In 50 years of practice, I do not recall ever giving an interview on the courthouse steps about a case in which I had appeared before the court. Public interest in the Thema Williams matter did not permit my usual reticence.
It has always been my position that my role as a commentator—which is hallmarked with freedom of expression—is different from my role as an advocate before the courts. In the latter case, what one says is guided by tightly drawn rules and respect for the court, which should not be used as a political or broader lobbying platform.
When I assert that we have a number of hard working judges, whose reputations ought not to be put in jeopardy by the injudicious behaviour of others, one of the things I have in mind is how well the docket system in civil cases can work. It is a system in which—once a case is assigned to a judge—he or she sees it through until decision day.
Thema was wronged on the evening of 15 April 2016. A little over two years later, we received judicial confirmation that she was a victim of entrenched bias. In fact, had there not been a failed attempt to shunt her aside to arbitration, the case would have been finished within two years.
Mind you, in the hands of progressive judges, meeting the time tables that are set from time to time can be exhausting. Putting aside other pursuits in an attempt to make a difference in righting a wrong, requires adding many hours to a reasonable normal work schedule. Fifteen-hour working days are frequent. It is a demand made on committed practitioners and judges alike.
Having omitted attending some cultural events and writing some of these columns, caused a pardner to ring to ask if I was okay. People are still asking how could Thema stimulate the interest of established practitioners.
This question has already been answered, but for the record of this column, I will repeat this: We live in a society which permits the ruthless discard of persons who don’t belong to the “right” or any clique. I saw a parallel between the discard of Thema and the fatal discard of Akiel Chambers.
I would multiply the effort made on behalf of Thema by an infinite number of times if it could bring Akiel Chambers back to life.
Regrettably, differences will not be made in a significant number if only a few persons dive into worthy causes. Moreover, we will never fix this place by taking action that is only remedial or reactive. We have to set minimum standards of civilisation.
For example, it is simply not acceptable to say you killed somebody with your motor vehicle because “you lost control”. Loss of control has root causes but our society does not insist on accountability for all and proactive management.
I made these points when Dana Seetahal was murdered and the bourgeoisie felt uncomfortable, because they never expect trouble inside the gates and rolled-up windows. Violence is a fate only supposed to befall “those people” outside the gates.
Always staying well on the ground, my experience is that persons outside the gates are frequently of a higher calibre than those who are dismissive of them. The poise and thoughtfulness shown by Thema in her post-decision interviews demonstrates that. The need to establish policy driven assistance for our talented sportspersons and cultural practitioners remains a high, but sadly neglected, priority.
I know many youngsters of Thema’s quality in the wider cultural milieu, which I frequent. I fought for Thema in order to have her humiliation assuaged, to expose her high value despite being someone outside the gates, as well as to expose improper leadership in the process.
Go into The Daly Commentaries and re-read pieces like “Yetunde’s Theme”, “Stacy and her Cello Pan” and “Children of the Harmonites”. These youngsters are real. I do not know what became of them since my writing admiringly of them.
What I do know is that we must strive to provide a more objectively just world for our people. We are not doing so. Leadership is failing in this regard.