Columns

Why Imani's murder got so much play in British media

Diane Abbott

Sunday, January 20, 2013    

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BRITISH newspapers, at the beginning of last week, were dominated by the story of the death of eight-year-old Imani Green in Trelawny.

There were over 1,000 homicides in Jamaica last year. So Jamaicans might be forgiven for wondering why this particular killing was front-page news in Britain. There is more than one reason. It was partly because the victim was a child. The incident also got more publicity because it involved a girl.

This type of shooting, even in Britain itself, is often ignored by the media. But, if it is a girl, the media will write about it. The assumption seems to be that a female victim of gun crime is more likely to be an innocent victim. Interestingly, the killing was also front-page news because the British media were unhesitating in identifying the little girl as British.

It may simply be factual to describe a little girl born and bred in the UK as British. But once upon a time the British media would not have so easily described a little girl of colour as British. So that represents progress of a kind.

It helped in a practical, journalistic sense that the little girl had British relatives, school teachers and even a local MP who could be interviewed. And the newspapers were keen to add personal details such as the fact that the little girl suffered from sickle cell anaemia and apparently had a hole in her heart.

Sadly, the other reason why the shooting attracted such media attention here in Britain is that it feeds into a media narrative of Jamaica as "one of the most dangerous places on earth". It provided an opportunity to air once again the depressing figures about homicide in Jamaica.

In 2010, there were apparently 52.2 murders per 100,000 residents compared to a mere 4.2 murders in the United States. The fact is, no matter how much money is poured into improving Jamaica's image by Government and the Jamaica Tourist Board alike, it takes only one incident like this to reinforce a negative image of Jamaica for tourists and returning residents.

Reports of violence are one of the biggest issues deterring would-be returning residents and possible investors. And in relation to tourism, killings like that of little Imani turn off tourists from visiting at all. And, if they do visit, they tend to stay safely in their all-inclusive hotels rather than enjoying the countryside.

Effective law enforcement is obviously the key to bringing down the level of homicide. But the prevalence of violent crime in Jamaica also points to an underlying economic malaise and the collapse of agricultural production which once provided jobs for semi-skilled male workers.

Gun crime is an issue all over the world. In America, President Obama is leading a debate on improved gun control after the massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut. But, as long as the shooting of children in Jamaica makes front-page news in Britain, Jamaica will pay a high economic price for the failure to bring violent crime under control.

Whilst every Jamaican parent will grieve with the parents of little Imani, we all have to reflect what can be done about endemic violent crime everywhere in the world, including Jamaica.

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