Lessons to learn from the Jamie Stewart incident

The incident between Jamie Stewart and the Police Officer was a hot topic which was discussed at length on social media, the different radio call-in programs and the general public. Everyone expressed their opinion on the issue and soon we will forget about it. That is the way we Grenadians operate. We love excitement.

However, we have to look at the incident beyond who was right or wrong. The purpose of this letter is to examine the incident objectively to discover what lessons can be learnt and what can be done to prevent something similar from happening again.

Jamie Stewart was a student at a secondary school in St David but transferred to a Secondary School in St George. According to a relative, he was expelled from school sometime last year because he was accused of “coming on to the girls too much”.

Since he was expelled from school and being from an underprivileged family he went to work as a conductor. Soon he started having problems with police officers from the Traffic department. The relative explained that he was charged by the police and his father accompanied him to the Number One Magistrate’s Court where he reported why his son was not in school.

He stated that he reported the matter to the Ministry of Education but nothing was done. According to the relative, the court referred Jamie’s case to the Social worker at Social Services. My investigation revealed that the social worker investigated the incident and found out that the allegation was true and the matter was referred to the Ministry of Education. This means that if Jamie was in school we will never have such an incident.

Now, who gave the Principal the authority to expel a child from school because the girls are attracted to him? The Education act states that a Principal can suspend a student for one week for minor offences and two weeks for serious offences such as violence in school or for drugs possession.

Whenever a child is suspended the Principal is authorised to send a written report to the Ministry of Education. Parents, you need to know the law. Principals do not have the authority to “throw out” your children from school. Only the Ministry of Education after examining the case has the authority to decide if your child should be expelled permanently or not.

If the Ministry fails to take action to have your children return to school it is your right to find a lawyer and take legal action against the Principal and the Ministry. Do not wait for your child to end up like Jamie Stewart.

It is also of urgency that the Grenada Union of Teachers and the Ministry of Education assist the secondary school Principals to acquire the necessary skills to deal with these children because it appears that although they may be more qualified than their predecessors they do not have the ability to deal with children who have social issues and they are causing a lot of our children to become truants and juveniles.

Even when they have to deal with children who are slow they are quick to refer them to NEWLO as though NEWLO is the dumping ground for slow children. A research conducted by Myriam L. Baker, June Nady Sigmond and Elaine Nugent states that, “truancy or unexcused absence from school if left unaddressed during the preteen or teenage years can have significant negative effects on the student, schools and society.

It is linked to serious delinquent activity such as substance abuse, gang activity, burglary, auto theft and vandalism in youth and if it is not dealt with it will lead to more serious behavioural problems in adulthood.” We cannot allow these Principals to throw out our children from school. We have to take action against it.

Michael Walsh told a story which should be a lesson to Principals who find pleasure in throwing out children from school. Brandon Stanton, a street photographer asked Vidal Chastanet, a thirteen year old student of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, one of the most dangerous locations in Brooklyn, New York who inspired him most in life.

His answer touched many people. “My principal, Nadia Lopez”, he responded. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us and she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school; a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up one at a time and she told each one of us that we matter.” Secondary school principals in Grenada need to apply this policy.

According to the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the child, a child is anyone under eighteen years. Jamie is seventeen years so his case should be tried in Juvenile court – so why is it being tried in traffic court? Where is the Coalition of the rights of the child on this issue? This organisation needs to stop being reactionary and start being proactive.

It is my opinion that the police are aware that the Magistrate would not tolerate a teenager being disrespectful to a police officer so they are “going for the kill” but it is reported that that same Magistrate who they want to try the case, on one occasion summoned officers of the Ministry of Education to his court because a child who appeared at his court was not attending school.

It is my hope that at the trial of Jamie Stewart, the Principal and personnel from the Ministry of Education should be summoned to court to explain why Jamie was expelled from school. Can it be said that the Principal is indirectly responsible for the crime?

The incident was taped and circulated on social media showing Jamie beating up the police. He did not sustain any injuries at the scene but after he was arrested he sustained an injured hand, swollen face with a cut above his eye and is spitting blood.

I am not condoning what Jamie did but no one, not even the police have the authority to take the law into their own hand – that is what the court is there for. What will happen now is that Jamie will be receiving two sets of punishment, one from whoever physically abused him while in the custody of the police and the other from the court.

Finally, let us look at the way the Corporal of police handled the situation and see if there wasn’t another way to deal with the problem and avoid that unfortunate situation.

The original problem was picking up a passenger outside of a prescribed bus stop. If he was given a ticket and he tore it up, is that a reason for arresting him? Didn’t the police have a duplicate in the ticket book? If tearing up a ticket is a crime, couldn’t the police avoid the confrontation and bring him to court with a summons? Did he have to prove something to the public by arresting him and humiliating him in the street?

Police officers need to understand that they are once a Police officer and twice a civilian. Grenada is a small society and it will be a sad day when police and civilians cannot live peacefully. We do not really want that.

A Concern Citizen

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