Time: Fri, 10 Feb 2006 00:00 UTC
¶1. (C) In November and December 2005, two murders in Jamaica were labeled by some gay activists as homophobic hate crimes, although senior police contacts described the killings as resulting from common robberies. On November 30, 2005, a leading HIV/AIDS activist, Lenford “Steve” Harvey, was found shot to death in upper St. Andrew Parish. In late December, Nokia Cowen, was allegedly chased by a homophobic mob off a pier in Kingston Harbor and drowned. In the latter case, neither the JCF nor a local gay rights group that insists Cowen was the victim of a hate crime, can specify the date or details of his alleged murder. Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the crime portfolio acknowledged that homophobia is widespread in Jamaica, while insisting that there is no evidence that these particular slayings are attributable to homophobia. In a separate case of homophobic violence, one well known suspect was acquitted. On January 19th, a court acquitted Buju Banton, a popular dance hall musician, who was accused of beating six men in June 2004 while shouting homophobic insults.
(SBU) Since November 2005, the murder of a prominent gay activist, the mob killing under unclear circumstances of an allegedly gay man, and the acquittal of a popular musician accused of beating gay men, have focused attention on the pervasive homophobia in Jamaican society. The purpose of this cable is to update the Department on what we know about these cases.
The Murder of Steve Harvey
¶2. (C) On November 30, 2005, police found the body of Lenford “Steve” Harvey, the 30-year-old leader of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, with gunshot wounds to the back of his head, in a rural area in upper St. Andrew Parish, miles from his home on Duhaney Drive, Kingston. Investigators initially posited that at least four assailants went to Harvey’s home and robbed Harvey while he and two acquaintances were inside. A senior JCF contact described the robbers as being members of a particularly ruthless neighborhood gang from Kingston’s Grants Pen neighborhood whose members frequently murder their victims. According to the media, the assailants asked the three men whether they were gay as they robbed them. Harvey’s acquaintances denied being gay; however, when Harvey did not reply, he was abducted and subsequently murdered. The other two occupants of the residence were left unharmed. A senior member of the JCF recently told RSO that the police now suspect that on the night of his murder, Harvey was in the Grants Pen neighborhood meeting with suspected criminals when he was abducted by the neighborhood gang and taken back to his home were he was robbed, taken to a rural area and killed. The JCF is also now questioning whether two acquaintances of Harvey’s were actually in the home; the JCF now theorizes that only Harvey and the assailants were present. The senior JCF contact expressed his continued belief that Harvey was the random victim of a robbery/murder rather than the victim of a hate crime.
¶3. (C) Both Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Mark Shields and the Political Ombudsman, Bishop Herro Blair, a respected clergyman designated to lead an outside oversight team for this investigation, advised NAS Director in December that the Harvey case did not appear to be a hate crime.
Senior Policeman Expresses Doubts That Murder was a Hate Crime
¶4. (C) On January 11, Shields advised Poloff that he believed that the same people responsible for the murder of Harvey were responsible for the murder of Jamie Lue and that the motive in both cases appeared to be robbery. (Note: On December 31, Lue, who is believed to have been heterosexual,
was found dead in his Honda vehicle. It appeared that, like Harvey, Lue was robbed then shot to death. End note.) On January 12, thirteen suspects were apprehended in the Harvey and Lue cases and suspects are being held in connection with both murders. One suspect was positively identified in a lineup. Shields stated that it was an absolute coincidence that Harvey was murdered on the eve of World AIDS Day and that the suspects, unsophisticated local criminals, were “incapable of knowing the date of World AIDS Day.” Shields said that he had received several calls from human rights groups inquiring as to the status of the Harvey investigation.
Death of Nokia Cowen
¶5. (C) At the end of December 2005, a man named Nokia Cowen was allegedly chased by a mob off a pier into Kingston Harbor, were he drowned. Despite allegations by some domestic and foreign gay rights activists, said Shields, there was no evidence that Cowen was chased by a mob or that he was gay. However, Shields did acknowledge to Poloff that the officer investigating the crime scene appeared on TV and labeled it a hate crime. The investigating officer simply got it wrong, said Shields: “He did not know what he was talking about.”
¶6. (C) According to “Gareth”, the leader of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), with whom Poloff also discussed the Cowen case, Cowen was indeed a known member of the gay community. “Gareth” insisted that although he himself was not present at the scene of the crime, a homophobic mob did indeed chase Cowen off the pier and watch while he drowned. “Gareth” was unable to substantiate his allegation, however, nor did he respond to Poloff’s subsequent requests for information to help clarify what happened to Cowen. Oddly, neither Shields nor “Gareth” knew the exact date of the Cowen incident.
JCF Commissioner on Hate Crimes
¶7. (C) During a recent meeting with NAS Director, Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas acknowledged that Jamaica is not free from hate crimes, the police “investigate every case of murder regardless of sexual orientation” of the victim. When NAS Director pressed for the status of the Harvey investigation, Thomas stated that preliminary reports indicate that it was not a hate crime but that the investigation is ongoing.
Popular Musician Acquitted of Gay-bashing
¶8. (C) On January 19th, Buju Banton a popular dancehall musician with songs that include homophobic lyrics, was acquitted of assault charges in the Half Way Tree Resident Magistrate’s Court. Banton was accused of being one of a group of armed men who forced their way into a Kingston home in June 2004 and beat six men while shouting homophobic insults.
¶9. (C) Post will continue to follow up with the appropriate authorities, J-FLAG and other relevant entities to ensure that any and all leads in these cases are investigated. In attempting to assess whether or not Harvey and Cowen were victims of hate crimes, however, it is important to bear in mind that Jamaica currently has the highest per capita murder rate in the world, and that most of the killings appear to have nothing to do with homosexuality. At the same time, however, homosexuality is far less broadly accepted in Jamaica than in most Western countries, and some of Jamaica’s domestically and internationally popular “dancehall” musicians have drawn censure for their frequently anti-gay lyrics. According to the JCF’s year end statistics, in 2005, approximately 35 percent of murder investigations of all types actually got as far as the police identifying a suspect. In even fewer cases was a suspect arrested and then tried for the crime. There is the likelihood that because of a lack of sensitization within the JCF to homophobic violence, the murders of gays, particularly homosexual males, could be given a lower priority than investigations of murders of perceived heterosexuals. In reality, given the widespread lack of professionalism characterized by the JCF, the chance of any given murder – regardless of the sexual orientation of the victim – being solved is relatively low.