Unwanted attention

As I wrote earlier today, ‘Life is about the tolerable and the intolerable. No one should live in fear of anyone, but often that’s a commonplace situation.’

Yesterday, I had an interesting online discussion with Kellie Magnus (@kelliemagnus), stemming from a picture she posted on Twitter:

Perils of driving in Kingston. Man lies down on the car, says he’s not moving til I give him money

The conversation that followed, involving some others, was mainly about what should one do to deal with (unwanted) situations such as these. The solution in this case was ‘I kept pushing him with the car. He finally moved when ppl started blowing and shouting’.

One of my reactions was to latch onto the fact that noise and drawing attention to the problem were effective deterrents. Not everyone agrees with that, and I accept that there are risks of angry reactions, or as bad, no visible signs of support from other motorists or passers by. But, my belief is that nothing much will happen by being passive and quiet. My thought is that the noise is a ‘cry for help’ and most people will respond to that.

We can get into a discussion about whether people are the same, caring citizens now that they were in the past, and agree that maybe they are not. Yet, many people will still lend a hand. The tendency for our societies to be less caring may be a fact, but that should not then mean that we assume no one cares or will lift a finger.

The discussion also centred on whether what may work for a man will also work for a woman. I’ll gladly concede that there may be a gender gap, and also that many of the problems come from men creating the nuisance. But, men do face the problems, too. Will they tolerate it quietly? Many won’t. Will they be afraid of a possible confrontation? Again, maybe not, but we are all different. I certainly won’t assume that we will all react the same. I’ve seen women get out of cars and reach for crowbars to deal with what they deem to be a menace. I’ve also seen men, cower behind the wheel in similar situations.

Jamaica presents such problems too often for the liking of many. We have a widespread practice of windscreen washing at or near traffic lights in built-up areas. We also have lots of vendors. The opportunities to make some good money are too tempting. I never want my windscreen washed, and say so firmly and curtly. It works for me. Try to extend the converstation and I am not interested. Be rude to me, and look out for what may come back. Reckless? I can’t say. Based on years of experiences driving in different countries, I think not. Fearful? No.

But, a woman, especially driving alone, may be neither inclined nor prepared to do more than avoid eye contact and keep windows locked and engine running.

On any given day, we hear of incidents, some worse than others. Women tend to be more set upon than men, or tell those stories more than me do.

In a well-ordered country, law enforcement agents would be ready to step in, if not literally because they are present, then eventually because they would respond to complaints and evidence presented by victims. In Jamaica? I suspect that most people don’t test the possibility, brushing off the incidents. But, the Jamaican police have a reputation for brushing off complaints. A force that has officers playing dominoes near a cell lock-up where someone is being beaten to death is not the kind of force that is going to life a finger to help a female driver deal with a vagrant on the road. But, it shouldn’t be so.

Cue the new Commissioner of Police. Quoting from his acceptance speech, yesterday:

  • It is only through active collaboration between communities and the police that we can hope to secure our nation.
  • Here in Jamaica, it is an unfortunate fact that the police still have a challenging relationship with the communities that we seek to serve.
  • I want to assure the people of Jamaica that, under my leadership, the JCF will do everything within its power to respond to your concerns about the conduct of the police.
  • The communities that we serve must come to rely on the police as protectors of their rights.
  • …you are entitled to, and should expect to receive, the full protection of the law.

I don’t see that we need to have police patrols at every intersection. But, we need to feel that policing will deal with problems.

Just driving around town today, I saw enough of the common irritants on the road. But, I know in Jamaica, most people are doing what they do to survive another day. The disabled man in a wheel chair and cup has no social safety net, other than what he gets from passers by. I just had to have a tyre fixed, after it hit a pothole during a downpour yesterday. A sign mentioned tips if service is very good. I asked a man fixing my tyre what tip was right. How about enough for a patty (about J$150)? That would do. If that’s enough for a person in a job, should it be more for someone without a job? That’s a deeper economics question than I need to address, now. My point is simple.

The albino standing in the glaring sunlight with his hand out isn’t really in the business of ticking off anyone–it’s not worth his while. He wants to make it through today, and look to tomorrow.

The banana vendor is no different, beside her green and yellow apron. The guy with steering wheel covers draped around his next and mosquito zappers in his hands just wants fewer of them left at the day’s end.

The man draped on Kellie’s car is different and is a symptom of a wider social problem, regarding how we deal with those with unstable or unsound mental conditions. But, whatever the reasons, their attention may be unwanted. Like the youth who wanders half naked or naked around Barbican. Our tolerance for them is usually because we take them as harmless. But, once they annoy or threaten us, we get fearful. It shouldn’t be left to chance, though.

The man draped on the car is as annoying as the woman who draped a part of her body on the front of my car, offering wares I did not want to buy or try.

The place is mad, and some are madder than others. Yet, we have to find a way to navigate through it all.

Malevolence…Male violence…

Life is about the tolerable and the intolerable. No one should live in fear of anyone, but often that’s a commonplace situation. Our societies have developed many aspects of inequality, often with males at the top, and women and children below. Out of these unequal relationships, one aspect has taken on much prominence, recently, namely, male violence.

Without judging ahead of those charged to do so, we have just had the end of the Oscar Pistorius case, where he was found guilty of ‘culpable homicide‘ of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, not of her (premeditated) murder. His case may be more to do with his being a violent male, but has elements of a dominant one, too. His case hinged on whether he intended to kill his girlfriend, during an alleged break-in at his home.

We have also the gruesome violence used by a man against his fiancee, in the case of Ray and Janay Lewis. He punched her and knocked her out. She had reportedly spat at him beforehand, as vile an act as I can imagine. But, he prevailed due to brute force. People are pondering her role as instigator; her role, too, as supporter of the brute force, having decided to stay in a relationship where her physical safety was clearly compromised.

We have also the case of Adrian Peterson, who reportedly whipped his 4 year old son, and kicked him in the scrotum, supposedly to ‘discipline’ him. Peterson claims he’s not a child abuser. He’s wrong. Sadly, another, younger son of his had been beaten to death last year by the boyfriend of the boy’s mother. Maybe, Petersen didn’t see that as abuse either. New reports tell us that another 4 year old son of Peterson’s, by another mother, was also beaten badly by him, and charges will arise from that.

We can find several connections in these stories. All the men are successful athletes, and the media love to focus on those who have achieved elite status, and the failings they show. Two of the men are prominent American football professionals, with stellar careers in that game of hard-hitting play; and they are both are black. These may be coincidental characteristics. Many footballers have violence in their private lives. Pistorius has a background of overcoming physical challenges.

We see that the cases all involved violences against so-called ‘near and dear’ ones. That’s too ironic. But, it’s a common feature, which makes our fear of strangers very out of place.

None of this is edifying behaviour, and I won’t be amongst those seeking to justify any of it. Our cultures encourage violence against people as a means of exerting control, and that is often used against those we know well. Men often end up with the upper hand, and women and children are often victims. Women, too, can be perpetrators, but we find it less reported that women overpower men–though, I read a story yesterday of a woman sexually assaulting a man in his sleep. We rarely hear of children beating adult men, though sometimes hear of gangs of boys beating men, and often of boys beating women and/or children.

I’m not going to touch on the sociology or psychology of the violence, just noting its prevalence.

I haven’t cited cases in Jamaica, but they are more than prevalent if one reads or listens to local news. Academic studies have shown that about 87.5% of the aggression on males and 74.5% on females was committed by malesFamily members and acquaintances contributed to about 84% of the violence.

There’s a bad streak running through us, and its animalistic and basically violent. Your nearest and dearest are more likely to be your enemies than your friends.