Defying judge, Jamaican police evict LGBT youth

Yvonne McCalla-Sobers reports from Jamaica:

Defying court order, Jamaican police again evict homeless LGBT youth from sewers, give youth ultimatum to leave by April 1.

Jamaican LGBT youths' belongings left behind in the drainage sewer after their eviction by police. (Photo by Yvonne McCalla-Sobers)
Jamaican LGBT youths’ belongings left behind in the drainage sewer after their eviction by police. (Photo by Yvonne McCalla-Sobers)

In the early morning of March 30, Commander Murdock of the New Kingston police post and his team raided the sewers where homeless LGBT youth have been forced to live. This occurred despite a court ruling on March 7 that the youngsters, who have nowhere else to go, had a right to be in the sewers because they are public spaces. The police had previously evicted the youth from abandoned buildings where they had sought refuge and these structures were then torn down to prevent the kids from “re-infesting” them.

I received the first SOS calls from the youth at about 6.15 am on March 30 and I reached the sewers about 30 minutes after that.

Logo of Dwayne's House, a group raising money for a shelter for LGBT youths in New Kingston, Jamaica.
Logo of Dwayne’s House, a group raising money for a shelter for LGBT youths in New Kingston, Jamaica.

Two Dwayne’s House volunteers were at the gully when I got there, and were perhaps fortunate that the police left them and a couple of others behind. As the photos show, the police scattered the youths’ belongings, but this time did not burn anything.

I went to Half-Way Tree police station and found Commander Murdock there. He took me to the room in which the police were holding the youth. I was familiar with most of them, but there were many faces I did not know. Those known to be committing petty crimes were not in the room, and they would have escaped into the tunnels once the police entered the sewers. The police threatened to seize the camera that UK’s Channel 4 TV (which is in the island documenting the situation of the homeless youth) gave to one of our volunteers to photograph incidents that occur when the reporters are not around. The police ultimately left him with the camera but deleted the pictures/video.

Commander Murdock addressed the youth about their behaviour and the presence of a criminal element in their midst. The youth also had a chance to voice their concerns about the behaviour of the police toward them. At times, the exchanges felt as if we were having a town hall meeting, with the youth confronting the police about their inaction when youth give the police information about wrongdoers.

LGBT youths living in drainage sewer system in New Kingston, Jamaica. (Click image for video.)
LGBT youths living in drainage sewer system in New Kingston, Jamaica. (Click image for video.)

Commander said he was holding the youth for processing, and ultimately allowed 10 or 12 of the youth to leave because they had been processed many times before. Among those left behind were some of the new faces, including a youth who looked 14 but said he was 17. He had joined the group in the past few days, and showed signs of having been beaten up. Commander Murdock said he needed to call that youth’s parents, especially as the youth gave conflicting stories about his age, his parents, and the reason he was on the street. In the long run, Commander Murdock released all the youth except for two. They are due to face identification parades.

Commander had an important message for the youth. He warned them to move all their belongings out of the gully, as he has asked the National Solid Waste Authority to clean out the gully on Tuesday, April 1, because it is a health hazard. He said anything left behind in the gully will be treated as rubbish. In addition, he said no one was going to be allowed to return to the gully. We will see what happens on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the gully was predictably under attack from passers-by tonight. A volunteer called me to say that crowds were attacking the youth, and the New Kingston police had called for back up to deal with the situation. Channel 4 was there, as well as other overseas media.

The situation is getting very desperate for these youngsters and a shelter needs to be found for them soon!

See the Web page of Dwayne’s House for more information or to contribute (in the United States or in Canada).

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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