Jeanine (not her real name for reasons you will shortly understand) is a quiet 14 year old girl who lives with her family of 18 off a rutted dirt road near the international airport in Port au Prince. Twice a week she walked the mile or so to eat a meal at St. Claire’s church.
Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste is the pastor of St. Claire’s. He has been in jail for more than a week after his church was surrounded by heavily armed masked men while feeding 600 children at his parish His arrest was violent. The police ripped metal bars out of their concrete surroundings and smashed the windows of the church house to enter. After beating and handcuffing Fr. Jean-Juste, they dragged him out though the smashed window, threw him into a car and raced off to jail.
After the arrest, the people of the parish publicly complained and said the masked police had even shot children. Haitian authorities flatly denied any children were shot and no police inquiry into the arrest has been made.
Government-friendly media and US Embassy personnel also scoffed at the reports of children being shot by police. They said the stories of the children were products of the Haiti rumor mill and propaganda from the opponents of Haiti’s unelected government.
Now the wounded children have appeared in public. They have real bandages and real medical reports.
And then there is the bullet.
When I visit Jeanine, she sits on a wooden bench leaning far to her left. Her mother tenderly turns her around and modestly lifts her daughter’s dark blue skirt to reveal a 4 inch jagged blue-stitched suture at the bottom of her right buttock.
Jeanine’s older brother holds out a blood-stained gauze packet. Unfolding it, I find the brassy bullet the doctors removed from Jeanine’s backside last week.
Jeanine was shot in the backside while running away from the Haitian police during the arrest of Fr. Jean-Juste after the feeding of the children at St. Claire’s.
I held the bullet removed from Jeanine in my palm. It is a little less than an inch long, brass colored, and very hard. Jeanine is still in pain. Her family cannot afford to bring her back to the doctor.
Two other children, two young boys, were also shot by the police during the arrest of Fr. Jean-Juste One was shot in the head, one in the shoulder. I met them as well. They were also seen by medical authorities.
Fr. Jean-Juste sits in the national penitentiary along with numerous other political prisoners. He is officially charged with disturbing the peace, a crime punishable by a fine of 40 cents. Amnesty International condemned his arrest and also warns that his courageous Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph may be in danger because of his human rights work.
Meanwhile, the unelected authorities in Haiti are supported by the US government. Both condemn the opposition, saying they are only interested in violence.
Why would masked Haitian police shoot a little girl in the backside? Why would the police shoot the other two boys? Why deny they were shot? Why beat and indefinitely imprison a priest? Why threaten his lawyer?
Makes you ask the question, which side in Haiti is really interested in ruling by violence? Don’t bother to ask Jeanine and the other children, they know the answer.
Mario Joseph and Reynolds Georges are the Haitian lawyers representing Fr. Jean-Juste. They can be reached at www.ijdh.org.
BILL QUIGLEY is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. He writes from Port au Prince where he is one of the lawyers representing Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.