KINGSTON –– Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, obviously stung by fierce public criticism of her tweeted objection to the US Embassy in Kingston flying the rainbow flag after Sunday’s massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Tuesday sought to reverse her position by claiming that her tweet had been “misconstrued”.
Malahoo Forte published her opposition after the US Embassy, on Monday, tweeted that the American flag, as well as the rainbow flag, which represents the gay community, were being flown at half-mast at its Kingston mission “in solidarity” with the families of the victims of the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 49 people and left 53 injured.
“I strongly condemn #OrlandoNightClubShooting but find it disrespectful of Jamaica’s laws to have #RainbowFlag flown here. #MyPersonalView,” Malahoo Forte posted.
The attorney general’s post dominated social media discourse for much of Tuesday and drew the ire of several users, with many calling for her resignation.
The embassy, in a subsequent tweet, asked Malahoo Forte to explain her legal reasoning. She did not respond.
However, when the Jamaica Observer contacted the attorney general she insisted that her post had been misinterpreted.
“The second part of my tweet has been misconstrued. The horrible act of terror which resulted in so many deaths can never be condoned. I condemn it unreservedly and repeat my expression of deep sorrow and sympathy for the victims and their families,” she said, adding that “the incident provides another opportunity for deep reflection and introspection”.
“Among the multiple issues are gun control, radicalisation, treatment of differences –– be they religious, sexual orientation or otherwise. These are tough issues to handle.
“Here in Jamaica we have so much work ahead of us to reorder our society. We need everyone on board. Personally, I respect and celebrate our differences as people and see them as reflective of our humanity. Professionally, I’m sworn to uphold and defend the constitution and laws of Jamaica. In both spheres I remain a sincere advocate for fair and proper treatment of everyone. And I will never condone the use of violence to deal with our differences,” she said.
Tuesday, her peers described her comment as “insensitive” and “unwise”.
“There are no legal implications, but there are diplomatic implications, and I thought that in all the circumstances, whatever one may think in terms of the gay community, the fact is that it was insensitive to speak the way she did,” Queen’s Counsel and People’s National Party Senator K.D. Knight told the Observer.
“The US Government will be surprised that the attorney general of Jamaica does not know that the land on which the embassy is built or located is regarded as a part of US soil. They are free to do as they wish there,” Knight added.
He also suggested that the attorney general “express some regret” at having made the statement. “I don’t kill people for these things. She’s new; she clearly has some strong views and so she has misspoke, but [sometimes] it goes that way,” he added.
Opposition spokesman on justice Mark Golding concluded that the comment represented “poor judgement” on the part of the country’s most senior attorney and advisor to the Government.
“I think it was most unwise for the attorney general to be commenting in a flippant way via social media on a matter as grave and sad as this involving another country and a massacre that has taken place there,” Golding said.
Meanwhile, political commentator Christopher Burns said the attorney general must be “circumspect” in how she expresses herself.
“The attorney general is well within her rights to object to any symbol or instrument, including the Holy Bible, she finds offensive to her conscience. Such is the quality of the freedoms we enjoy in Jamaica and so it should remain.
“However, as a former resident magistrate and as the current attorney general, Malahoo Forte must be circumspect in how she uses phrases such as ‘disrespectful of Jamaican laws . . .’
“As an officer of the court, Marlene would no doubt forgive us for expecting her to exercise great care and to provide greater specificity about the ‘Jamaican laws’ that the US Embassy’s action flagrantly disregards,” he told the Observer.
Burns suggested that Malahoo Forte’s comments represented “nothing more than unnecessary sanctimoniousness, borne perhaps out of her seeming latent intolerance for those the rainbow flag represents”.
Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness described the massacre as “a terrible attack on humanity”.
“The terrorist bullet does not discriminate. It does not know gender, class, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. No one can take comfort to say that would never happen to us. It could happen anywhere, to anyone, and therefore we must take the security of humanity as our own duty,” Holness said in an address to a Security and Ethics Conference hosted by the ministries of national security and education youth and information at Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston.
He expressed deep and sincere condolence on behalf of all Jamaicans to the Government and people of the United States, especially to the families who have suffered and lost loved ones.
“The Jamaican Government and people of Jamaica will do everything in our powers to ensure that we play our part in the security of the world,” he added.