Not Your Brother – Black Christians challenge the racism, hypocrisy of White Christian evangelicals

BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON – CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Originally published in The Final Call  on September 12, 2018 – 4:27:40 PM

WASHINGTON—Twenty-four-years ago, Horatio Fenton and his family became members of a non-denominational church in southern New Jersey that became their spiritual home. Mr. Fenton, who serves as an elder at the church, said over the years, the couple forged a deep spiritual connection and developed friendships with fellow congregants.

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Black pastors convened recently in a national effort to fight back against Trump administration policies they argue are hostile toward Blacks and people of color. Photo: Courtesy of Daryl Taylor 6th District AME Church

Everything appeared to be fine, he said, until Donald Trump became president.

“Trump has caused division in every institution and in families everywhere in the U.S.,” Mr. Fenton said soberly. “He has caused division across the board, across all spectrums. My stance is that I go to church to worship and fellowship. What has happened is that the fellowship is now tainted with regards to people’s political views, which has caused a divide. Personal relationships have been broken. We’re just not as close. In one instance, people sent out emails about welfare claiming that the majority of those on welfare is Black, which happens to be a lie. It was circulated by people who should know better.”

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Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate
Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and
International Christian Academy, Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas.
Photo: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

“The church is no place for that type of material. I spoke to the person who sent it and he apologized. I didn’t know this person held such a view. Before there was a Trump, they (White parishioners) were more cautious in their speech. They were more covert but they have become emboldened and have revealed their true selves. I find it difficult to associate or fellowship with such people.”

Mr. Fenton said he wonders how White Christians and evangelicals who profess to follow Jesus Christ and the tenets of the Bible are so comfortable supporting a man who is open and unashamed about his support of White nationalists and an agenda that promotes racism and discrimination and xenophobia.

“Trump has used the n-word. How come they don’t condemn him? How come there’s silence on this? How can they support a person who supports White supremacy? Racism has no room in Christianity. That’s not what Christianity looks like,” Mr. Fenton said.

Polls taken during Trump’s reign have consistently shown the support of White evangelicals to be north of 80 percent, despite his numerous affairs, inveterate lies, and coarse unchristian-like behavior such as boasting to then Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush during a hot mic moment about grabbing women’s genitals and being able to kiss and grab them because he’s a “celebrity.”

The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has been an unquestioned supporter of the president.

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Members of the Africa Methodist Episcopal church gathered in Washington, D.C. Sept. 6-7 for the “Call to Conscience: Forward to Action,” to mobilize leading up to the mid-term elections and beyond in response to Trump administration policies. Photo: Courtesy of Daryl Taylor 6th District AME Church

According to the New Yorker magazine, “Franklin Graham has no such qualms about giving his full-throated support to the President. An early advocate of Trump’s candidacy, he has remained stalwart even as scandals have piled up.” Mr. Graham told the New Yorker staff writer Eliza Griswold that Trump’s critics have forgotten that “he’s our President. If he succeeds, you’re going to benefit.”

Of Mr. Trump’s many personal scandals, Mr. Graham says only, “I hope we all learn from mistakes and get better … .  As human beings, we’re all flawed, including Franklin Graham.”

Mr. Graham was never as magnanimous to former President Bill Clinton and his failings, and he helped fan the Birther lie that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, saying repeatedly that he thought the 44th president was a Muslim.

It is clear, several Black Christian ministers said, that Mr. Franklin and his other evangelical cohorts made a deal with the Devil in the form of Trump to pursue their shared political agendas, including reversing Roe vs. Wade or a woman’s right to choose, and putting as many far-right jurists on the Supreme and lower courts as possible.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins said another element plays very heavily in what’s happening in the country: Race.

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Participant during recent gathering by Black pastoral leaders in Washington, D.C.

“Race is really the dividing line. Race and an understanding of social justice,” said Rev. Harkins, senior vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York and a former advisor to President Obama. “One of the key issues is tackling the issue of race. In the White church, there is hesitation to look at and have a substantial conversation around social justice. And in much of Black churches, it’s the understanding of that reality which binds you to the faith you hold onto.”

“We have not tackled the Original Sin of slavery in full measure. What happens is a lot of White people are saying slavery is in the past and that they didn’t own slaves, but if you have the advantage of Whiteness, you’re a beneficiary.”

It is clear, Rev. Harkins asserted, that the actions of certain White Christians in general, and White evangelicals in particular, that their actions “come out of racism.”

