The Duty of a Leader

The Duty of a Leader


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



It isn’t easy or wise to contradict the police version of violent confrontations – as I

am aware from more than 40 years of writing about such encounters. In the first place,

the presumption is that the police . . . have a decided advantage when they testify in court 



 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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The Duty of a Leader

By John Maxwell


On February 8, 2003 I wrote: “Never fear, the PNP can produce, at a moment’s notice, someone as irrelevant to our problems as Mr Seaga . They will be doing their damnedest to thwart Portia Simpson, the only top politician who shows any signs of being able to listen to the people or to understand what they say.

“In my view, and I am clearly prejudiced, Portia Simpson is the only Jamaican politician now capable of leading a movement for the building a nation out of the atomised parts of what was once, a proud and honest people. If we do not return to that path, ‘dog nyam we supper’.”  That was three years ago. My opinion has not changed. 

On Monday, Jamaica’s fastest growing and most vital city, May Pen, was closed for business. It was shut down by what the press describes as a mob, bands of people outraged by the behaviour of the police, demanding justice for four alleged gunmen, shot dead by the police on Saturday.

According to the police, they carried out a “targeted operation” in Alexandria, on the Chapelton Road, where they killed two brothers, one 21, the other a year older, and two teenagers. According to the police they recovered three pistols from the four corpses. Not one surrendered.

The demonstrators said it was murder. According to them there was no shootout and the guns had been planted by the police.

It isn’t easy or wise to contradict the police version of violent confrontations – as I am aware from more than 40 years of writing about such encounters. In the first place, the presumption is that the police, being a fine upstanding body of men and women, sworn to uphold the law and acting in the best interests of the community have a decided advantage when they testify in court. 

Judges, juries and the public they represent are  normally on the side of law and order and deplore criminal behaviour of any kind. On the other hand, the people usually shot by the police are almost always described as ‘wanted men” even if nobody inside or outside of the force knew that they were wanted before they died. In fact they are usually the unwanted members of the society, dropouts, no-hopers, usually with few friends and no money.

According to the police, many of these young men, some no more than boys, are so hardened in vice and so desperate, that as soon as they see  policemen they open fire at them. Some of the behaviours described by the police are so outlandish as to verge on the fantastic. In Grants Pen Four Roads a few years ago the police described shooting two boys who, according to them, had ridden past the police on bicycles and when challenged, had leapt off their bicycles and begun firing at the police. As I commented at the time the young men seemed to be kamikaze acrobats, rather than, as proved later, just two ordinary boys walking home (not riding) after ‘liming’ at Halfway Tree.

Even if the police May Pen story is true in every particular, the society should be really alarmed at two things:

First, that there are people in this society so desperate and depraved that they only need to see a cop to begin hostilities and


Second: that there are people willing to violently and publicly  demonstrate their solidarity with such despicable desperadoes.If the young men are so terminally  desperate, how did they get that way? What is it in their lives that makes them so careless of death that they will continually confront superior forces of heavily armed  police, knowing that there is no recent record of the police losing any of the shootouts in which they have been engaged? Why are our youth so keen on police-assisted suicide? Do they consider themselves so worthless and so lost that anything is better than life?


Second: How do we find so many people so depraved that they will take to the streets to show their solidarity with such dastardly criminals? Don’t these people understand that eliminating criminals is good for them and the rest of the society? Don’t they understand that the more criminals killed by the police, the more happy and orderly will their societies be?

If the police story is correct, if it is the truth as they continually insist it is, there is something very wrong – dangerously wrong with this society. If the police story is wrong, if it is a lie, there is something very wrong – dangerously wrong with this society.

Whichever of the stories is true is immaterial. Whichever of the stories is true demonstrates that this society is sick, diseased, and in urgent need of fixing.

Waiting for Portia

I have been an admirer of Portia Simpson almost from the first day I met her, more than 30 years ago.  Although she was hardly more than a schoolgirl at the time, she struck me as a very clear-eyed, straight and straightforward woman with a developing vision of what Jamaica could be. She didn’t believe in airy-fairy solutions. She understood that development was about people, not about concrete and steel. She knew that people wanted work, not simply jobs, but work to fulfill their ideas of themselves. She understood that creative work which involved the whole person was the answer to many of the problems of alienation, exclusion and misery which beset the people of whom she was so unapologetically representative. 

