Like a spilled perfume that dissipates in the exhausted city air, their anger and cry for revenge vaporize into the immediate demands of life: money to send children to school, buy clothes, keep a roof over their heads, and food. Not much has changed for the poor black people who are most Jamaicans, many of whom will be waving flags and taking pride in the 60-year Independence celebration.
For many under 30, violence is all they have known. Each year the numbers climb, and more measures are put into place, but like a yeasted bread, femicide, murder, and the slaughter of our children rise, daily, and after each outrageous crime we wag our tongues, descend to barbarianism, free ourselves of blame, and point the finger. But every crime that happens and we merely build more gated communities, increase the number of security guards, and install alarms makes us each complicit in the escalating insecurity of our island.
Crime and violence in the Caribbean must be contextualized. It was the violence of plunder, kidnapping, rape, and military and religious terror, that formed the Caribbean. The Caribbean as we know it today was a brutal space for the Taino people who were almost wiped out by the Spaniards, and for enslaved Africans whose free labor was maintained by floggings, amputations, and psychological degradation. The Caribbean, in reality, is less violent now than under the terror of European exploitation which our ancestors lived.
The recent femicide of Kemesha Wright and her four children has left me numb yet again. I send condolence and healing blessing to Gwendolyn Knight whose daughter, and four grandchildren, 15, Sharalee Smith, 12, Rafaella Smith, 5, and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr, were discovered inside their home with their throats slashed. As a mother, I cannot comprehend Knight’s grief; such a loss is unfathomable. I send healing blessings too to New Road Community in Chapelton, where this gruesome crime occurred. I cannot imagine the state of despair, terror, and fright of the children living there. I hope there has been and will be ongoing community healing and cleansing.
When the dons demand our 13-and 14-year-old daughters for their plaything and we kiss our teeth and band out bellies we are complicit. When the don hauls out our sons of 14 and 15 and puts guns into their hands and sends them to sell dope, we are all complicit. When university professors do research and can identify the number of gangs, their leaders, and their locations, but they continue to operate we are all complicit. When soldiers are sent into those troubled communities without training to build trust and sit all day and impregnate the young women of the community, we are all complicit. When mothers and the community turn a blind eye when the rapist pays them $300,000 for the daughter and is allowed to drive a taxi in the community and rape other daughters, we are all complicit. When elected leaders focus on removing the guns but say nothing about stopping whoever is bringing the guns into the country we are all complicit.
We have had 400-plus years to learn and internalize this violence, that we must now unlearn; we were taught that violence was the only way to resolve issues, and now we have to unlearn such erroneous indoctrination.
Twenty-three-year-old Rushane Barnett has been charged with murdering Kemesha Wright and her four children, and many believe he should be put to death. I don’t know if he did it. What I know is the person who committed such a crime must be deeply sick. What I know is that often before crimes occur in our neighborhoods we know the perpetrator and turn a blind eye. What I know is that many of us have become afraid and don’t want to get involved. What I know is without a compassionate, loving village we are all vulnerable. What I know is that if we do not decide to work together to make a difference, things will not change so we can enjoy the freedom of safety. What I know is that the death penalty is not a solution.
Allow me to remind us of a few of the horrendous crimes that have occurred in the last five years. In everyone one of these cases the community was outraged, but who among us pledged, never again in my community; never again will a child, or a mother or a son be so victimized. Never again. Enough is enough.
Three-year-old Nevalesia Campbell raped and dismembered in Orange Hill, Brown’s Town, St Ann in 2017; 13-year-old Shanoya Wray raped and murdered by her teacher in 2018. 23-year-old Kandice Jackson assaulted and murdered in Portmore in 2021. 15-year-old Kevin McKenzie on Jones Avenue in Spanish Town, St Catherine, Auust 2021. In all of the above instances, the community was incensed and came out in droves, then shortly thereafter returned to “normal.” Has there been justice for Nevalesia, Shanoya, Kadice, Kevin?
Are the respective communities keeping their memory alive and saying never again?
Let us come together and talk about the changes that need to take place, how to implement them, how to mobilize our communities, and demand cooperation from the police force not just after but before a crime. Let us be proactive and live by the motto, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
Let us unite as loving and just people. Learn to embrace one another and build each other up rather than tearing each other down. Let us acknowledge mental illness and get support to identify and treat them; let us practice general goodwill; let us teach our children in a soft, gentle manner and eliminate all types of violence from our homes. Let us learn to say I am sorry, I misjudged you, I disagree with your opinion, but I do not malice or plot vengeance against you. Let us reaffirm that we have the right to feel and live safely.
This is a mantra for Kemesha and her four children. We pledge to remember you and we pledge to work to build a more inclusive and safe society for all Jamaicans. We pledge to throw off the pain and memory of violence that was perpetrated against us and learn to love and value all ourselves, every sister, brother and child.
We pledge One Love, and so it is, Asé
This article was published in The Observer, July 15, 2022