I’m very much in sympathy with the arguments in this column that was published today in The Gleaner:
The caption below a picture in the online Gleaner on Saturday, May 15 read, “Petersfield High School’s Antonio Watson (left) gestures to Edwin Allen High School’s Bryan Levell as he crosses the finish line ahead of him in the Class One boys’ 200m final during the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday.”
But that “gesture” was far from innocuous; and a video of the event shows two gestures. In the first, Watson used his left hand to mimic a handgun directly pointing and firing twice, at close range, at his rival. The video then shows Watson use his right hand to pull another make-belief handgun, from his waist, and with flamboyant glorification of gunmanship, mimic chambering a round and pointing the handgun off somewhere.
I am informed that gun mimicking occurs repeatedly at Champs; but that does not make it okay. Such offensive and aggressive displays continue because the meet officials failed to nip them in the bud. Our athletes dare not gesture in that manner after winning any event overseas; why are they allowed to point make-belief guns directly at their rivals here?
No doubt, some (numb to Jamaica’s unabated violence, and/or placatory apologists) will brush aside the gestures as no big deal, relegate them to youthful exuberance, toxic jubilation, or ‘the culture’. But those offensive displays that mimic gunmanship should not be misinterpreted as innocent celebration; they mimic shooting others, an act meant to get rid of others permanently.
If someone on the street mimics shooting me, I would feel a reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. I would feel under threat, assaulted. Try mimicking a gun pointed at any security force personnel and see what happens.
What message does mimicking murder send? There are no redeeming qualities to gesturing like a depraved and murderous gunman. Those gestures are nothing but serious intimidations and macabre rehearsals of murderous acts. They incite and encourage bitterness, the type that kills sportsmanship and transforms friendly competition into acrimonious rivalry. This is the exact diametric of what sports is meant to achieve. FIFA would never ignore or tolerate such behaviour, and neither should we.
The following day, The Gleaner stated that “The incident has been met with public criticism amid Jamaica’s troubling murder rate.” Watson apologised in a carefully crafted statement, ostensibly penned by someone else, to ward off serious repercussions that could jeopardise his career. “I therefore want to unreservedly apologise to all the stakeholders, my school, fans, and family for my actions … . I have taken full responsibility for such actions as it is in no way a reflection of the ethos of my school, the principles of my coach or the position of ISSA or any of the sponsors”.
Jamaica is under siege by gunmen who act with impunity. They attack and kill whomever they please. They terrorise individuals, communities and the society at large. The gun has become the surrogate for the power that knowledge and skill bring. The gun has become the means of inflicting pain on others, a blowback of disenfranchisement, disempowerment, disrespect, disdain and distress among the less fortunate. Guns have become the final arbiter and the final solution for almost any problem.
Guns are used to intimidate the entire country; we venture on to the streets with some degree of timidity, wondering if we will encounter violence, especially gun violence. We try to secure our homes, our sanctuaries, from blood-thirsty gunmen. The gun is the murder weapon of choice in Jamaica; it is responsible for incalculable suffering and billions of taxpayers’ dollars being spent on security and healthcare. It has decreased productivity and dissuaded business investment.
In an enlightened society where there is awareness of the meaning and serious impact of mimicking murderous gunmen, all athletes would be warned of disqualification for any such action. And if any breaks that rule, they should be summarily disqualified. We must draw the line somewhere.