She was not afraid to stand, almost alone, in defending her people when they were savagely attacked in the 1970s.  I remember one weekend in July 1980 when she had to find from God knows where, the funds to bury 17 of her constituents, gunned down in partisan warfare. She did not flinch, she did not run away. Despite the fact that her constituency was viciously polarised and as badly neglected by her own government as it had been by the JLP, she built a community of interest there in which former enemies became reconciled to each other and a measure of peace introduced into what was a battleground created by others.

While most Jamaicans do not know the details of her work, there is an intuitive sense of who Portia is among most people. Which is why there was such unbounded celebration at all levels of the society when she triumphed in the leadership contest in the PNP earlier this year. 

What she inherited was a national movement  which had lost its way and forgotten its historic purpose. Patterson had recreated the PNP as a more efficient and globally serviceable version of the JLP. It was more efficient and ruthless about liberalisation, privatisation and retrenchment than the JLP would ever have dared to be. Its policies have created more millionaires in the last fourteen years than existed in the entire Caribbean before then. The transfer of wealth from poor to rich proceeded at a pace unmatched even in the satellites of the former Soviet Union. In one of the most economically unequal and savagely unjust societies on the planet it is now chic to speak about “wealth creation” without admitting that wealth creation goes hand in hand with poverty creation.

Most Jamaicans know very well what has been happening. They know that, like a smouldering dungheap, Jamaica is ready to erupt into flame. And they believe that Portia Simpson can put out the fire, and redirect our energies to building a Jamaica of the heart and soul, instead of an embattled collection of gated communities sitting on top of a degraded environment from which all hope has fled and where joy is a refugee.

Most of us, with the exception of the political classes, know that Jamaica’s course cannot continue to be business as usual. It cannot make sense for the government to steal beaches, destroy green spaces, provide inadequate schools and keep people from growing their own food. In a country of just over fifteen hundred arable square miles, it is in my view a scandal that one family can own nearly seven square miles and an even bigger scandal that the government can contemplate handing over to that family another couple of square miles for factory farms. It is a scandal that the government can even contemplate covering farmland with concrete, so called housing solutions.  It is a scandal that we have raided the National Pension schemes to build highways whose real purpose is to celebrate the soon to be defunct internal combustion engine. It is utter madness to build thousands of hotel rooms in a climate of fear which will in a few years, destroy mass tourism. It is even crazier to build these hotels in areas which will be destroyed by increasingly frequent and violent hurricanes and subverted by climate change.

In Hanover, the Parish Council is braying for another super hotel. Why? Because it will produce a few jobs for a few labourers and mass profits for a few contractors. But such hotels will not be about Jamaica. they will be about processing visitors like hogs in a nineteenth century Chicago slaughterhouse. The only thing they won’t capture is the squeal of the processed animals. Meanwhile, no thought is given to a different kind of agriculture, one based on the care of the land by people and not on the brutalisationn of the land by pesticides, herbicides and expensive machinery. 

If we began to think,  it would be plain to us that the tourism industry. if intelligently designed and operated, could provide not only jobs for waiters and housekeepers, but a huge export market for Jamaican produce, organically grown and nurtured with love by people with real stakes in a peaceful, prosperous  society. 

A Jamaica of the Heart

There are people of all classes waiting for Portia to summon them to sacrifice and work. There are people waiting for Portia to tell them how they can help re-think redirect and refashion Jamaica, how they can help to develop their brothers and sisters, how they can teach the illiterate to read and to grow food,  lead scout troops, teach children music, dancing, gymnastics and swimming and how they can bring Jamaica back from the brink of disaster.

Sadly, it seems to me, Portia is being purposefully entangled in a bureaucratic spiders web of ‘heavy metal development’  in which people wax eloquent about trickle down theory without understanding that education and better domestic environments will not only reduce crime and HIV/AIDS but increase the GDP and public safety.  And that the politics of love and care can produce Marcus Garveys and Harry Belafontes out of ‘wanted men’ and Mary Seacoles and Louise Bennetts out of teggeregs and ‘bad girls’ 

When Portia Simpson was campaigning for the Presidency of the Peoples National Party she told us , famously and presciently, that we needed to elect not a manager but a leader.

As her paradigm, Norman Manley said nearly half a century ago, in 1958 when Portia was still a little girl –”The duty of a Leader is to Lead.”

A few years  years later he advised us to ‘dis-enthrall’ ourselves  –  to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. And then he died, but his movement did not die, nor did his ideas. 

