Jamaican Rastafarians to get reparations

From left, Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, Ras Walter Brissett, incident survivor, Ras Gregory Taylor and Ras Samuel Brown.
Jamaica Ministery of Culture

Finally, the relentless campaign to redress families of Rastafarians injured by the heinous police assault on their Coral Garden community in Montego Bay in 1963 will pay off.

After 54 years of denial, contemplation, exchanges in political party leadership and governance and a 2017 apology from the current administration, a decision between the government and a group identified as the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society reconciled compensation to family survivors and may improve relations between the two entities.

In a statement issued by Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, “we have two main obligations; to do what is right and to do it in the right way.”

Admission of wrongful police action and a willingness to compensate survivors started what seemed to be a reconcilable dialogue to healing.

“Doing the right thing is not always simple, popular or expedient; reconciling with our Rastafari brother and sisters is none of those things. It is, however, the right thing to do and we must do it in the right way,” Grange said.

The minister explained the recent reparatory decision as one initially proposed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness who was ‘not even born’ at the time the travesty occurred 54 years ago.

In addition to issuing a public apology to the Rastafarian community he made a commitment of J$10 million to establish a trust fund to benefit families of the victims. That amount was suggested by the Office of Public Defender.

Since then an additional J$2million was earmarked by the Administrator General’s Department as Trustees to establish the fund.

“We needed a fair mechanism to determine how and to whom compensation should be paid and turned again to the Office of the Public Defender to continue its work at locating survivors and getting information on their current socio-economic and living conditions. In its earlier report in 2015, the Office of the Public Defender said it was “unable to find a yardstick by which to recommend individual monetary compensation.”

“However, at our request to continue its work, the Office of the Public Defender underwent a careful, detailed and lengthy search and compilation of data (since 2017) and finally submitted a report to the Prime Minister in April 2019.”

“While the Office of the Public Defender was conducting its comprehensive survey of socio-economic and living conditions of the survivors, my Ministry had been working with the Administrator General’s Department and Jamaicans for Justice, which represents the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, on establishing the terms which will govern the Trust Fund,” the minister explained. “

“We anticipated the report of the Office of the Public Defender to finalize the trust and move to begin making payments.”

Grange commended the effort adding that it was also one of her priorities when she took office in 2016. She said she was elated when the leader of her Jamaica Labor Party’s administration addressed the long-overdue topic with an apology in 2017.

Reportedly, the Government alongside the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society also identified land that will ultimately be used to house a permanent elder care home for the victims.

Until that completion, the government will “make ready temporary facilities to serve as the Coral Gardens Elder Care Home.”

She said “wheelchairs, furniture and furnishings have been provided to survivors by Food for the Poor, the Ministry of Labour & Social Security, and private donors.”

Grange added that her office “has pursued making other provisions for the welfare of the survivors and the Rastafari community in general, in consultation with the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society and Jamaicans for Justice from time to time. At our last meeting we agreed that we would work towards actioning additional initiatives in October 2019.”

“There is no doubt that what happened in Easter, 1963 at Coral Gardens to members of the Rastafari community is a stain on Jamaica’s development. For 54 years, our Rastafari brothers and sisters lived with the physical, psychological and emotional scars of that incident and the feeling that successive governments had let them down by not sufficiently acknowledging what they had been through.”

“We will see this reconciliation process, including compensation for the Coral Gardens incident, through to conclusion. It is the right thing to do.”

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