“I think one of the reasons you see what’s going on now is that many people understand that the White culture will not be the dominant culture for much longer. You’re seeing the death pangs of people who see the America of an established hierarchy and White control fading. That’s in many people’s minds. This has been exacerbated by Trump. He has exploited those fears and made this a weapon. He knows how to keep the flames burning. MAGA is make America a White, majority Christian country again.”

“I think personally, for the remainder of my life, I will never be able to ever take seriously the evangelical branch unless there’s an amazing apology of some type. They have delegitimized themselves by supporting Trump. I feel he speaks into those fears and gives them the encouragement they need.”

Hundreds of pastoral leaders and members of African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered Sept. 6 in Lafayette Park across from the White House to lambast the Trump administration. Their presence marked the inception of the Call to Conscience: Forward to Action, a national effort to fight back against this administration and its hostile policies being visited on Blacks and people of color and to mobilize the vote in 2018 and beyond. A succession of speakers, including Pastor Jamal Bryant of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple AME Church, delivered scathing and fiery denunciations.

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There was a gathering in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House organized by the African Methodist Episcopal churches. Photos: Courtesy of Daryl Taylor 6th District AME Church

“We stand in solidarity with the football players who would dare to take a knee,” he thundered. “We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, who thought the church wouldn’t support them. We criticize the environmental racism that has produced the crisis in Flint, Mich. Eighteen months ago, you chanted to lock up Hillary Clinton. Eighteen months later, we tell you that you should resign. Just do it! Just do it!”

Bishop Reginald Jackson, president of the Council of AME Bishops, said during a Sept. 7 press conference at Metropolitan AME Church in downtown D.C., that the Black church had fallen short in its responsibility to the Black community.

“The Black church has, historically, been the conscience of the nation. Unfortunately, for the past 25 years, we have not lived up to that,” he said. “The greatest period of growth was when the civil rights movement was active. When we stopped being socially relevant, we stopped growing.”

Consequently, Bishop Jackson said, a generation of young people have little connection to the church. The Call to Conscience, he added, is a way to resist the Trump agenda, but more importantly, to reengage with young people and teach them the importance and power of the ballot box.

“In this new generation, the average age of Blacks in the U.S. is 31. Most weren’t alive when Dr. Martin Luther King was leading the movement. They’re saying, ‘don’t tell me to vote, give me a reason to vote,’ ” he explained.

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, an award-winning journalist, agreed with Bishop Jackson’s assessment. She said she laments the direction Mr. Trump has taken the country and worries about if the Black church is responding too late to what she sees as an existential crisis for the United States and for Black Americans.

“My frustration is that what White evangelicals have embraced is beyond politics. It’s a sin,” said Rev. Reynolds, an ordained minister, an author and co-author of a memoir, Coretta Scott King: My Life, My Love, My Legacy. “They tolerate kids in cages and use the Bible to substantiate and tolerate evil. (Trump) is creating a climate of hate. Republicans or Democrats, whatever race you are, it has to be peace.”

“We have a constitutional and moral crisis. I have two thoughts from Bob Woodward’s and Omarosa’s books, that we have an unsteady person in office who could be insane. He’s not dumb, though. He is the master of deception. And if this touches his family, he will start a war. That’s my fear. Secondly, he is the first president who not only hates Blacks but is using policies for ethnic cleansing—he has made us the ‘other,’ deemed us unpatriotic, called football players SOBs, said we come from shithole countries. We are in a terrible place. I think about it every day. I’m terribly frustrated and upset even though this is the media’s finest hour, especially Black media.”

Adding to Rev. Reynold’s concerns are descriptions of Mr. Trump by psychologists, psychiatrists and other critics as being unstable, impulsive, reckless, ill-informed and wholly unsuited to hold high office.

The Rev. Willie Wilson said the divide between Black and White Christians constitutes a major split but he’s philosophical about what he sees playing out across the country. This type of backlash has happened before, he said.

For the past several years, Rev. Wilson, the senior pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in southeast Washington, D.C. has argued—much as the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II and the Rev. Graylan Hagler have—that America is in the midst of a Third Reconstruction.

“We see the exact parallels. Between 1866 and 1891, 40-plus Black men were voted to Congress. There has always been the fear that Blacks would take over,” said Rev. Wilson, who counts Minister Louis Farrakhan as a dear friend, and who has welcomed the Minister to his church every year since 1977. “What you have now is that a majority of children will be Black and Brown in the coming years. There is a fear of them taking over the country. (Whites) fear genetic annihilation. Seeing interracial couples on TV heightens those fears and as change comes, closer and closer, they get more desperate. That is what Donald Trump is using. He makes Whites think Blacks and immigrants are the source of their problems.”

