Calypsonian, an Officer, and a Gentleman
By Dr. Emanuel Finn
How does one in Dominica today balance being a progressive calypsonian, police officer, independent thinker, and true patriot? It's not easy by any measure but that is just what a 23-year veteran of the Police Force named Abel Jno Baptiste, 'Checko', has done. In 2012 he burst on the national Calypso scene with popular songs that contain thought-provoking content with hot pulsating rhythms. His (Mighty) Chalkdust-like lyrics push the boundaries of free speech much to the chagrin of many in high places.
Checko's Calypso journey began in 2011 when he was the first runner-up in the Southeast Calypso Carnival competition in La Plaine with his song 'Buy' ('By') 2'. The song referred to the 'declared' winner of the La Plaine constituency in the 2009 general elections. The ruling party's candidate won by two votes after a controversial recount.
On election day about 80-125 diaspora Dominicans from the La Plaine constituency were air-lifted on expense-free excursions. They flooded the polling stations and voted for the ruling party. Today this practice has become a much larger troubling geopolitical issue and has come under intense scrutiny. Some contend that has a far-reaching national security implication for Dominica, the region, and the western world if that operation continues unabated. To this end, many people are left to wonder when Justice Sir Denis Byron will release his much-anticipated and long-overdue electoral reform report.
As a newcomer in 2012, Checko made it all the way to the competitive carnival finals with the song "Am …Pm' another song that became very controversial. The songs were masked brilliantly and neatly package into strong social and political commentary. That year he also won the Stardom Tent and the Southeast King with the song 'I write'. In 2014 he captured the Police Calypso competition with his hard-hitting song, 'Oh Henry'. In 2019 he registered a big hit which was composed by Pat Aaron; "Take out the Tief" (teeth).
He said that despite the issues which confronted him he always puts God first and is not daunted by the challenges. Checko continued by saying, "God has been my inspiration and I take it from there, and to those who have rallied around me I am thankful."
Despite it all, he continues to sing.
As Checko's next-door neighbour in the La Plaine Valley, I took the opportunity to seek wise counsel and converse with his late dad. Sgt. Gabriel (Gabe) Jno-Baptiste lamented on numerous occasions with his voice laced with hurt and anger how poorly he was treated by the Force in addition to being passed up for promotion many times. He spent 32 years as a corporal before he was promoted to Sergeant. Ironically his son is experiencing a similar fate of discriminatory actions by commanders and others in authority.
In 2019, officer Jno Baptiste was dismissed from the bike unit and his motorcycle and service firearm were taken from him. Interestedly, in 2018 he was awarded the officer of the year in the Traffic Department by the police welfare association. He was next in line for a promotion spot that was vacant in Traffic, but that opportunity was given to a much younger and lesser experienced officer. Instead, Mr. Jno Baptiste was transferred from Roseau to Calibishie, a village in the far northeast.
Was he victimized and punished for being with an outspoken group of officers who protested for salary increases in 2019? What other reasons for his abhorrent treatment other than using all measures possible to frustrate the officer? What isn't the other prolific police calypsonian who was promoted to Inspector a couple of years ago subjected to the same ill-treatment? Is this another prime example of the utmost abuse of power, and petty partisan politics?
And how does Mr. Jno Baptiste cope with all the stress and unfair treatment on the job and does it affect his ability to be the best cop he can be? His response was, "I do not meddle in partisan politics but as a Christian, family man, and patriot, I let my conscience be my guide and let God take care of the rest."
Former Police Commissioner Mathias Lestrade was instrumental in the recruitment of Abel to the force. The retired commissioner said, "Sgt. Gabe was one of my mentors before I left La Plaine. He encouraged me to join the Force in the late 60s. His son is an all-rounded officer who is a disciplined family man with deep Christian values."
The residents of the St. Joseph Police District where the office is now stationed should feel better that their streets are patrolled by a man who honors his oath to serve and protect. We await with bated breath for Constable Jno Baptiste's promotion and coronation as Carnival King. Lord knows he deserves at least one of the two.