Copyright©2006 John Maxwell / 

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Obama congratulates new Jamaican PM on electoral victory—10 January 2012—U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called the new Jamaican prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, to congratulate her on the recent victory in the parliamentary elections, the White House said in a statement. . . . In the recent parliamentary elections, the Jamaican opposition People’s National Party (PNP), led by 66-year-old Miller, defeated the ruling Jamaica Labor Party headed by former prime minister Andrew Holness. Miller served as the country’s first female prime minister from March 2006 to September 2007.—ChinaDaily

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New Jamaican PM calls time on Queen as head of state—During her inaugural address Jamaica’s new Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller says the time has come for her country to cut ties with the British monarchy—Mrs Simpson Miller made the pledge just weeks after it was announced that Prince Harry would visit the Caribbean nation later this year to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The constitutional changes are not expected to disrupt his trip but may lead to a potentially embarrassing diplomatic situation where a representative of the monarchy visits Jamaica at the same time the government is working to sever its links to the crown. Speaking at her inauguration on Thursday, Mrs Simpson Miller offered a fulsome tribute in English to the monarch, saying: “I love the Queen. She is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady, a wise lady and a wonderful lady.” However, she pointedly switched to Jamaican patois as she told the crowd of 10,000: “But I think the time has come.” Plans for the switch to a republican government are aimed to coincide with this year’s 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from Britain in 1962. The Queen remains the head of state and is represented on the island by the governor general, Sir Patrick Allen.—Telegraph

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New Jamaican PM to be sworn in, with promise to review anti-gay law—Stephen Gray 5 January 2012—Jamaica’s new Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has said she will review the criminalisation of homosexuality in the country and not forbid gays from serving in her cabinet as former Prime Minister Bruce Golding had, is to be sworn in today. Simpson-Miller returns to power after a convincing win at the end of year elections in which her People’s National Party defeated Golding’s replacement, Andrew Holness, who held the position for two months. In a televised debate in December, Simpson-Miller said gays would not be forbidden to serve in her cabinet, and that the government should “have a look” at the criminalisation of gay acts, and vote freely on the matter.Holness, of the Jamaican Labor Party, and Simpson-Miller were asked whether they supported the statement made by the former Prime Minister Golding that gays were not welcome in his cabinet.

After saying it was his responsibility to make sure the “institutions of freedom” were in place, Holness said: “My sentiments reflect the sentiments of the country. The Prime Minister has a discretion, but that discretion cannot be exercised in a vacuum.” Holness, who was Jamaica’s youngest-ever leader, had accepted earlier in the debate that there were minimum standards of human rights to which the country had to adhere, but said Jamaican society should determine its own “civil rights”. Simpson-Miller, however, who was Prime Minister in 2006 and 2007, said she would choose cabinet members because of “their ability to manage and to lead”, not their sexuality. . . .

The new government will primarily have to deal with the national debt, which stands at 120% of GDP, a figure approaching Greece’s 2010 debt level of 126.8%, as well as widespread unemployment. Simpson-Miller said she would work “unswervingly to achieve the desired growth, development, and to lift the standard of living in Jamaica”. As a result of her relatively pro-gay comments, one member of the then-ruling party questioned whether Simpson-Miller had been paid by the international LGBT community to speak up for gay rights.—PinkNews

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Inaugural address of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller

John Maxwell: A gladiator wielding a merciless pen (Desmond Allen)


John Maxwell Table

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Media and Violence in Jamaica

Edited by Marjan de Bruin et and  Claude Robinson  

The review of research on the impact of media and violence on children and juveniles is particularly noteworthy and supports the intuitive understanding of the influence the media must exert in the development of what Garbarino (1995) calls the social maps children construct and which guide their behaviour. Many children today cannot sit still for ten minutes without an I Pod, an MP3 player, a Game Boy or a TV movie and the explicit portrayals of murder, person-on-person violence and violent sex acts in films, television, video games, and the lyrics of popular songs convey images of violence as being part of the normal pattern of interpersonal interaction and relationships. When violent events and known violent offenders are given prominence in the print media and interviewed on radio as well as television, mixed messages are sent to children who now see violent behaviour as a means of capturing public attention and gaining prominence. The de-sensitization of young people to violence and its effects is an important outcome of such exposure, and it can irreparably damage their psychological and emotional development.—Emerita Professor Elsa Leo-Rhynie, Former Principal, The University of the West Indies

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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ChickenBones Store







posted 27 August 2006




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