If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honour us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
About the poem, which "exploded out of him" during the days of the lynchings and Harlem riots of 1919, Claude McKay wrote: "Our Negro newspapers were morbid, full of details of clashes between coloured and white, murderous shootings and hangings. Travelling from city to city and unable to gauge the attitude and temper of each one, we Negro railroad men were nervous. We were less light-hearted.
"We did not separate from one another gaily to spend ourselves in speakeasies and gambling joints. We stuck together, some of us armed, going from the railroad station to our quarters. We stayed in our quarters all through the dreary ominous nights, for we never knew what was going to happen."
Just last week, a delegation of Tivoli residents and others, some 80 people, gathered in Half-Way-Tree and marched to Jamaica House to deliver a petition, demanding accountability and justice for the last Tivoli incursion which saw some 75 (official estimate) -- 150 (the other suggested number of) people killed when armed forces raided their community in a failed search for area leader Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
I support organiser Lloyd D'Aguilar, the Tivoli Committee and the Campaign for Social and Economic Justice for stepping up to the plate and I hope that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will respond, within 30 days as requested, to the petition calling for an international inquiry into the raid.
But as I see it, a copy of the petition should also have been sent to the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) because both parties have blood on their hands where it concerns the massacre of residents of Tivoli Gardens.
Last year, Amnesty International called for the Portia Simpson Miller Government to appoint an independent commission of inquiry to probe human rights abuses, and had also urged the former JLP Administration to establish an inquiry.
The JLP said it was awaiting a report from Public Defender Earl Witter into human rights abuses by members of the security forces before making a decision on the matter. Nearly three years after the bloody incident, the public defender has still not delivered the report, blaming staff shortages as the reason, and he appears to be in no hurry to complete the report.
On a bullhorn, Hannah Harris-Barrington, a British-Jamaican lawyer representing Tivoli residents, shouted at Wednesday's rally: "People are dead, people are missing. We need action; we need international attention now because otherwise this is going to happen again."
Too late, Mrs Harris-Barrington, it has happened before.
I remember spending many an afternoon with the late Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins -- he on the radio, me at home preparing the nursery for the birth of my first child.
I recall his recounting of the 1997 raid on Tivoli Gardens and the moment he understood that the Jamaica Defence Force was shooting into the community from a helicopter (bullets from which would ultimately kill three women and a six-year-old boy who was playing on his bed).
I heard his voice crack when he asked the question: "What is this country coming to?" And I started to cry too because I had taken a decision to bring a child into a country whose Government valued little the life of its people and there was no turning back. Motty and I bonded at that very moment and he became my inspiration whenever I hesitated to bawl out over what I perceived were injustices done to my fellow Jamaicans.
And then in 2001, there was the politically motivated shooting and killing of 25 people and wounding of 50 other men, women and children in West Kingston by soldiers and police. It's hard to remove from one's mind the image of bodies left lying in the streets for those four days in July -- dead, rotting, being eaten by dogs. The West Kingston Massacre, as it has come to be known, was then the worst act of state terrorism in our country's history.
And you know what? No-one was held accountable then. The people of Jamaica didn't rise up and protest the killings. In fact, generally speaking, the public sanctioned the massacre as the unfortunate result of a security search for guns and ammunition -- though none were found. No good has come from it. Twenty-five men died in vain.
If we could allow such an atrocity to be committed by a government against its own people in 1997 and 2001 without protest, then is it any wonder that it happened again in 2010?
If we must die, indeed.