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News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean

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Vanessa Kirkland

Would we care if Trayvon Martin had died in Jamaica?

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

Jamaica has jumped enthusiastically onto the Trayvon Martin bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m following the story closely as well, and have had several discussions on radio about it. But some Jamaicans have been asking why we are so focused on Trayvon’s story, but you rarely see that level of interest in the many cases of killings in Jamaica – many of which also involve children. Here are a few ideas.

1. It’s much easier to do veranda commentary than it is to jump up from your computer and get involved. Protesting is a hot, sweaty activity that usually involves missing work and risking your face being on national TV or in the newspapers, associated with, gasp, a cause!

 

Witness the poorly supported civil society protest outside the Ministry of National Security to call for better policing. This was shortly after the killings of Immaculate High School student Vanessa Kirkland, which I wrote about here and 13-year old Niketa Cameron, both allegedly by police.Vanessa’s death, in particular, provoked outrage. Should that outrage have translated into support for that protest? Why would Jamaicans who were expressing longing to join a march for Trayvon, not have supported a local protest?

Most local protests, however, are organized by groups like Jamaicans for Justice, which are viewed, at best, with scepticism by many Jamaicans, and at worst, with downright hostility, as I said here. In fact, JFJ has recently written to the papers, trying to change the perception of the group. Is that attitude to the human rights groups a factor? I believe it probably is.

2. The US media cover such stories in a way that the Jamaican newsrooms don’t (can’t?) Blow by blow coverage, digging into everybody’s backgrounds, camping out outside offices and homes, and hours of hours and HOURS of airtime devoted to the story. They bring victims to life. Trayvon sounds like the kid next door, and you are drawn into the story in a way that doesn’t seem to happen often here. Here’s an example. Quick –  what do you know about Niketa Cameron? Probably nothing. I bet her name didn’t even ring a bell.

3. The racial element to this story has proved irresistible. Many, or most of us, have family in the US.

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

Our fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles, cousins and friends are black men living in the States. They could have been Trayvon Martin. That’s certainly what it feels like.

Having said all this, a colleague said to me that she does not believe the cases are comparable. INDECOM, the Independent Commission of Investigations,  investigates police killings in Jamaica and immediately started to probe the killings of Vanessa and Niketa. In other words, the responsible government agency sprang into action, and made this known publicly. On the other hand, she says, in Florida, the authorities failed to act.

She points to the outrage over the case of the Kingston College student allegedly killed by the X-6 driver, and the way the authorities here in Jamaica were forced to react to that public outrage. She argues that if a teenager walking in Cherry Gardens had been killed by a resident on neighbourhood watch patrol, there would have been similar outrage here.

What do you think? Is she right?

Requiem for a Jamaican teenager

I don’t know Vanessa Kirkland. I don’t know her family. And I certainly don’t know exactly happened on Tuesday night. What I do know is that a 16-year-old girl is dead, a high school student who was preparing to sit exams, and whose future stretched out ahead of her, full of potential and possibility.

There’s an empty space in her house this morning, her bed not slept in, her school uniforms not worn, her notes for exams never to be used. Reports are that Vanessa had recently taken graduation photographs. When they arrive, there’ll be no girlish giggling over them. Instead, there’s a good chance those photographs will only be greeted with tears.

Her mother has lost a daughter, and her siblings, a sister, in a manner that must be hard to accept.  The future her mother dreamed of for her no longer exists. We grieve with her, and we know it could be us. Today fi you, tomorrow fi me.

And although we don’t know precisely what happened, the circumstances under which Vanessa died and the disjointed “PRELIMINARY REPORT” are sufficiently cloudy and questionable to raise inevitable feelings of mistrust and anger. This is where Independent Commissioner of Investigations (INDECOM) Commissioner Terrence Williams’ complaint about the inability to get ballistics tests done speedily must raise renewed concern.

Because the least we can do now for Vanessa is to insist on a speedy and effective investigation. Let her mother, and the country, know exactly what happened. She deserves that much.

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