In the United States today, a frightening thing is happening to African-Americans. The world frowns on it. Where it will all end no one knows. White folks are summoning the police where they think African-Americans should not be – in a classy hotel, the cafeteria of an Ivy League University, sitting at a table in a prominent fast food chain. In other words, African-Americans do not have the status to belong in those places.
In Guyana, since Bob Marley popularized the Rastafari religion and culture more than forty years ago, African-Guyanese with Rasta hairstyle or youths wearing dreadlocks are profiled by the police. No post-Independence leader of the republic has demanded that the police force stop this sadism. It goes on and on and after 52 years of Independence, if you are seen on the roads late at night with dreadlocks, you are likely to be hauled in by the police.
I met Keifer Burnette in 2015, during the election campaign. He was campaigning for the AFC. Since then we have maintained a friendship, as I have done with some wonderful youths I met during the campaign. Keifer Burnette is your average youth. There is nothing unusual or anomalous about Burnette.
On Friday night, Burnette was sporting at a bar on Sheriff Street. He was paid for contractual work by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. The police stopped him outside the club. No reason was offered for the search. He was found to be carrying $60,000. The police asked where he stole the money from. On him was a check by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. He explained where he got the money from, but he was still taken down to the Kitty station.
Attorney James Bond was contacted, but he said his fee was $70,000. Arnold Sukraj of the AFC made the initial contact with Bond. I don’t know if Bond was contacted to do pro bono work. But Burnette’s parents didn’t have $70,000. Bond told me in narcotics cases, for a visit to the police station, his fee is between $50,000 and $100,000 and his retainer in narcotic cases is $250, 000. If Sukraj and others had in mind that Bond would do the case for free I don’t know, but Bond told me that he has a fee structure.
Burnette spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday in the Kitty lock-up. I was told that on Monday morning, Burnette was at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts, and if I could go down. I went immediately. I spoke to Burnette. He told me the police said he had marijuana on him. He had no lawyer. Under the law, a layman could appear. I agreed to do that for him.
But up to 1 p.m., Burnette was not charged. I drove down to Alberttown Police Station to meet Superintendent Mitchell Caesar, who has jurisdiction over Kitty station. Caesar was professional, attentive and courteous. He demanded that the detective who was in charge of the case in Kitty produce the charge. His voice was sharp. I waited at the Magistrates’ Courts for three hours. Eventually Burnette was charged with possession of three grams of marijuana.
I addressed Magistrate Isaacs in Court 3. He was given the lowest bail of $5,000. I had no idea that I had to have my ID to bail someone. I am glad Burnette’s parents were not there. They chose not to go, because they said they could not bear to see how he would look.
Burnette was brought in with leg chains and handcuffs for possession of 3 grams of ganja. In Jamaica, up to 40 grams is legal. Yes, he spent Friday night, the whole of Saturday and Sunday and half of Monday in the lock-ups for three grams of ganja. While in the dock, he told me he did not eat for three days.
I cannot discuss the case because the matter is sub judice. But I can express my sociological opinions on how African youths are treated by the police 52 years after Independence. I believe Burnette was profiled first by the Kitty ranks. He has made complaints to me about being beaten. He made allegations about the money he had on him.
I was treated courteously by Magistrate Isaacs and the prosecutor and the magistrate’s clerk of Court 3 and I hereby acknowledge their professionalism. I thank the bail office for their professional attitude to me. I commend Superintendant Caesar for his excellent approach and Sergeant Singh. Special thanks to the fine courtesy of the police outpost by the prisoner’s lock-up. Profiling of African youths has to stop in this country.
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