right jaw.
JahDore explained what happened when he went to station and encountered an officer.
“Him [the officer] say him come because him want find out why me have some kids here not going to school,” JahDore said. “So, I said to him, ‘If you come to find out something, this is the way you approach it? Why you in the yard? Why you don’t do it on a more professional basis?’ By the time mi fi say that and go into the yard now, the other police in deh [in station] shout out, ‘Stop you noise and come for the pickney [children] dem.”
JahDore says his children are homeschooled. In Jamaica, there is no law against homeschooling. Things got worse when JahDore, a Rastafarian, asked where his children were. He found out police sent them to a barber to have their heads shaved.
“Dem [the police] send the pickney dem gone trim off the pickney dem locks and can’t tell me who or what or how it go,” JahDore said. “When mi come back, mi see the two little yute [youths] dem head bald, bald.” He also found out his children were given chicken to eat. Many Rastafarians are strict vegetarians.
JahDore’s lawyer, Shantez Stewart, condemned the police behavior saying, “The abhorrence displayed by the officers is an affront to justice. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by the Government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity.” JahDore also alleged he was pistol-whipped in the face, for protesting—before the officer brandished the weapon at him.
However, JahDore was the one who ended up being charged with assault. Later this month, he is expected in court to answer the assault charges. According to The Gleaner, the Gordon Town Police, where these events apparently happened, have not released their version of events. According to the Jamaican Observer newspaper, on Saturday, Commissioner of Police Major General Anderson ordered an investigation into JahDore’s allegations.
To people living outside Jamaica, and the Caribbean, JahDore’s accusations might sound unbelievable. Today, Rastafarians are recognized across the world for their positive contributions, especially in music and the arts. Reggae artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, Dennis Brown, Gregory Issacs, Burning Spear, Luciano and Maxi Priest are but a few of the Rastafarian musicians who’ve garnered worldwide acclaim. Rastafarian poets such as Mutabaruka, Oku Onuora and Benjamin Zephaniah are also highly revered.
But there is an awfully violent history of repression Rastafarians have faced, in the Caribbean, that is not well known by the outside world. The cutting of the locks of Rastafarians, to shame them, was once a routine part of that oppression.
Even since the emergence of the Rastafarian Movement in the 1930’s, adherents have been subjected to various forms of discrimination—and state violence. In fact, no other Caribbean group has face more sustained persecution. JahDore’s story of having his children’s locks shaved off is something that once happened with frequency whenever a confrontation happened between police and Rastas.
The significance of the Rastafarians, was recognized by brilliant Guyanese historian Dr. Walter Rodney, and discussed in his 1969 book, “Groundings With My Brothers.” Rodney had been a professor at Jamaica’s University of The West Indies (UWI) campus. Because of his interest in the Rastafarians, and other oppressed people in Jamaica, the Jamaican Government put Dr. Rodney under surveillance. He was eventually expelled and declared persona non-grata, for being a threat to Jamaica’s national security.
Rastafarians are arguably the most important social movement to ever come from the Caribbean. The history of the Rastafarians is a deeply complex one. Early Jamaican Rastafarian leaders included: Leonard “the Gong” Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley and Robert Hinds.
It can clearly be stated that the Rastafarian Movement represented a rejection of the Eurocentric ways that were forced upon Afro-Caribbean people. Rastafarians reclaimed the right to reinterpret things from an Afrocentric viewpoint. Because of the Rastafarians’ Afrocentric ideology, from the very beginning, they were deemed dangerous by government, and religious leaders.
For example, in 1934, Rasta leader Leonard Howell was tried into a Jamaican court for sedition. He had refused to pledge allegiance to King George V of the United Kingdom. Howell denounced the colonial authorities and pledged allegiance to Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Howell was found guilty and sent to prison for two years.
By the 1950’s the growth of the Rastafarian Movement was worrying the colonial Jamaican Government. In 1954, a Rastafarian community—started by Leonard Howell, in 1940—named the Pinnacle Community, was destroyed by Jamaican authorities. One excuse repeatedly used to terrorize Rastas was their alleged illegal cultivation, and use of marijuana, for religious and medicinal purposes. In 1941, the Jamaican government labelled the Pinnacle Community a “communist experiment.” Pinnacle was raided numerous times before its ultimate annihilation, and the Rastas living at Pinnacle were brutalized and dispossessed. Similar actions happened across Jamaica.
In many of these instances, Rastas had their locks forcibly shaved by police.
In 1960, then Jamaican Prime Minister Norman Manley declared a state of emergency. Reynold Henry, the son of a Rasta leader, Reverend Claudius Henry, had allegedly attempted to overthrow the government. Henry, and others, were eventually hanged on treason charges. The older Henry purportedly was found with a letter—supposedly for Cuba’s Fidel Castro—about a plan to takeover Jamaica’s government. Regrettably, this incident convinced large segments of the Jamaican population that Rastafarians were trying to overthrow the Jamaican Government.
A 1960 report, authored by Professor Rex Nettleford, M.G. Smith and Roy Augier, stated “relations between Ras Tafari brethren and the police have deteriorated sharply over the last few years” and “the police have carried out extensive raids, made numerous arrests, and, in the heat of the moment, have indulged in many arbitrary acts against Ras Tafarians.” The report advised police to “leave innocent Ras Tafari brethren alone, stop cutting off their hair, stop moving them on, stop arresting them on minor pretexts, and stop beating them up.”
But, in October 1962, Brigadier P. E. Crooks, of the Jamaica Defense Force, said the Rastafarians were “a potential danger” to Jamaica. Then, in 1963, the Jamaican Government, issued an edict to “bring in all Rastas, dead or alive.” The directive was in response to the ongoing escalating confrontations between police and Rastas.
This “dead or alive” directive led to an infamous battle between Rastas and Jamaican law enforcement forces at Coral Gardens, in the Montego Bay area, between April 11-13, 1963. During the Coral Gardens attacks, an unknown number of people—police say eight—were killed and tortured. The DVD documentary “Bad Friday” relates the events including by testimonials of survivors.
After Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie visited Jamaica, in 1966, relations between the government and Rastafarians began to cool somewhat. The Emperor was supportive of Rastas—and set aside lands in Shashemene, Ethiopia for the repatriation of Rastas.
The coming of international Reggae stars like Bob Marley did much to project the positive image of Rastafarians. Marley circled the globe with the Rastafarian message of equal rights, justice—and “one love.”
Yet, today, discrimination against Rastas, like what JahDore alleges, still persists.