My name is Shandean. A late 1980’s millennial born and raised in Jamaica. Tonight (or this morning rather), at 2:49am as I feed my 6-week old infant, I come across the article that informs of 5-month-old Paris Gray succumbing to being shot in her abdomen. She was killed while gunmen attacked and murdered her mother who had her in her arms. Five. Months. Old. They spared no thought for her, of her innocence.
All at once, even though the temperature is very cool at 26°C, my body grew hot from ear to ear. Tears burned my eyes and I felt and continue to feel crippled with fear. Fear for my life. Fear for my child in my arms that has done nothing to anyone but may be murdered callously without thought as though she hasn’t the simple, basic right to her life. Whomever these criminals are, wherever they are, I have the nauseating feeling they are quite proud of themselves. They will tick mother and child off as little more than a body count.
It’s not just about baby Paris. It’s about 2 year old Demario Whyte shot execution style in Downtown, Kingston. It’s about 15 year old Nicholas Francis stabbed and thrown from a bus while being robbed. The 5-year-old shot, who managed to live but will likely be scarred for life and will need every bit of the resilience children possess. It is about my own child laying on my chest.
Last February, I voted for the first time. Sick and ready to drop, I was ready to crawl into my home community because I needed my voice to be heard as a young person living in this country. Our political system is atrocious, but until it’s amended it’s all we have and as such, I made the conscious decision to vote the way I did, with the hope that you will pay special attention to our needs.
I am addressing this open letter to you now solely on the premise that for the past few months, I have felt you are a leader who is making yourself accessible to the Jamaican people as you render your services as our Prime Minister. A leader who will feel our pain. Who will care for a future for your young boys in Jamaica should they choose it. A chance to be proud of their homeland.
I stopped watching the local newscast years ago. I stopped because it is most emotionally taxing and I feared the empty, hollow, bleakness and helplessness that usually followed. The tears. I just cannot do it. I prefer to read the news and lately, little more solace can be claimed from that route as well.
I do not expect miracles. I do not expect you or your team to pull magic tricks out of a hat or to suddenly discover the magic formula that will fix this issue we have faced for too long. What I ask, is that we address this issue with as much urgency as we did the approach of Hurricane Matthew. We cannot allow crime, this vile, to continue as it has without any repercussions for perpetrators who are caught. We cannot simply continue with the 9 days of cabbage water talk until the next sensational headline hits. We cannot continue to allow the Jamaican justice system to be a safe haven for criminals.
One day, I heard a man threaten the life of another and while he did so made a comment I have never forgotten nor has it ever faded in my mind, so profound was the effect. He said that he was not afraid to go back to prison because he was happier there. That he was guaranteed his meals every day and didn’t have to worry about where it came from. He said he would likely be let out again anyway. I have carried this with me for about 12 years as I heard when I was only about 15. I realized then and now, that he cannot be the only criminal to think this way.
We must do something. We must save our innocent, hardworking majority. We must protect our women and babies who are being cruelly targeted and picked off by scoundrels who think that killing innocent babies make them strong, make them men. We cannot allow them to murder and bury our spirit as a people while we watch. We must save our future.
I urge you and your team to revisit the issue of capital punishment. Especially those of the nature we have been seeing towards our children. I urge you to consider that while the system will never be perfect, we must get to a place where the needs and safety of the majority are prioritized. I urge you to help steer us to a place where we, the people are held accountable as well. The mothers and girlfriends create and support these thugs who are raging war on us. Help us to curb the acceptance of lawlessness and authoritative defiance. I urge you to address our justice system with the vigour we long for.
I urge you to help us. Help me. Help me to not feel like a victim. Help me to not feel as though I cannot work without the fear that someone will take my life because they feel entitled to what I work for. Help me not feel my chest tighten every time my father and my husband head off without me. Help me not to feel fear for my younger sisters. Help me to not feel as though I am simply waiting my turn to be picked off. Help me protect my child. Help all the baby Paris’ and Nicholas’. Help our youths.