A Letter To Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer

Mr Palmer,

I just can’t take the chance of greeting you in this letter with the usual salutation, ‘dear’. Crazy readers of our correspondence would immediately conclude that you’re my bosom buddy. Just take a look at what Bawypy spewed out on The Gleaner’s website last week in response to the publication of your letter to me:

“Ms Cooper you are not Kartels mother, you seem more to be his woman, ur obviously in love with him and you were wrong to bring him inna the university to chat crap and now you are trying to fool Jamaican people again, stop it! Neither you or Kartel is an intellect.”

Apparently, Bawypy had to be reined in. There’s a note beneath the post: “Edited by a moderator.” This is the very first comment that comes up when you go to last week’s column. There are at least 97 others. Most of them are probably just as sensational. I don’t need to know for sure.

But even readers who are presumably much more sophisticated than Bawypy could be misled by my use of the conventional greeting, ‘dear’. Take, for instance, Mr Damion Mitchell, news editor of The Gleaner/Power 106 News Centre. He really ought to know better. In an article published on Monday, March 5, Mr Mitchell rehashes my column and proceeds to make unfounded assumptions.

This is what the news editor wrote: “In a letter to his friend, university professor Carolyn Cooper, Kartel said … .” Now, Mr Palmer, you and I both know that we are not friends in any normal sense of the word. At best, we are acquaintances. And, even so, not to ‘dat’. The first time we met was last March when you came to speak at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Since then, I’ve not laid eyes on you.

Kartel in Jamaica Journal

It is true that we’ve emailed and spoken in the course of my academic work as an analyst of Jamaican popular culture. But these interactions cannot reasonably be regarded as signs of friendship. In fact, I’m sure you will recall that your very first email to me was rather unfriendly. After your appearance at the university, we did have more pleasant exchanges on two matters.

The first was about the business of publishing your lecture, ‘Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art’. You’ll be pleased to hear that it came out last week in the latest issue of Jamaica Journal. Vybz Kartel’s picture on the cover of the high-quality, undersubscribed journal is likely to attract many new readers. The Institute of Jamaica must be congratulated for understanding the broad appeal of dancehall culture. If the French newspaper, Le Monde, can capitalise on your notoriety, why not Jamaica Journal?

The second issue we discussed was your endowment of the Adidja Palmer Prize to be awarded each year to the student with the best grade in the Reggae Poetry course I teach at UWI. You readily agreed to fund the prize. Given your present circumstances, the matter has been suspended. The grave charges that have been levelled against you would taint the prize, and so, must be taken into account.

I do not know if you are innocent or guilty. I trust that you will receive a fair trial and the truth will be revealed. If you are guilty, you must suffer the full consequences of your actions. If you are innocent, you will be vindicated. Justice must prevail.

Yours sincerely,

Carolyn Cooper

(P.S. I know that like ‘dear’, the closing salutation, ‘yours sincerely’, may also be misinterpreted by careless readers like Bawypy and Mr Mitchell,The Gleaner’s news editor).

Conclusion of Adidja Palmer’s letter

“Ms Cooper, please publish this letter so that the Jamaican people can see my point of view on this serious matter as my life depends on the outcome of this case.

“In closing I would like to let the people know that i am an innocent man and i have faith in my lawyers and know that i will be acquitted. Thank you. Sincerely yours Adidja Palmer.

P.S. I have enclosed a poem i wrote. feel free to publish it as well. Thanks Ms C.”

(A poem) Guilty before trial?

by A. Palmer

The police have found me guilty and i

haven’t gone to trial yet,

but they spread propoganda on T.V. & internet

Dem a beat it in the people’s mind

that i’m guilty and deserve death,

but the public knows how the police

operate, so mi nah fret.

So many people in court for allegedly

taking 4, 5, 6 pickney life,

So how they don’t discuss that on

‘CVM at sunrise’?

Allegations of extrajudicial killings

by security forces have already been issue,

but i’ve never seen them on t.v. so

much, talking about that, did you?

Me never kill nobody yet

but they say my music breeds crime,

that’s why they’re on my case they

want me imprisoned long time.

I am an artiste so i know things

will make the news,

but don’t crusade this ungodly way to

distort peoples views.

Mi swear my innocence before all

mankind and God,

why would i risk going to jail Leaving

behind 7 children, after mi nuh mad.

I am not the first man

The romans soldiers have sacrificed,

like me, that man was not guilty

That man was Jesus Christ.