After Reconstruction, a White backlash led to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan which terrorized Black people and their White allies, murdering, lynching and burning as a way to reassert control. And as a part of the deal to become president, Rutherford Hayes removed Union troops from the South, leading to the tightening of segregation and a bloody and vicious clampdown on Blacks socially, politically and economically.

Revs. Reynolds and Harkins echoed Rev. Wilson, saying that in 2018, America is witnessing a fundamental shift in its demographics which has prompted a latter-day White backlash, verbal and physical attacks against Black and Brown people, and the introduction of extremist policies from the Trump administration designed to erode hard-earned civil rights and other gains, while shoring up White power and control.

“Those who embrace the Make America Great Again slogan are willing to work hard and cheat to undermine what is evolving in America,” said Rev. Barber in an earlier interview. “This is White hegemony and White nationalism strengthened by enormous wealth.”

Rev. Harkins said he sees conservative Christians’ unblinking loyalty as bizarre.

“Trump gets a pass because he’s more valuable to them. They are like Jacob, selling his soul for some porridge,” he said. “But I’m still optimistic, still faithful that we will endure this. This is nothing new, we have the playbook. We need to outmaneuver them. We have the capacity. I really do believe that on the other side of this, the potential is for leadership and voices to really rise and move us in a different direction although we’ll always have the smallness and bitterness of people like Trump.”

Mr. Fenton agreed.

Mr. Fenton—a federal employee for more than 20 years and union organizer in the public sector for 15 of those years—said he is heartened by the reality that “nothing lasts forever and this is a cycle we’re going through.”

He said he has been busy organizing and working to mobilize people in an effort to drive both a Do-Nothing Congress and Trump out of office.

“The rise of Donald Trump was a reaction to America having its first Black president,” he said. “The majority didn’t think it was possible and they’re trying to guarantee it won’t happen again but it’s too late. They need to know that we’re not going back, will never go back to being subjected to White superiority because it doesn’t exist.”

About Barrington Salmon

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Barrington Salmon is a freelance journalist currently writing for more than 6 different newspapers and online newswires throughout the globe. He has been writing for 34 years and has more than 11,000 stories to his credit. Dubbed a Liberation Journalist by famed filmmaker Catherine Murphy, Barrington writes on a range of issues, including gentrification, civil and human rights, racism, sexism, immigration and criminal justice.  Connect with Barrington Salmon on Facebook @SpeakFreelywithBarringtonSalmon and on Twitter @bsalmondc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spying, Targeting and Arresting: The secret police war on Black activists

BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: APR 17, 2018 – 2:56:40 PM

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A protester rides his bike in front of a police line in Baltimore, April 27, 2015.

WASHINGTON—Since 2014, the federal government and instruments of the state have been spying on Black activists who’ve been engaged in a palette of civil disobedience methods including marches, sit-ins, blocking highways and thoroughfares.

Prompted by police killings of primarily unarmed Black men, women and children by law enforcement, the activists, since 2013, have been disrupting everyday life for lawmakers, law enforcement and others in cities as varied as Oakland, Seattle, Ferguson, Mo., New York and Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the need to confront and eliminate institutional racism, injustice and police brutality.

And despite the fact that the constitution protects the right to protest and exercise free speech, federal law enforcement, state and local police have been waging a secret war against Black activists, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.

Chicago Black Friday protest

“We launched this effort in July 2016 after hearing a growing number of troubling stories from Black activists following the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, stories about activists being followed around grocery stores, identified and arrested before events, along with many other suspicious developments,” Mr. Robinson said. “The federal government, often in coordination with local police departments across the country, continues to use its expanded authority, dating from the beginning of the ‘War on Terror,’ to demonize and intimidate Black activists—people who are rightly demanding that our country be more just—through surveillance and harassment.”

In March of 2018, Color Of Change, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Milton Kramer Law Clinic at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law filed a motion in the Southern District Court of New York, asking the court to order the Department of Homeland Security to release a blacked-out memo referred to in government documents as the “Race Paper.”

This motion followed a July 2016, Freedom of Information Act request filed by these groups with the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain information on the surveillance and monitoring of Black protesters exercising their First Amendment rights at protests across the country from August 2014 to the present, said Mr. Robinson.

