It took more than five decades, but the Jamaica Government has finally formally apologized for a 1963 incident in which several Rastafarians were beaten and jailed and had their locks forcibly cut by agents of the state.
Fifty-four years ago, a Rastafarian in the Coral Gardens community was shot by a property owner in a dispute over lands. Some Rastas retaliated by burning a petrol station in St James, which eventually led to a massive crackdown by the police. An April confrontation between Rastafarians and the state left eight Rastafarians dead. Others were arrested and had their locks chopped.
But Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday apologized to the victims of the state-inflicted violence and announced that a trust fund of no less than $10 million would be established for the benefit of survivors of the incident.
“In this regard, I will work alongside the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that this fund is set up properly and with due regard for the needs of those it is meant to benefit,” he said in a statement to the House of Representatives.
“Today, without equivocation, we apologize for what occurred in Coral Gardens. We express our regret and sorrow for this chapter in our national life that was characterized by brutality, injustice and repression, which was wrong and should never be repeated.
“We cannot restore life and we may not be able to restore property that was destroyed, and we certainly may not be able to heal those that have suffered, but it is important that the State acknowledge when a wrong was done and commit sincerely and solemnly not to allow these wrongs to happen again,” he added.
In 2015, the Public Defender, in a report, recommended an apology in the Coral Gardens incident in which a policeman was also killed.
“Whilst I know that this cannot erase the brutality, oppression and injustice which was meted out during that tragedy, I am comforted by the willingness of the members of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society to keep the dialogue going. I am happy to have finally reached the point where we can discuss concrete and tangible actions which can ease some of the heavy burdens that survivors and the community have faced,” he said.
Holness noted that the Public Defender will be asked to continue the work that her office began, in terms of locating survivors and gathering important information about them and their families, in consultation with the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society and the Member of Parliament for that area.
The Coral Gardens Benevolent Society will also be given advice and assisted in accessing resources and benefits for its members.
Also, in keeping with the principle of cultural preservation, six lots at the property at Pinnacle in St Catherine will be declared by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) as a protected heritage site and will be developed as a Rastafari Heritage and Cultural Centre.
For his part, Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Peter Phillips, welcomed the move by the Government to recognize and apologize for the incident.