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Rastas condemn Andem gang

Klao Bell, Staff Reporter

Elders from several Rastafarian groups have roundly condemned and distanced themselves from the locks-wearing members of the Joel Andem gang saying they are not Rastafarians.

In fact, the elders, in a historically significant confession, expressed support and respect for the police. Meanwhile, the police have made it clear that Rastafarians seldom break the law.

Last week Sunday, a videotape, which included a band of wanted men, was shown on a local television station. Featured prominently in the video, were several persons with locked hair. Most of the men featured in the video declared praises to "Jah" "Emperor Selassie I" and chanted "Jah Rastafari" -- actions associated with members of the Rastafarian movement.

"We do not condone violence, nor do we support the actions of those men. The teachings of His Majesty are there for all to follow and there is no support for violence," declared Ras Sydney DaSilva, president of the Rastafarian Centralisation Organisation (RCO).

He further declared, "the police are our brothers."

Gad Wilfred Richards of the Twelve Tribes said "I don't think those men are Rastafarians, they are a reproach!"

He said members from the Twelve Tribes are trained to greet members of the police force politely. In fact, background checks are done with the police on persons wishing to join that group.

Early modernisation efforts of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) coincided with the emergence of the Rastafarian movement in the 1940s. Rastafarians were seen as rebels to be controlled, and often violating their religious rights by cutting their locks was one way the police sought to subdue them.

"But now, certain types of attitudes have been cushioned. They realise that the Rastaman is a man of peace and love. I think the police realise that the real source of crime is not among Rastafarian ones and ones," explained Ras Irie Irons, elder of the Nyabinghi Order.

And the police are aware of the difference. Deputy Superintendent Newton Amos of the Area Four headquarters, who said many locks-wearing men are convicted of crimes, gave a lengthy discourse on the difference between the Rastafarian and the "dreadlocks."

"Rastafarians seldom break the law, when they do it is for possession of herb. And even when they are brought into the station they are polite and respectful and humble. It is not the Rastafarian who is peddling drugs and murdering people and stealing, it is the dreadlocks. The dreadlocks only wears his hair like that but he doesn't believe in anything." explained DSP Amos.

Members of the Andem gang met in prison, where the hair and lingua commonly associated with Rastafarianism, are a part of prison culture. But a senior official at one of the correctional facilities in the Corporate Area observed that commitment to Rastafarianism while in prison is often ephemeral.

"Many grow their hair to fit into prison culture, but when they are leaving they get a haircut," the senior official said. "Most of those who grow their hair long are not Rastafarian and those who say they are, can usually be distinguished by their behaviour," the prison official said.

Professor Barry Chevannes, sociologist at the University of the West Indies proffered that many Jamaican youths are inspired by aspects of the Rastafarianism.

"The Andem group is evidently inspired by the Rastafari. Or, it could be that there are Rastafari among them who are influenced by the language and history of revolution and guerilla warfare. This neither makes the group Rastafari, nor impugn the Rastafari movement with fomenting either criminal or anti-state activity. The movement cannot be blamed for the atrocities of the gang," Professor Chevannes said.

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