Commentary: 14-year-old raped, killed and burnt – a troubling new normal in Jamaica

By D.R. Miller

Photo Credit: Latoya Riley, the mother of 14 year-old Yetanya Francis

How do you comfort the mother of young Yetanya Francis, who was raped, murdered and her lifeless body found on August 24, 2018, after simply being out on an errand for her mother?

Her gruesome headline story is not unique to Jamaica; especially untimely deaths of young girls where other parents still search for answers.

What is different today is that social media has taken these victims’ stories globally.

In response to these barbaric atrocities, vigilante justice, which often kills innocent people, does not help, nor does the prime minister’s hug, despite good intention for comfort, or other leaders’ feel-good speeches, which cannot reverse this criminal trend.

Additionally, elected leaders who are in denial are only positioning themselves for the revolving election door in which they once failed while in power, which has only contributed to this normalcy.

What these neighbourhoods need is value, hope and tangible results. Several scholars have noted that fighting crime requires a broad range of technology, leadership, the community and management skills.

Who will be next on these sexual predators’ and mentally sick individuals’ lists?

Students must now deal with the psychological trauma of losing their classmate, while parents are scared to send their daughters to school or a local store.

Sure, some will disagree and point to other places globally. But 13-year-old Aliesha Brown, who went missing and was later found dead on October 2, 2014, is another reminder, along with several heinous crimes since her death.

Being vigilant is now part of the tour guide package as the new normal after reported warnings.

MDR Photo

Jamaica’s ‘cool runnings’ vibes and local smiles have not washed out to the ocean despite the negative headlines. The local corner shops where you can repair a flat tire, to a restaurant pinned up against the mountain selling local authentic Jamaica dishes still welcome everyone.

Even the white sand and turquoise water, as the sun beams through trees, with a cool breeze hitting your face that can make you feel as if you are shedding your skin like a snake to take on a new identity and temporarily forgetting your troubles as if you were at a spa remain intact.

But, these natural occurrences and postcard moments can create fallacies because the danger remains in that snake’s venom despite its new beautiful skin. And psychologists have noted that what seems normal is sometimes not healthy.

How did Jamaica get to this point?

It is a struggle to separate the perception from reality.

Several murders cases are left unsolved I believe from the lack of technical skills and resources or a police force that is stretched too thin to cover these dense areas.

Headlines of murders, rapes, assaults, thefts and robberies cannot be solved by a pledge alone, and/or a few operations when criminals are tipped in advance, leave the area only to return to strike again.

An education system, which is critical to prepare the next generation of leaders and to rebuild the middle-class, has diminished.

Few argue that poverty, corruption, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, high unemployment and crime rates have created an emotional desensitization and lack of responsiveness after repeated exposure to violence from the constant news.

Furthermore, if, as reported, some who are sworn to serve and protect now find themselves with case numbers from their own criminal activities further erodes trust.

Concern and outrage often seem to be short-lived in a few news cycles.

Even those who are empathetic and would like much-needed change are now convinced that these crime symptoms do not need a doctor because, emotionally, they have become detached.

This is a far cry from Jamaica’s relax-no-problem vibe that often-greeted visitors and returning residents.

The Jamaica Observer reported that, in 2017 alone, over 1,600 people lost their lives. Other reports noted that, since early 2000, over 200 British, American and Canadian expats were murdered, and since the start of 2018 over 500 have lost their lives.

Many believe that violent gangs and the ongoing lottery scam in major cities as reported is still a problem, where expatriates are seen by criminals as soft targets.

What is troubling is what seems to be a disturbing pattern of acceptance of crime, dishonesty and a lack of a moral compass, while several leaders remain silent.

Sure, crime control models have been implemented to eradicate this criminal cancer, but, with these criminal trends, some believe that they have done little to deter easy access to high powered weapons and gang activities and other crimes.

Dispute are now being settled by whoever has the better weapon, and the normalcy out of fear puts good law enforcement officers at a disadvantage.

I began to wonder if religious institutions, often the beacon to inspire and calm residents in these troubled times, have now aligned themselves with politicians and criminals, and chosen sides for their own survival.

Jamaica has never lost its boisterous attitude, values, pride, vigour, and tenacity, where communities look forward to the weekend simply to get out to have a good time.

Sadly, many hangout places have become more isolated and indoors due to safety concerns, like the threat of a hurricane.

Yes! I get it; crime, poverty, inequality, and poor socio-economic issues are ubiquitous.

Even recently in The Bahamas, Carlis Blatch, an aide to the governor general, was gunned down while waiting on his son from school according to the Nassau Guardian.

Photo credit: Steve Walker, whose brother Delroy Walker was murdered in Jamaica in April, says returning British expats are seen as ‘having money’. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Delroy Walker’s death in May 2018 is another remainder of the danger few admit. He was stabbed and killed upon his return to Jamaica to enjoy his retirement from the UK.

He was a champion for the youth, giving back to the community, utilizing his skills and resources through his charitable organization.

This untimely death robbed the youth of a shot of success, those who yearn for a sunbeam that is getting cloudier on these shores.

When youth have no hope, or even lack the resources to chart a vision, crime become more attractive.

Although his killers may have been caught, the criminal enterprises silently devastating these once safe communities are a major threat to a normal life.

Delroy’s death further stymies many charitable barrels of goods slated for the island to help others now under reconsideration by eBay and Amazon, held in a basement or storage centre because of safety concerns.

When honest hard-working and successful people, those who want to help, are now seen as a threat, the region loses and remittances alone cannot solve these systemic issues.

One close friend talked about her container of goods sent home after years of hard work abroad and upon arrival half its contents went missing, with no accountability.

Public service is a noble position where honesty is key. It makes one wonder who is hiring these people, but that too has become normal.

Often it is fear, and connection to those involved, so communities refuses to come forward.

Maybe the pride Jamaica developed from the old colonial rule continues to use minimization, and deflection to balance the lack of accountability and even for survival; therefore, this behaviour has contributed to its normalcy.

Desensitization surrounding these crimes may be a way to disguise the pain.

Today, Jamaica’s main economic driver is tourism, but the youths I have met and on social media do not bet their future on visitors alone. They are tired of photo-ops and want tangible options, and educated leadership that has a vested interest in their future and knowledge of a changing world to lead.

They remain hopeful that the sun will rise again, but these communities must restore their pride, confidence and safety. Because only an individual alone can decide what is normal, or change and fix what is not.

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