The request was specifically directed at the monitoring of protest activity and public gatherings whose subject matter or theme involved police brutality, criminal justice, racial inequalities, or the movement for Black lives.

In May of 2017, the Southern District Court ordered the FBI and DHS to produce the documents and authorities turned over almost 7,000 pages of related documents, some of which were fully or partially redacted. Documents released in November and March included alarming revelations about the extent of anti-Black surveillance at these agencies as well as a “Race Paper.”

“The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are at war with Black activists,” said Mr. Robinson, who heads the nation’s largest online racial justice organization which helps people respond effectively to injustices. “The documents we’ve forced the federal government to release expose how these agencies are demonizing and intimidating Black activists,” he said.

Human rights attorney Barbara R. Arnwine said the government activities are a clear indication that COINTELPRO has continued to prey on Black activists and their allies.

“For Whites, Black racial struggles are militant and dangerous. This idea is persistent in federal law enforcement,” said Ms. Arnwine, president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition. “On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, this is another powerful reminder that our struggles for justice remain dangerous. As activists, we must be conscious that the belief to exercise the right to live safely and justly is seen by Whites as dangerous. This sentiment needs to be destroyed. Our people have to be cognizant of this reality. Federal and state forces have reacted to a false narrative.”

“The Black Panther Party was destroyed and Dr. Martin Luther King was targeted. Protesters set themselves up for serious vulnerability. The fight for struggle and liberation is threatening to White structure which seeks to continue to dominate people of color.”

“This really proves that COINTELPRO never went away,” she continued. “We have to demand that surveillance not be engaged by law enforcement. It’s very important for law enforcement agencies be required to screen out White supremacy. What we’re seeing is the deliberate opposition by those who have infiltrated law enforcement. The failure of the FBI to concentrate on this infiltration is troubling.”

J. Edgar Hoover

In 1968, J. Edgar Hoover labeled the Black Panther Party a “hate group” and said he was convinced that they represented “without question … the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” He then launched a thorough, targeted campaign of surveillance, intimidation, exploitation, harassment, and violence to destroy the organization. It was part of illegal domestic spying, infiltration, disinformation and destruction of Black groups and leaders under the agency’s COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program. The program targeted respectable as well as radical Blacks, the civil rights movement and the Black Power Movement as well as Muslims, Christians, Black Nationalists or pacifists.

FBI director Hoover was concerned that a Black Messiah not emerge and went about the business of killing anything positive that Black groups produced and to keep the groups from uniting or gaining respectability. COINTELPRO discredited political organizations he deemed subversive or threatening.

Agents in COINTELPRO targeted groups and individuals including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, American Indian Movement, the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, SCLC, SNCC, the U.S. Communist Party, feminist organizations, opponents of the Vietnam War, independence movements, the Young Lords, Black-owned bookstores and leftist organizations.

Mr. Robinson noted that one FBI email chain showed the agency maintains 24-hour surveillance of some Black activists: The agent noted that a fresh team had arrived to relieve an FBI surveillance unit parked outside a particular activist’s home. Another set of documents showed how the FBI performed a detailed search of the vehicle records of someone who was either visiting an activist or happened to be parked in front of that activist’s house, essentially criminalizing a person simply for associating with that activist.

“Black and Brown activists and the public in general should not be left to speculate as to why DHS prepared a document called the ‘Race Paper,’ circulated multiple versions of it, and called for in-person meetings to discuss its contents, but now fights to keep every word from seeing the light of day,” said Omar Farah, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “But given the long-standing and unconstitutional pattern of state surveillance of Black-led political movements, it bears repeating that FOIA is about transparency, not protecting government agencies from embarrassment.”

“New York attorney Abraham ‘Abi’ Hassan said the public should not be surprised at what the federal government and law enforcement are doing,” the constitutional rights lawyer continued.

“Absolutely, this happens all the time. As technology becomes cheaper and cheaper and easier and the legal community has not caught up with capacity and with the increase in fear and hype, that makes it easier and easier to surveille people,” said Mr. Hassan, co-founder of the Black Movement Law Project. “So many people’s information is online and the unholy trinity of private sector data extraction, the over-hyped fear of all thing foreign and surveillance make it easy to track people.”

“Technology is a double-edged sword. Technology facilitates liberation and education but it matters who controls the technology. Power stands with the government and the corporate sector which caters to the needs of those in control,” he added.

