Young lives matter: Yetanya, Trayvon
Remember Trayvon Martin? The 17-year-old black boy who was shot dead on February 26, 2012 in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, 28, a white, self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain, who claimed he shot Martin in self-defence?
At the time, the Sanford police did not arrest Zimmerman. Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles and bottle of tea. The killing of Martin resonated with many black families right across the United States. There were howls of “Murder!”
Perhaps it was because he was an innocent-looking boy. Or perhaps it was because of his age — just a boy in the prime of his teenage years. Or it could be because of the injustice that was done by a white man who saw himself as the community cop and stalked, hunted, and murdered someone's son, nephew, grandson, neighbour.
Speaking of Zimmerman's exoneration Melina Abdullah recounted, “In the park we cried, shouted, and held one another. Soon we began to march. Determined to disrupt white spaces, we marched...We dodged police in riot gear, armed with bean-bag guns, and faced down brutal police force. For hours we marched — until 4:00 am — until our legs shook and our voices went out; until our collective prayers engulfed the city and we were sure they were heard. And we returned the next day... and the next.
Less than two weeks ago 14-year-old Yetanya Francis was murdered; her burnt remains were found hours after she went missing, at 85 West Road in Trench Town. She was a student of Kingston Technical High School. Police theorised that she was raped and dumped were she was found. Another promising one 'jus gone jus suh'. It pains me deeply.
One of my colleagues came up to me, “Henry, you have to write about this!”
But the real question we're led to was: It pains Jamaica or not?
After such gruesome crimes there is the usual talk for nine days and the march (sometimes), then it's business as usual. Where are the Trayvon Martin kinds of social justice activism in this country?
In our fight for justice we must go beyond the speeches, marches, prayers, and gospel songs and get our hands and feet wet, and sitting at the table leaning in as we demand laws be changed, resources provided, funding allocated, and policies adjusted to protect the well-being of young lives in this country. How many more girls need to be raped, burned and dumped; or how many more boys need to be gunned down before the community, Church, civil society demand a seat at the table with policymakers and budget makers?
Some politicians are only interested in public posturing and pretence; it is time they do something radical and meaningful. We must move beyond the chat. We chat too much in this country; we need action! I have become tired of the public chatter. I agree that public discourse is an instrument for assessing society's value system; however, the methodological deficiencies of a public discourse-based approach in Jamaica is that it is incapable of dealing with the widespread human tendency: pretence and hypocrisy. Grandstanding and choreographed image projection will get us nowhere. Don't tell us from a political platform that, “We need to get these crazy criminal out of town!” Tell us that there has been mass repentance in the House of Representatives, that all politicians have decided to sever all economic and political ties with known criminal elements, and anyone guilty of association must never hold political office.
One member of the 'Justice for Trayvon Martin Los Angeles' group spoke with 30 friends under the moon in a courtyard, and she urged them not to let it be another episode in which they march, voice their discontent, and go home with no sustainable movement or tangible goals met. Instead, she said, “We were tasked to channel our rage and turn it into something meaningful and transformative with longevity. We must brainstorm on how to turn our collective rage into a movement, not just for a moment.”
US Senator Royce West, speaking to hundreds of mourners demanding justice for Martin, said that repercussions from the fatal shooting of the unarmed Florida teenager would be felt in Austin the following year. West told the demonstrators, some of them in tears, “A couple of things: I'm going to ask the lieutenant governor of the state of Texas to have the Criminal Justice Committee of the Senate to study the castle doctrine in light of the Trayvon Martin assassination immediately.” Do you notice when?
He continued: “We've come together today, but what will we do tomorrow?” This is what I call taking action, not grandstanding, when a family and a nation cries out for justice. There is no time to fuss about green motorcycles. What nonsense?! Too often our approach to fighting for justice in this country is tribalistic, political and selfish; we kick people in the gut while they lay on the ground in the name of fighting for justice. The motive is to score cheap political points and self-promotion. We must teach this generation of young people how to fight for justice without descending into the abyss of indignity and self-righteousness. Do we even care about the promising Yetanyas of this nation?
“We need new lenses to see the world that we live in. Most of the times we complain, but nothing changes when we just complain. There is an alternative to complaining. Some of our forefathers did more than complain. They analysed their world then and came up with ideas of how it can be changed; some built a movement and demanded the change. Sitting around and saying we live in a troubled world will not change anything. Somebody has got to stand up and say, “Yetanya must not die in vain!” Then they must go on to do something about it!
When we begin to allow our collective efforts to shift national and global powers and individual lives, then we can say that we have done something for this generation. Communities like Arnett Gardens and the many others around the country must free themselves from mental imprisonment that trains them to believe that what is always has to be. It doesn't always have to be. We need to begin to revolutionise. A new revolution requires the re-imagining of the people, individual self, house by house, lane by lane, corner by corner, community by community, parish by parish, until we collectively envision a country that is free and safe for you and your children and your children's children.
Justice for Yetanya Francis Arnett Gardens (#J4YFAG)
Henry J Lewis is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.