Columns

Shantae Skyers' death a failure of community?

Al Miller

Sunday, April 21, 2019

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The feeling which accompanies untimely death increases whenever death's victim is young, or when death comes through horrendous means. The Shantae Skyers rape and murder in Sterling Castle, Red Hills, has plunged our national psyche into another almost unbearable place. Even though we have been here many times before, the pain and anger seem new and fresh.

Thankfully, we have not become calloused to the horror of brutal rape and murder. Regrettably, however, we are allowing such tragedies to become commonplace. This must be transformed and it is not Government's problem. It is ours!

We cannot, as a society, remain content to merely express shock, anger and outrage, while our leaders simply condemn these acts. Such responses, although necessary, have not produced change. Many of the perpetrators remain on the loose, some are repeat offenders moving from one community to the next.

This growing level of wickedness is telling us something about our society. It is telling us that we are sowing some seeds that are producing these fruits. It is telling us that there have to be serious breakdowns somewhere. Some restraining boundaries have been removed. It is telling us that there is no fear of being caught or of consequences. It is telling us that deliberate and strategic action is needed to discover and destroy the roots of the problem.

An objective conversation must be had to understand causes and apply solutions that work. We suspect that two areas that could be primary contributors are family and community. Both have been left to deteriorate and be influenced by all types of external forces.

There will never be enough space to list the names of children who, as a nation, we have allowed the tragedy of violent death to visit. Suffice it to say, on Sunday, April 24, 2016 another newspaper shouted the headline, 'Monument to remember children killed across the island running out of space'. The report stated:

“Less than eight years after it was established, the Secret Gardens Monument in downtown Kingston is running out of space to record the names of Jamaica's children killed under violent and tragic circumstances.”

I am told that for this year we already have nine more names to add to the Secret Garden Monument.

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a famous prayer for us to find solace during difficult times: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

I am beginning, however, to find more solace in American civil rights advocate Angela Davis's reformation of Niebuhr's prayer. She said: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

This is the mantra and attitude we need to embrace, as individuals and as a nation, before another young child is horribly raped and killed.

If you read some of the social media posts and blogs you would conclude that it's the lonely pathway that Shantae had to walk which caused her horrific demise. But we will always have lonely country pathways or desolate city alleyways.

Others say it's the parents who caused her death as they should have been more vigilant. Perhaps there is a point here worthy of deeper perusal. Here in Jamaica it is a given that an early-childhood age child, even more so a primary school-age child, will be allowed to walk to and from school alone. Many people will attest to that, experientially or evidentially.

Psychologist Professor Jodie Plumert, of Iowa University, in the findings of a 2018 study published in Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, recommended that children not be allowed to walk unchaperoned to and from school. Professor Plumert's rationale was that their perceptual decision-making and motor skills were not developed enough.

Admittedly, Plumert's study was done in a developed country and in busy vehicle-filled streets. However, I believe the study has merit and application to our island nation. For the revelation from the study reveals perception and motor skills deficiencies in pre-adolescent children.

Perhaps if we did our own study we would find that our children's ability to perceive danger and react accordingly to guarantee safety is not sufficient. Subsequently, their motor skills would, like children abroad, not be developed enough to ensure their “fight or flight” is sufficient to counter a threat facing them.

Professor Plumert stated: “Some people think younger children may be able to perform like adults… Our study shows that's not necessarily the case…”

It doesn't take a formal study to figure out that we must take extraordinary means to ensure the safety of our children no matter where they live. I am aware that our present common family structure of single mother or grandmother raising multiple children does not work well toward ensuring our children's safety. However, our pre-Independence parents and grandparents did a better job than us, despite lacking the resources that we now have. For, where the family failed, the village used to take up the slack. If we are to end the assault on our children we must return to the strong sense of family and community that many of our rural areas had.

Are we satisfied with what our current family structures are? The Statistical Institute of Jamaica, in its 2018 statistical findings on marriage and divorce, revealed a marriage rate of only six per cent and a divorce rate of 20 per cent! That's a whole lot of incomplete or broken family structures.

Let's not waste time arguing that it's possible to have healthy single-parent or divorced-parent families. It is possible, but generally improbable, as research and statistics show. Among the most common disadvantages to being a child from a single-parent family are reduced resources, less quality time, scholastic struggles, negative feelings and attitudes including anxiety and aggression, as well as relationship difficulties. Children then transition to young adulthood capable of doing horrendous things to others (think: violent males) or inappropriate things to self (think: dancehall-type females).

Our new-era prime minister and his Government, in shaping the new Jamaica, must give serious attention to building our nation on family and strong community development. This must be as much a priority as our roads and other infrastructural development currently happen to be.

I am convinced that if there were a strong spirit of community many of the atrocities we have had would not have occurred. A part of the solution has to be strengthening communities for their wholesome protection and prosperity. Communities that are caring, organised and cooperating will naturally facilitate safety and security.

One positive of our inner-city communities is this type of unity. This is the Jamaica that once was.

No society changes unless there is deliberate intent by political and non-political leadership to change it. So building strong communities has to be intentional. Church and State must partner in putting sufficient influencers as change agents and change agencies in our communities.

The power of negative community was seen in the vigilante justice meted out on possibly an innocent man in the wake of the Shantae tragedy. The Jamaica Observer's headline was 'Jungle Justice'. The Gleanerread 'Bloody revenge — Fears swirl as Sterling Castle erupts with mob killing of suspect'. Where was that community, where was that mob in saving the life of Shantae? If that community had been positively structured perhaps Shantae's rape and death would not have happened. What has been allowed to develop in the area in which the horrific crime took place is an unstructured, squatter-type settlement, with no real sense of positive community.

Let's use the power of community vigilance to secure our children's safety, instead of vigilantism to kill a human being who hasn't been given a chance to prove his innocence or guilt.

We need a greater sense of community... positive community. Neighbourhood watches and other community crime-fighting strategies must be revived. Communities need help to organise themselves into positive community units. Even more importantly, we must all commit to making strong, positive family structures.

Perhaps it's time Government put in place a Ministry of Family and Community. We inherently know that strong families create strong communities and strong communities build strong nations.

So, as we exit this Easter season, in which we remember the awful death and powerful resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, may we not forget little Shantae Skyers and the awful rape and death she experienced at such a young age. There is no hope of immediate resurrection for her as Christ experienced; however, I hope her death will cause a resurrection of concern and transformational action in all of us. For we must not accept this version of Jamaica that is becoming commonplace. We must transform it!

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.


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