Last Week’s News: A Strip Search in Barbados
Where to begin.
When I first read about Shanique Myrie on Caro’s (@carybbeancee) blog I was shocked. I cringed, winced, and heaved a heavy sigh. Ms. Myrie’s telling of what she says happened to her at the Grantley Adam’s airport in Barbados is disgusting (click here to read). It’s hard to read.
Most women don’t even like going to the OB/GYN. I tolerate it better than some of my friends and women I’ve talked to about it…though a consensual event for health reasons, it is just uncomfortable to have that cold speculum inserted. At least the hardened plastic ones are not as cold as the metal ones. Ms. Myrie’s allegations are shocking and just plain unpleasant to read about and imagine with that reference point.
Now, at this point Ms. Myrie’s story has not been verified and that an investigation is underway. But some things are just not making sense to me. Chief among them is what incentive does Ms. Myrie have to lie? And if she is lying, why make up such an extreme story? A story that was sure to attract attention, close scrutiny, and put Barbados on the defensive and force GOJ’s hand? Maybe she didn’t think it all the way through and was just pissed at being denied entry…but no that doesn’t quite make sense given the nature of the story. Also, where is the other lady with whom Ms. Myrie said she shared a room and cot after the strip search and verbal abuse concluded? Surely departure records are available to track her down and get her statement about what Ms. Myrie looked like – her demeanor, the attitude of the immigration or customs officer who escorted her to the room, and what if anything did Ms. Myrie say to her about why she was being held at the airport. So yes Ms. Myrie’s story has not yet been verified but at the moment…I’m inclined to believe her. I’d be most disgusted if it turns out that Ms. Myrie is lying but then so be it; this incident points to much more serious issues that need to be addressed.
Another niggle is the response of the Bajan government. The Bajan authorities have denied that the event took place and essentially contend that Ms. Myrie is telling tales. They say that there is no record of a strip search. *blank stare* O that’s right, folks who do despicable things of this nature usually record them properly and leave a paper trail (forget the Nazis for a moment, they’re the exception). Additionally, as a general rule, I tend not to trust an accused entity to investigate allegations of its wrongdoing. Especially when an article appeared in today’s Barbados Today about similar allegations of mistreatment by Bajan immigration and/or customs officials, this time involving a Ghanaian , Evelyn Mensah. So what sort of investigation of Ms. Myrie’s allegations was conducted? Who was interviewed? What records were checked? Who conducted the investigation? Is there a special and somewhat removed (i.e. insulated from bureaucratic and political pressure) committee or body meant to investigate allegations of this kind?
A Jamaican relative who has lived and worked in Barbados for a decade had this to say when I shared Caro’s blog with her:
The story has been making the rounds. Not a new situation. Also not new is the general attitude of the officers to Jamaicans.
Now that someone has told their story and was also brave enough to put their photo in the papers (a real person), it will be interesting to see how the Barbados Immigration authorities and the Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacts to what has been an ongoing problem.
Wow. She’s usually a calm and straightforward woman but not even an ounce of shock?
