http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140316/cleisure/cleisure3.htmlKartel: beyond reasonable doubt? by Carolyn Cooper
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11, states: "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence." In the case of Vybz Kartel, I speculate that nice and decent people in Jamaica have confidently presumed that the DJ is far from innocent. Proving guilt is an irrelevant obstruction of justice.
Life often imitates art. And Kartel's lyrics, however clever, can also be quite deadly. Much blood and gore, like many a Hollywood film! A man who deejays about gun violence must be a gunman in exactly the same way that the author of a crime novel must be a criminal. Not quite. In the respectable worlds of literature and film, we don't assume that the author is identical with her or his fictional characters. We know better than that.
Not so for dancehall culture. We do not allow DJs the luxury of role play and artistic freedom. The same people who danced merrily to Buju Banton's Driver soon decided that the song was autobiographical when the DJ got arrested and charged with intent to distribute cocaine. "Seet deh! 'Im done confess." Why would he? In exactly the same way, we perversely refuse to concede the possibility that 'Vybz Kartel' is a persona, a mask worn by an actor to project a fabricated character.
As a consequence, it is not Adidja Palmer who has been on trial for murder. It is Vybz Kartel. I wonder if the media's insistence on calling Adidja Palmer by his stage name may not have been prejudicial. Has Adidja Palmer's right to be presumed innocent perhaps been violated by the constant assertion that his 'real' identity is actually Vybz Kartel? Has Adidja Palmer been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Or is it the cardboard cutout, Vybz Kartel?
The 'reasonable doubt' rule is cited these days to ensure the fairness of a verdict in the interest of the accused. But what, exactly, is 'reasonable doubt'? It's a legal term that seems to mystify even the experts, let alone an amateur jury. In my search to understand its meaning, I discovered a fascinating book by James Whitman, professor of law at Yale University: The Origins of Reasonable Doubt: Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial.
Whitman makes a startling claim: "The 'reasonable doubt' rule was not originally designed to serve the purpose it is asked to serve today: It was not originally designed to protect the accused. Instead, it was designed to protect the souls of the jurors against damnation." The question of 'reasonable doubt' was, essentially, a theological issue. Whitman argues, "Convicting an innocent defendant was regarded, in the older Christian tradition, as a potential mortal sin."
Whitman elaborates: "The purpose of the 'reasonable doubt' instruction was to address this frightening possibility, reassuring jurors that they could convict the defendant without risking their own salvation, as long as their doubts about guilt were not 'reasonable'." In an age when the biblical warning, "Judge not, lest you be judged," was taken literally, both judges and jurors feared for their souls. In these secular times, judges and jurors sometimes fear for their lives, not just their souls.
JUSTICE ON TRIAL
For many Jamaicans, at home and abroad, the outcome of the trial of the notorious Vybz Kartel is a victory for the Jamaican justice system - beyond reasonable doubt. Take, for instance, this comment by 'Sonny Black' posted on The Gleaner's website: "This is great news coming out of Jamaica. My morning coffee never tasted so good. My faith in the broken-down justice system in Jamaica has been restored. For too long these lowlifes masquerading as celebrities have used their disgusting lifestyles to corrupt our youth and blight our future as a nation. Next step is to throw away the keys of any prison he may enter. Let the Patois Doctor who worships him and promoted him as an example for young Jamaicans to emulate visit and keep him company. Bravo, Judge and Jury, you both have made Jamaica proud."
I suppose I'm the 'Patois Doctor'. I, too, am on trial. And I'm certainly not presumed to be innocent. One of my crimes is advocacy of respect for the Jamaican language and those who speak it. Another crime is my recognition of Kartel's iconic stature as a talented lyricist and performing artist. Inviting Vybz Kartel to speak at the University of the West Indies, Mona, is yet another crime. It must mean that I 'worship' the artiste, etc. For punishment, I must be sent to prison, if only for regular visits.
In truth, like those jurors of old, I wish to protect my soul. I refuse to commit the mortal sin of convicting an innocent defendant, especially if I'm the one in the dock. But, in all seriousness, I keep asking myself if Adidja Palmer has been convicted beyond reasonable doubt - in the modern sense of the legal term. I also wonder if he's really innocent.Carolyn Cooper is professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com