Academic journal article Social Justice

Giving Critical Context to the Deportee Phenomenon

Academic journal article Social Justice

Giving Critical Context to the Deportee Phenomenon

Article excerpt

Good-bye to my Juan, good-bye Rosalita Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maris You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane And all they will call you will be deportees.

--"Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)," lyrics by Woody Guthrie (1961)

More than 40 convicts who have completed their sentences in the United States landed at the Norman Manley International Airport, Kingston, after disembarking from a chartered flight. "They are all males," a spokesperson at the Criminal Investigative Bureau headquarters, downtown Kingston, told The Gleaner yesterday. By late afternoon, the majority of the deportees had been processed and released. The majority who returned yesterday were expelled from the United States.... Up to four months ago, the police said they were facing a legal obstacle in getting permits from the courts to properly monitor persons who have been deemed dangerous deportees (The Gleaner, 2005a).

Objects of Blame

HOMICIDE RATES IN JAMAICA, A NATION OF 2.7 MILLION PEOPLE, HAVE SINCE THE 1990s hovered in the vicinity of 40 to 45 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. At the end of calendar year 2005, the murder toll had exceeded 1,670 (which did not include the victims of police action), for an astounding rate of more than 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This statistic compares rather unfavorably with large U.S. urban centers like New York and Chicago, which have homicide rates that have steadily numbered less than 15 per 100,000 over the last three years.

This soaring pattern of homicides places Jamaica among the top three countries in the world that experience the highest homicide rates. Alternating with Columbia and South Africa, Jamaica currently holds the dubious distinction as the "world's murder capital." Indeed, killings in Jamaica "have become almost as commonplace as simple larceny" (The Gleaner, 2005a).

Beset by this seemingly unrelenting destructive development, public discourse on crime in the island is now driven by bursts of terrified rage. One feature of this rage has been the tendency to blame the country's crime troubles on groups within the society that are least capable of offering any credible resistance. Thus, one notion steadfastly propagated in the media, and given official support, is that a key reason for the island's uncontrollable crime is the planeloads of "criminal deportees" being returned to the island from Great Britain, Canada, and especially the United States. In a lead editorial, the island's dominant newspaper, The Gleaner (2003a), flatly stated: "Between the system, the police, and the courts, deportees are being allowed to wreak havoc on the society and it is high time that citizens demand immediate implementation of whatever changes are necessary to get the situation under control." In these and other media treatments, deportees are portrayed as an indistinguishable lot of "rejects" sent back home to re-create for themselves disquieting, violent existences--in a land they departed years ago.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has characterized deportees as a criminal type. In a nationally televised broadcast, the prime minister identified the main targets of a "proactive" crime-control task force, the Crime Management Unit (CMU) he had established in September 2000, were "dons, the deportees, and other criminals." (1) The CMU would be able, Patterson said, "to move anywhere and anytime" in the greater Kingston area against all three. (2) Four years following the formation of the ill-fated CMU, Patterson would warn of the "mushrooming threats of narcotrafticking and violent crime to national growth and stability" in a speech to a group of overseas Jamaicans at the first National Diaspora Conference in Kingston. At the core of the twin "evils," the prime minister said, are deportees who have become drug kingpins.

Putting his own slant on the matter, the island's Commissioner of Police, Lucius Thomas, opined to a group of business leaders: "We have seen them [deportees] in the St. …

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