PORT OF SPAIN — Even in announcing his resignation, City Mayor Raymond Tim Kee appeared to be vacillating between contrition and indifference in the midst of controversial statements following the death of Asami Nagakiya. He finally resigned from office on Tuesday.
Nagakiya, a young Japanese woman, was murdered on Carnival Tuesday last week, and the mayor drew analogues between her death, women’s skimpy costumes, and their vulgar behaviour. And even before her autopsy results were released, the Mayor invited the public to “let their imagination flow” as to what Nagakiya might have done to occasion her death.
A firestorm erupted both on and offline, among feminist groups and the public at large. Tim Kee semi-defended his position in a lopsided apology, and Prime Minister Keith Rowley — his political leader — dismissed the comments as being “tongue in cheek.” But that was before 10,000 people petitioned for the Mayor’s resignation, Japanese media became clued in, and protesters picketed both City Hall and the Trinidad & Tobago High Commission in London on Friday.
By Saturday afternoon, Tim Kee issued a media release stating his intent to tender his resignation at a Council meeting on Monday. The statement was both different in tone and tenor from other missives on this score that were attributed to him in the days prior.
“I have noted the continued outrage and hurt over statements attributed to me. I deeply regret the consequences of these statements, and I apologize unreservedly to those who have been affected.
I consider the reaction has been sufficient to cause damage to the Office of the Mayor of Port of Spain, which any holder of this office should be concerned to protect at all costs.” – Raymond Tim Kee
Prime Minister Rowley too has had a sudden change in position on the matter, and he now considers Tim Kee’s original comments to be “totally unacceptable.” At a news conference on Sunday, Rowley said that he came to his new conclusion after “careful review” of the Mayor’s comments. The Prime Minister, the father of two daughters, further said that he would never support victim-blaming, and thanked Tim Kee for responding to public opinion. Said Rowley, “I now consider the matter to be properly dealt with.”
We were fine to run with a story announcing Tim Kee’s resignation, until the Mayor continued to be ambiguous even in his purported intent to resign. A counter-petition was launched for the Council to refuse Tim Kee’s resignation, and Tim Kee, via a Facebook post from his wife, appeared to be rethinking his decision to demit office:
“When I became Mayor of Port of Spain, it is because I had a vision to take the city forward, to continue and improve on the work of the persons before me. I still have more work to do this year and I am not willing to give up. What I am not open to is crucifixion without mutual respect and understanding and hope to move forward.”– Statement attributed to Raymond Tim Kee
Tim Kee’s stepdaughter even convened and publicized a video interview shot on the family’s couch, where the Mayor further explained his statements:
“People use their imagination. That’s what I said. Because people in Trinidad will want to say all kinda thing. Perhaps I didn’t have to say that, but I said it.”– Raymond Tim Kee
By close of business on Monday, Tim Kee remained in office, fueling a firestorm of criticism from both his People’s National Party government, the Opposition United National Congress, and feminist groups in between. But even with the strong opposition to Tim Kee’s comments, we cannot ignore the constituency that stands in staunch defense of him.
Since Monday morning, pro-Tim Kee supporters thronged City Hall chanting and cheering in support of the Mayor, encouraging him not to resign from his post. The debate became quickly divisive along political, moral and gendered lines: by his own words, Tim Kee compared public opinion against him to a crucifixion, for what he viewed as advocating decency.
As political commentator Sunity Maharaj foretold in her weekend Op-Ed: “It would be surprising if [Tim Kee] wasn’t still genuinely mystified about why he has had to go.” But there are two important reasons why he has to. The demonstrated loss of confidence in him is now too great to ignore, as is the irony that Asami Nagakiya’s murder has largely been overshadowed by the spectacle that Tim Kee has created.
Yet still, there is no major victory in Tim Kee’s resignation, despite it prematurely being heralded as such by former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and others.
Persad-Bissesar would herself recall refusing to take action against one of her own MPs for mocking victims of rape, and the children born to them, because misogyny is non-partisan. The City Hall protestors too would be naive not to take note of the harassment they received from Tim Kee’s supporters, because those supporters too are mystified about the depth of the problem.
Maharaj argued last weekend that there was a pervasive culture of violence embedded in our societies. We argue that Raymond Tim Kee and his supporters are products of this culture, and the culture is one that renders difficult any introspection into why it is problematic.
In the wake of this controversy, real victory will only be realized if the momentum galvanized last week around women’s rights can be sustained to the point where it becomes uncomfortable for governments not to respond with remedial and inclusive public policy, and public education. Raymond Tim Kee’s resignation, if it comes, will only be the start.
Article updated throughout to reflect Raymond Tim Kee’s eventual resignation on February 16.