Mr. Hassan said surveillance and monitoring should not deter those seeking to challenge institutional racism and other social ills.

“People have to make their call about how they choose to protest,” he said. “I’m not trying to discourage anyone but they should be aware of the reality of what police have done. They should not stop expressing themselves politically.”

Mr. Farah, in an interview with Janine Jackson, said that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are using “predictive intelligence” in an attempt to predict criminality.

“That’s one of the most pressing fears that I have, in speculating about what might actually be behind these redactions,” he said. “Some of the emails that accompanied the transmission of the ‘Race Paper’ within DHS I&A, the Intelligence and Analysis Office, included references to things like ‘drivers’ and ‘indicators.’ ”

“Now, I have to be perfectly honest: We just don’t know what the document says. But those terms, to me, in the absence of any other information, suggest ways in which law enforcement and intelligence agencies within the government have in the past tried to use indicators that would help them predict criminality or behavior,” he said.

“Those things, of course, are invariably based on totally bunk analytical frameworks that ascribe behavioral tendencies to certain protected classes of people–by race, and oftentimes by religion, we’ve seen, in a national security context. Those are things that the public needs to be aware are potential uses of this Race Paper, and it certainly deserves full scrutiny.”

Mr. Farah said he’s concerned because “we’ve seen it in stop and frisk; we’ve seen it in counter-terror-related policing, and it’s one of the things that made the documents jump out at us, amongst the thousands of documents we got.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, who took a break from planning the New Poor People’s Campaign with the Rev. William J. Barber, II, suspects the Trump administration has ramped up the monitoring and surveillance.

“Black Lives Matter was all over the streets, all over the country. Then this administration came in and people retreated,” said Rev. Hagler, senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. “Their effort to undermine the efforts of those on the streets harkens back to COINTELPRO. But we can’t retreat. You have to live out your issues in the public because that’s your best protection. It ensures that people can see what you’re doing,” said the pastor.

“We cannot just step back. I don’t think this is a replay of the Civil Rights era. We’re in a historic moment. The contradiction of this country is revealed in a real way. We have gotten complacent. They thought we had succeeded under President Obama. We assumed that White supremacy was gone, that virulent racism was gone. But all it did was to change form and assume a different type of energy. None of this has gone away.”

Rev. Hagler said Blacks have the technology to organize and mobilize.

“We have to build our own power politics and engage in disruption of the system. We must organize people not to get gravy. We must participate in transformational not transactional politics. The political system has to go through radical reform in its political and economic output,” he said.

Mr. Robinson agreed about the need to continue to confront the tyranny of the federal government.

“Black communities know all too well how poisonous this kind of surveillance and intimidation is for social justice movements. During the civil rights era, agents with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program vigorously sought to discredit and destroy Black leaders and movements while they did nothing to address the injustices our communities were protesting,” he said. “We can’t allow the FBI to essentially operationalize COINTELPRO for the 21st century without a fight.”

“Up until recently, we’ve known very little about the government’s surveillance of our communities. But, by forcing the disclosure of more information about these surveillance efforts, including our demand today for the full and unredacted Race Paper, we can better understand these attacks on Black activism and fight to prevent a new generation of Black activists from demonization, incarceration, intimidation, and punishment,” he concluded.

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Broken Promise : U.S. Looks to Deport 59,000 Haitians

Trump Revokes Protective Status for 59,000 Haitian-Americans By Barrington M. Salmon   Contributing Writer, The Final Call Originally published, December 4, 2017 During his 2016 campaign for president, candidate Donald Trump told a crowd of Haitian-Americans in Miami’s Little Haiti that he’d be their champion. … Continue reading Broken Promise : U.S. Looks to Deport 59,000 Haitians

Jamaica: Paradise and Paradox

Originally printed in the Atlanta Black Star,  January 2, 2018

http://atlantablackstar.com/2018/01/02/nearly-17-years-life-debt-jamaica-remains-precarious-state-thanks-part-imf-world-bank/

Almost 17 Years After ‘Life and Debt’ Jamaica Remains in a Precarious State, Thanks in Part, to the IMF and World Bank

By Barrington M. Salmon

Tourist brochures and adverts paint a lush picture of Jamaica, a 4,411 square-mile “patch of land” that is sun-kissed beaches, blue skies, puffy clouds, cool breezes and pastel sunsets.

But Jamaica is much more than the backdrop of a tourist playground. Move beyond the trendy tourist spots, Jamaicans say, and you’ll find the real treasure of these islands: 2.9 million resilient men and women making their way in the real world. Most get up and go to their jobs every day, work hard, provide for their families, raise their children, struggle to make ends meet.