So what do Bajan authorities admit? That Ms. Myrie’s behaviour raised suspicions, and that she was questioned and searched because she said at first that she would be staying with a female friend but Mr. Husbands (from the Bajan government) says that “closer investigation however revealed she was actually staying with a Barbadian man, who actually facilitates the entry of non-nationals into the island.” Pause. Free movement of goods, people, labour, and services anyone? More on that later. Wait, what happened to Mr. Husbands’ initial assertion that Ms. Myrie was a victim of human trafficking? If she was then where is the formal report to the Jamaican government? What evidence of human trafficking? Who’s the human trafficking facilitator? Where did this idea of human trafficking come from? As of this post, Ms. Myrie is standing by her story:
I am not lying. They humiliated me and searched me like I was an animal. They can carry me back to the Barbados airport and I can show you every room they took me into. I can identify the woman who defiled me. They are the ones who are lying
All that said, I don’t agree with Jamaicans (on The Rock and in the Diaspora) who think that we should boycott Barbados and its products and services because of this incident. In my opinion that’s a short term solution to much deeper and serious problem. It also does nothing to address the more pressing issue of Ms. Myrie’s case. All it does is salve our anger and bruised national pride. This incident requires action and resolution. Don’t get me wrong though: being angered and outraged at Ms. Myrie’s story is absolutely 200% justified. Right now I think it more prudent that Ms. Myrie get counselling and legal representation (apparently her lawyer is Anthony Hylton, Jamaica’s former foreign affairs minister and member of the Opposition in Jamaica…for some reason this bothers me and it’s nothing to do with the quality of the represenation that Mr. Hylton or his firm can provide). Ms. Myrie’s case requires the intervention and support of her national government. So far there’s been some action by the Jamaican leadership –click here (the GOJ’s response) and here (the Jamaica Manufacturing Association’s response) to see reaction and action by Jamaica’s leadership. In Barbados, the Jamaican Association is meeting this week with Jamaican officials who will be in Bim to discuss the Myrie Matter. The sentiments expressed by my relative were echoed in the correspondence from the Association — this story isn’t new and some of you reading this email may have been subjected to poor treatment as well. What’s really going for Jamaicans (and other Caribbean people) in Barbados? (While we’re at it, what’s going on for other Caribbean nationals in Jamaica?)
I know that not all Jamaicans behave themselves when they visit other countries. Shit, we don’t even behave ourselves in Jamaica! But if what Ms. Myrie says is true and it turns out that she was brutalized because she’s Jamaican then we have a serious problem. Some Jamaicans may have brought bad behaviour and illegal activity to Barbados but not all of us – dare I say the majority – are bringing that baggage with us. How the hell can it be that this woman was brutalized in this way simply because she’s Jamaican? Frankly, those kinds of assumptions and resultant ignorant behaviour is something I’d thought (hoped?) would only come from non-Caribbean folks…shouldn’t our fellow Caribbean people be less likely to give into the stereotypes or judge Jamaicans on the basis of the behaviour of a few. Oops. Bottom line for me though is that one cannot use the actions and bad behaviour of a few in a group to guide one’s interaction and treatment of all members of the group. For example, I don’t now think that all Bajans are evil, abusive people.
And briefly on CARICOM: Ms. Myrie’s story likely illustrates that the general Caribbean population has not bought into the idea of economic and political unity. Is the buy in mostly at the top (given the issues raised in that article about Ms. Mensah’s case)? If so, what to do about it? How much support does CARICOM have at all levels of Caribbean society? So what to do? Admit that CARICOM is a myth, a sham and move on on our separate ways or address the disconnect that Ms. Myrie’s case likely illustrates, get broad public support, and move forward together? I personally think that small island states like those in the Caribbean have little hope of doing well in today’s global economy or even in our region by standing alone. That said, CARICOM moves so damn slowly it’s no wonder that the general Caribbean population doesn’t take it seriously. And I don’t think that the international community – especially our biggest and most powerful neighbour the United States – takes CARICOM seriously. I attended a trade talk (it covered the Latin American & Caribbean region) just last Thursday and was chatting with one of the attendees at the post-talk buffet; he pointed to the West Indies Cricket Board not the University of the West Indies as being the best run Caribbean institutions. The WICB?! Jesus, we can barely choose a cricket team or decide on salary without a ruckus. Meanwhile, CARICOM was described as powerless, a waste of time, and moving at a glacial pace. The person could not understand why we Caribbean people couldn’t get it together for our own sakes… especially since when we (Caribbean people) move to other countries we excel. He called us one of the most successful immigrant groups in the U.S. These views aren’t gospel but they are a window into how we’re viewed by outsiders. What are we going to do about it? Another referendum or public education and actual, real, quantifiable action together?
As for Ms. Myrie: enough high level meetings and statements back and forth in the media, it’s time to conduct a thorough investigation, get the truth and come to a resolution.