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A Letter From Adidja Palmer

Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer

‘Yu a Kartel mada?’ A dat one lickle yute ask me one Satday last month. Im dida walk an sell inna Tropical Plaza. ‘Weh yu seh?’ mi ask im. Im see seh mi lickle slow. So im ton i roun: ‘Kartel a yu son?’ Mi ask im, ‘Wa mek yu seh so?’ Im seh, ‘Mi see yu pan TV.'”

So I’ve now joined the band of aggrieved mothers who routinely appear on national news loudly protesting against the arrest of their sons who, supposedly, have been falsely accused of crime.

May Pen Cemetery

The youth must have seen the LIME TV interview at the Trench Town Bob Marley Tribute Concert in which I said I wanted to visit Kartel at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre. Quite an ironic name! There can’t be much of a view of the horizon from that vantage point. The May Pen Cemetery, perhaps; but that place of final rest cannot possibly be an appealing horizon for most prisoners.

It’s not easy to visit the Centre. You need a TRN card – the TRN number on your driver’s licence is not enough. You also need two passport-size photos, certified by a justice of the peace. You have to submit a formal application, which takes two weeks to be processed. And the prisoner has to agree to be visited. Last week, I got the temporary TRN card, so the distance to the horizon is decreasing.

The man and the role

On air, I did express doubts about Kartel’s guilt, based purely on my assessment of the DJ’s intelligence: Vybz Kartel couldn’t be foolish enough to think that Adidja Palmer could get away with murder! That is certainly not an indulgent mother’s stubborn affirmation of her son’s complete innocence. It’s a recognition of an essential distinction between the man and the role he plays as a DJ.

At the now-infamous lecture Kartel gave last year at the University of the West Indies, I asked him a penetrating question: Does Adidja Palmer ever disapprove of Vybz Kartel? His frank response was, “Yes.” I think Palmer knows that Kartel is an unstable character. Stardom really does make some intelligent entertainers lose their grip on reality.

Like it or not, Kartel is undoubtedly an international pop star. This January, one of France’s premier newspapers, Le Monde (The World), carried a story on the DJ in its Culture and Ideas section. According to the journalist, Arnaud Robert, it was “one of the most-read articles on Le Monde website the week it was published”. The story is illustrated with a box of Kartel’s signature cake soap and a photo of the DJ, naked from the waist up, displaying the much-tattooed canvas of his skin.

Guilty with explanation

Truth really is stranger than fiction. The same week the youth asked me if I was Kartel’s mother, I got a letter from my questionable son. Over the three decades I’ve been teaching literature at the University of the West Indies, I’ve received ‘whole heap’ of letters from Jamaicans imprisoned at home and abroad. Many of them send poems, asking for help in getting them published. Prison seems to bring out the creativity of criminals.

I once got a letter from a young man locked up at the St Catherine District prison for murder. He did not pretend to be innocent. He was guilty with explanation, a peculiarly Jamaican plea: “Miss, my action was not premeditated we had an on the spot arguement which developed into a fight knives were brought into play he got a stab and die.”

What is so intriguing about this man’s account is his poetic use of the passive voice. He did not stab the man. The man ‘got a stab’. The grammar of the sentence absolves the stabber of responsibility. The knives that were ‘brought into play’ apparently acted all by themselves. And the victim was so inconsiderate that, having got a stab, he took it upon himself to die!

Using media to slaughter

In his letter, Adidja Palmer (definitely not Vybz Kartel in this case) most certainly does not plead ‘guilty with explanation’. He declares that he is completely innocent. ‘So mi get it, so mi give it’:

“Dear Ms. Cooper,

Good day to you and i hope you are in the best of health and the highest of spirits, but I am not.

“Ms Cooper as you know i am in jail on numerous charges and i’d like to tell you that i am an innocent man who needs your help because i’m being painted as this evil ‘D.J. by day, don by night’ murderer who is society’s number one cause of crime and violence. The police is using the media to slaughter me and as such i don’t think i will get a fair trial. They are using the media to form public opinion of me that is so contradictory to the person that I really am. They (police) have tried my case in the public & found me guilty.

“Every single piece of alleged evidence, every new development in the case is thrown on t.v. as if this is a soap opera, but i can assure you that this is no movie to me. This is about my life and my freedom and i take them very seriously.

“My charges are merely allegations, but they are giving the public the impression that i am guilty and that is not fair to me or my family.

“I have been to court on numerous occasions and saw hundreds of accused men who are charged with heinous crimes like murdering children, killing police officers, burning & shooting whole families and i have never once saw police on t.v. discussing the development of those cases, much less every week, as in my case.”

To be continued. . .