Jamaica is no different from other Caribbean islands and developing countries with some of the challenges it faces. Simmering below the veneer of relative calm are a mélange of seemingly intractable problems and stark realities that Jamaicans on island and in the Diaspora say they all must confront if the island-nation is to provide more equitably for all its citizens, create a stable and safe environment and be competitive in the 21st century.

Dr. Stephen Vasciannie, president of Jamaica’s University of Technology, cited the high level of crime and violence, poverty and inequality (with their attendant challenges), and general economic issues, such as the high level of unemployment, low salary levels and low productivity as challenge priorities.   

“To be sure, these problems interact with, and reinforce, each other,” said Vasciannie, who served as Jamaican ambassador to the US from 2012 to 2015. “Thus, the crime level is stimulated, at least in part, by economic malaise, while poverty and inequality contribute substantially to a sense of alienation among many people.”

“Jamaica’s problems are not of recent vintage. Various solutions have been attempted, and some have worked to an extent. So, for example, we have accepted it as a matter of faith that improvements in the provision of education will enhance the country’s prospects, and especially the prospects of the poor. So, yes, we can undermine the high crime rate, reduce poverty and inequality, and improve economic prospects through improved education for all.”

But the problem, Vasciannie said, is that raising educational levels in significant measure tends to be a long term prospect, while Jamaica’s is grappling witth a host of problems in the present.

“We always wonder, therefore, if progress is actually being made,” said Vasciannie, formerly Professor of International Law at the University of the West Indies and one of the founding members of the National Democratic Movement.

Hotelier Franklyn Eaton echoed Vasciannie’s comments on the inequalities that exist in Jamaica and said failure to correct this could lead to a conflagration.

“In terms of growth, colonialism is still at play,” said Eaton, born and raised in Jamaica but who is currently is general manager of Villages of Stonehaven in Tobago. “The Spanish are back and have built a number of hotels. There are rosy jobs for Europeans but for Jamaicans, generally, the salaries are fairly low at about $100 (US)/week. The question is, how do we climb out of poverty? Politicians look for short-term solutions and do very little long-term planning. This is going on all over the Caribbean, not just Jamaica. It’s a Caribbean malaise.”

Eaton, who has been in the hospitality industry in Europe, Jamaica and the Caribbean for 27 years, is one of many who fault elected leaders for studiously ignoring festering problems like crime or corruption, but who instead offer lip service or only touch the problems around the edges. What these politicos seem most adept at, Eaton and other critics say, is lining their pockets rather than leading and doing just enough to get themselves re-elected.

For all of Jamaica’s accomplishments, whether it’s in the cultural or music arenas, track and field or academia, the island of almost three million people has been mired in a decades-long economic quagmire that officials from the International Monetary Fund fear could damage any future growth.

An overriding element – a powerful force out of Jamaica’s control – is its indebtedness in billions of dollars to the likes of The International Monetary Fund, the InterAmerican Development Bank and the World Bank.

According to the World Bank, by 2012 Jamaica had accumulated debt equal to 145 percent of its gross domestic product, adding that over the last 30 years, Jamaica‘s real per capita GDP increased at an average of just one percent per year, making it one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world.

Jamaica’s problems mirror that of Greece and Zimbabwe, although Jamaica hasn’t had to default on its debts like Greece or experienced the runaway inflation of Zimbabwe under former president Robert Mugabe.

IMF officials have helped the government implement what the institution says is an ambitious reform program designed to stabilize the economy, reduce debt and fuel growth. The reform program, which the IMF said has garnered national and international support, is part of a comprehensive package with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank each agreeing to provide US$510 million between April 2013 and March 2017. Meanwhile, the IMF committed a US$932 million funding program to the government through its Extended Fund Facility (EFF) covering the same four-year period.

The CIA Factbook notes that Jamaica’s slow economy growth over the last three decades has been impeded by: a bloated public sector which crowds out spending on important projects; high crime and corruption; red-tape; and a high debt-to-GDP ratio. The author note, however, that Jamaica has made steady progress, in collaboration with the IMF, in reducing its debt-to-GDP ratio from a high of almost 150 percent in 2012 to about 115 percent in 2017. While the lending institutions hope that their prescription will push Jamaica towards producing an annual primary surplus of 7 percent, so that it can reduce its debt burden below 60 percent by 2025, that has not happened as evidenced by economic growth which only reached 1.6 percent in 2016. “The Holness administration faces the difficult prospect of maintaining fiscal discipline to make debt payments while simultaneously attacking a serious crime problem. High unemployment exacerbates the crime problem, including gang violence fueled by the drug trade,” the Factbook notes.

