In July 1967, the august and generally conservative London Times newspaper published an editorial condemning the sentence of three years imprisonment imposed on Mick Jagger for unlawful possession of four amphetamine tablets. The editorial was famously headlined: "Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?"
Jagger never went to prison as a result of that sentence because his appeal against it was successful, but the Times editorial was nevertheless interesting because it dealt with one aspect of the problem of what has now become known as celebrity justice.
The Times was concerned that Jagger had been treated harshly because he was an unconventional character. It considered public reaction and said this: "There are many people who take a primitive view of the matter, what one might call a pre-legal view of the matter. They consider that Mr Jagger has got what was coming to him. They resent the anarchic quality of the Rolling Stones' performances, dislike their songs, dislike their influence on teenagers and broadly suspect them of decadence, a word used by Miss Monica Furlong in the Daily Mail."
It continued: "As a sociological concern this may be reasonable enough, and at an emotional level it is very understandable, but it has nothing at all to do with the case. One has to ask a different question: has Mr Jagger received the same treatment as he would have received if he had not been a famous figure, with all the criticism and resentment his celebrity has aroused?"
Forty-five years later, we now have before our court of public opinion the case of Machel Montano. He is a high-profile entertainer with a huge following, particularly among young persons. He is now a convict. Judicial determination of the assault charges against him took five years. His sentence was a fine and an order to pay compensation to his victims.
The fines and compensation total $27,000, an insignificant fraction of what he earned as an entertainer even in the short time between conviction and sentence, let alone the five years the case dragged on.
Montano's sentence is of course a very light one and therefore the opposite of that imposed on Mick Jagger, who did not hurt a third party, but a similar question arises, namely did he receive a light sentence because he is a famous?
I do not believe that Montano should have made a jail for a first offence of assault and battery. However, it seems that the answer is yes to the question whether his fame and following got him an ease up.
The first troubling matter is the five-year history of the case in the course of which adjournments were granted and dates of hearing fixed, sometimes taking into account the entertainer's professional commitments abroad. Such facilitations were plainly wrong and can hardly be interpreted other than a signof preferential treatment because of who Montano was.
That sign is intensified when the magistrate says that she considered Montano's "contribution to Trinidad and Tobago". That is sadly a reflection of our post-colonial insecurity about our standing in the world and desperation for foreign validation, a condition that does not exist in Mick Jagger's Britain.
Assuming, however, that Montano's achievements, even without known charitable works, were to his credit, what about his lack of remorse before the court and the cocky pronouncements he made about his future even while sentence was pending. Was he giving the equivalent of a finger sign to the court?
Put shortly, what Montano's sentence lacks is a default clause such as a suspended sentence of imprisonment, which would kick in automatically in the event that a cocky and unremorseful defendant feels he can assault others with impunity. It also lacks any reference to anger management.
What about justice for the residents of Sea Lots? What will happen to the driver who wiped out three persons, including two children, standing on the pavement and who already has the benefit of the cavalier ministerial statement that an accident is an accident, the apology for which was qualified? That pronouncement equals the one that called the shooting death of a young woman outside MovieTowne "collateral damage". UNC time, PNM time, same insensitive lack of insight.
For many years I have identified lack of objective justice as a principal cause of our troubles in our Republic. I have pointed to the lack of justice for Akiel Chambers as symbolising it all. The country is burning for justice.
Let me close by reference to another establishment source, General Colin Powell. In an interview in November 2011 on CNN, referring to the anger of America at the economy, which seems to favour a select few, illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, Powell cautioned against merely screaming at the protesters. He said: "We need our political system to start reflecting this anger back in to how do we fix it?"
When will we get it?