While IMF and World Bank officials often speak in clinical terms about the financial help they offer and the impacts, there are those who are convinced that these lending regimes are just a modern-day version of economic slavery.

Filmmaker Stephanie Black is a harsh critic of the IMF. Her film, “Life and Debt,” made in 2001, is an examination of how IMF and World Bank policies, determined by the G-7 countries and led by the United States, have a significant impact on poor developing countries. She contends that the IMF promotes an agenda of monetary austerity, currency devaluation, and lowering wages. The stated goal is to reduce inflation by balancing a nation’s loan repayments and imports with its export earnings. The result is usually a recession. The World Bank takes a longer-run perspective. It aims for structural adjustment, which means trying to transform a borrower nation’s economy into a free-market economy. It typically proposes market deregulation, sometimes accompanied by new lending from the World Bank and private lenders.

These policies are supposed to benefit developing nations’ economies by integrating them into the global market. What actually happens is the people of those nations suffer, while commercial banks in the global north collect a great deal of interest. In Jamaica, only 5 percent of total money borrowed since 1977 has been able to stay inside the country.

The conditions that Black recounted in her documentary are largely still at play today, with financial and economic experts and politicians offering differing assessments of the progress Jamaica has made.

Researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found in 2015 that because of its agreement with the IMF, Jamaica is saddled with the most austere budget in the world, with the country paying a high interest on its debt which directs money to these institutions and away from public investment in infrastructure, education and other projects.

And according to CitiBlog Global, “Jamaica’s interaction with the IMF has had a long-lasting effect. Globalization and the establishment of so-called ‘free trade zones’ have destroyed the local agriculture. For example, the local dairy industry collapsed due the import of powdered milk from the United States, which was cheaper than regular milk, thus undercutting Jamaican farmers. The problems continued when the banana industry was forced into decline when the United States complained to the World Trade Organization about “unfair” labour practices, despite the fact the Dole Food Company had a monopoly on most of the banana trade.”

Yet despite criticism and questions about the IMF and World Bank’s roles in making Jamaica economically subservient, Vasciannie offers an opposite view.

“I believe that the IMF/World Bank/IDB Loan saved Jamaica. The loan came at a time when the Government could not find money to pay civil servants and so on,” he said. “Thus, without the loan, the prospect of massive layoffs, strikes and protests was real and substantial. We were also at the point of not being able to pay for our imports, with all the implications that could follow from that.  And we had a mountain of debt, with no clear way of paying down on it.  So, the situation was dire. 

“In the circumstances, the Government had no choice but to accept the loan, and did so gratefully. Now, some years later, stability has been returned, but we need growth. I do not think we can blame the IMF/WB/IDB for lack of growth.  They have provided the means by which we can promote growth, but we have to take the matter forward.” 

Karen Marks Mafundikwa, a Jamaican-born award-winning documentary filmmaker, producer and director, said the effects of Jamaica’s colonial and imperialist past casts a large shadow on the present.

Jamaica’s problems, she said, are rooted in the island’s colonial past. New York Times travel writer Luisita Lopez Torregrosa supports this in her story ‘Jamaica Beyond the Beach,’ explaining that “the British turned the island into a huge sugar plantation, its wealthiest colony in the Caribbean and the hub of slave trade in the Americas. Planters built magnificent houses high above their sugar cane fields, and lived lives of idleness, gorging on drink and wanton sex with slaves. And she adds, Jamaica never recovered from slavery; former slaves remained deeply impoverished, and the economy almost totally dependent on foreign capital, mining and raw materials, while importing food and other essentials.”

Mafundikwa cited the criminal justice system as an example of lingering colonial influences.

“Jamaica just legalized marijuana. Its use goes back centuries as a healing agent and part of the cultural spiritual practice,” said Mafundikwa, who produced the 2014 film, ‘The Price of Memory,’ which detailed efforts by some in Jamaica’s Rastafarian community to get reparations from Queen Elizabeth II and the British government.

“Before the (Jamaican) government criminalized thousands of youth. Decriminalization is happening in Europe and across the world,” she said. “Our debts, the laws we pass, the very system we operate in reflects our colonial past. We’re post-colonial but we’re not. We’re still tied into all the international obligations we have. Marijuana is cultural, spiritual and a source of healing but how do we go forward from here?”

Richard Hugh Blackford, a Jamaican artist and author, listed street crime, violence, government ineptitude and corruption as the chief obstacles Jamaican society faces.

“Crime and violence are at crisis levels, but there has been very little engagement by the government,” he asserted. “Fifteen hundred and fifty people has died so far this year from criminal violence. This makes Jamaican one of the most murderous places in the world. Prime Minister Andrew Holness seemed younger and more relatable, but he’s not delivering on public safety.

“We are in a death spiral in Jamaica, but the media is not prepared to carry on a discussion. The police are on the front line of defense of the community against criminals and absorb 70 percent of the national security budget, but there is a lack of accountability of the police force.”

Blackford said in a number of cases incompetent senior police divisional commanders are transferred from post to post where they affect the morale of the officers who serve under them and despite their corrosive effects on the force, the top brass rarely fire them.

Jamaican Attorney Leighton Miller agreed, arguing that inequality and crime are inextricably linked.

“Violence and murder are the key crimes in Jamaica,” said Miller, who lives in Kingston. “There’s a great deal of inequality. Few people are doing well. Those who are (doing well) are generally lighter-skinned and in the upper classes. I think there’s a hollowing out of the middle class, much as we’re seeing in the U.S. Some people are eating one meal a day and others are rummaging through garbage for food.”

“You have food insecurity and people are going to food bank, but you wouldn’t know because Jamaicans are too proud to say. One problem contributing to this situation is that we’re so wedded to colonial ideas. All law enforcement does is police the boundaries of inequality and making the barriers of equality difficult to breach.”

Miller said people’s callousness and indifference concerns him.

“There’s a nihilism and fatalism where people live ‘in the shadow of the volcano’ but are flossing, drinking and living like there’s no tomorrow. We realize that we’ve sold out and we don’t care. We go along with whoever gives us a better deal,” said Miller, who said he leans socialist and advocates getting rid of both political parties but acknowledges not knowing exactly how to do that. “You can see from Facebook posts how hypocritical we are and unconcerned about crime unless it touches them personally. We only pretend to care.”

Interviewees offered sometimes bleak analyses, but they all harbor tremendous hope about Jamaica’s future. Education, all agreed, is the key to a vibrant future, as well as a willingness by the government to invest in industries “that will allow all Jamaicans, at a minimum, equitable access to the fruits of the country.”

“If you create centers of excellence and allow any child anywhere in Jamaica to pursue any hobby, interest or vocation, whether it’s skating, dancing or gymnastics, you will change the face of Jamaica in less than a generation,” Miller said.

Ian Edwards concurred, saying that Jamaica’s outsized cultural, intellectual, artistic and sporting footprint, have laid the groundwork for Jamaica’s future success.

“Jamaicans like poet Claude McKay, who with his poem ‘If We Must Die’ played a seminal role in the Harlem Renaissance, then there is Marcus Garvey … and other distinguished children of Jamaica’s soil,” said Edwards, a English translator-reviewer who has worked at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., for 25 years. “Look at the pivotal contributions Jamaica has made. Dudley Thompson, regarded as one of Jamaica’s foremost attorneys of his generation, defended Jomo Kenyatta during a trial where he fought against Britain’s charges of treason.”

“No one can dispute the impact of this spit of rock in the Caribbean. Jamaica gave me not just a sense of pride but a sense of belonging. It is the place that gave me the foundation of life. This is where I was educated and socialized and given the tools necessary for a meaningful life.”

He said Jamaicans must think out the box and fashion indigenous solutions that suit Jamaica and will serve as a means to spur the country’s growth and development.

“Education is crucial to all Jamaicans,” said Edwards who was an Information Attaché for the Jamaican Consulate-General in New York and a member of the Jamaican Foreign Service. “I would love to see all Jamaicans getting educated and derive the benefits. We need to think and craft strategies as to how we can insert ourselves into the global and digital economies. As long as there’s life, there’s hope. Life is about dynamic change at an elemental level. The question is, who can we improve?”

“As the environment changes, we have to be thinking about how we adapt but we can’t compromise our Jamaican values. We need a deliberate and bring together people with a genuine desire to develop and implement practicable solutions. We must never accept the idea or notion that we’ll never be better. And we must never, ever accept the notion that Jamaica can’t be a first world nation.”