Chil­dren’s lives mat­ter!

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - An­nie Paul An­nie Paul is a writer and critic based at the Univer­sity of the West Indies and au­thor of the blog, Ac­tive Voice (an­niepaul.net). Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com or tweet @an­niepaul.

AS NO one else would do it on their be­half, chil­dren in Kingston took to the streets early Mon­day morn­ing, Oc­to­ber 31, protest­ing that chil­dren’s lives mat­ter, too. Last Wed­nes­day, one of them, Ni­cholas Fran­cis, was killed and thrown from a pub­lic bus by an adult who wanted the be­spec­ta­cled 14-year-old’s phone. When chil­dren’s lives can be in­ter­rupted by hor­ror sto­ries like this, who needs Halloween?

Ac­counts vary about what ex­actly hap­pened af­ter the bus picked up the school­boy out­side Ja­maica Col­lege (JC), where he was a stu­dent. Soon af­ter en­ter­ing the ve­hi­cle, Ni­cholas was ac­costed by a thief who de­manded his phone and other mi­nor ‘valu­ables’. An­gry be­cause the boy would not give up his phone, the thug roughed him up and took his school­bag, vi­ciously stab­bing him in the chest when Fran­cis tried to re­claim it.

No one knows why none of the adults on the bus, in par­tic­u­lar the con­duc­tor and bus driver, did noth­ing, but that is what they did – NOTH­ING. So poor Ni­cholas Fran­cis was bru­talised, robbed and stabbed to death, then thrown from the bus not very far from his school, in front of adults ap­par­ently too afraid to in­ter­vene.

TIP­PING POINT

The only re­as­sur­ing thing about this dread­ful se­quence of events is the re­ac­tion it has en­gen­dered. The Ja­maica Col­lege PTA and the Na­tional Par­en­tTeacher As­so­ci­a­tion of Ja­maica in­vited all con­cerned parents to join them last Mon­day morn­ing to reg­is­ter a protest against the sense­less mur­der of Ni­cholas Fran­cis. It wasn’t that other chil­dren hadn’t been bru­talised or killed be­fore his mur­der or since. In the three days that fol­lowed the JC mur­der, four other chil­dren were robbed, in other parts of the city, and one stabbed. It’s just that the brazen na­ture of Fran­cis’ killing and the im­po­tence of adults to stop it was the tip­ping point for a coun­try sat­u­rated with vi­o­lence, abuse and cor­rup­tion.

The chil­dren’s protest on Mon­day morn­ing was a huge suc­cess, at­tract­ing 3,000 par­tic­i­pants clad in black to the en­vi­rons of Ja­maica Col­lege where they peace­fully lined the road all the way down to Ravinia. Other schools in the area, no­tably Cam­pion Col­lege, also held protests out­side their schools, and the en­tire stu­dent body from Mona High School walked over to JC to reg­is­ter their sup­port. Two bus­loads of stu­dents from Kingston Col­lege (KC), lo­cated down­town, also ar­rived at JC to par­tic­i­pate in the protest.

MOV­ING SHOW OF SUP­PORT

Traf­fic in Liguanea was dis­rupted dur­ing the hour-long protest and so­cial me­dia flooded with photos, videos and com­ments posted by those who wit­nessed the silent protests in dif­fer­ent parts of the city. On Face­book, Sarah Man­ley posted a photo of pro­test­ers lin­ing Old Hope Road out­side JC with the cap­tion: “In a mov­ing show of sup­port and de­fence of the chil­dren, the chil­dren re­main be­hind barbed wire, while the adults stand as the line of de­fence.”

Gary Allen@Al­lenKingston, yes, THE Gary Allen, posted his very sec­ond tweet since join­ing Twit­ter, a photo show­ing stu­dents of Cam­pion Col­lege lin­ing Old Hope Road chant­ing ‘Chil­dren’s Lives Mat­ter’ in sup­port of the fallen JC stu­dent. Over­all, the photos and videos showed a well-sup­ported, well-or­gan­ised demon­stra­tion on be­half of chil­dren, and the un­nec­es­sary trau­mas they face in this so­ci­ety.

The Gleaner re­ported that “... parents, stu­dents, teach­ers, min­is­ters of gov­ern­ment, mem­bers of the Op­po­si­tion and oth­ers turned out ... , many bear­ing plac­ards de­pict­ing var­i­ous mes­sages de­nounc­ing vi­o­lence against chil­dren”. No­tably miss­ing from this list is any men­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Church, broadly de­fined, though I did see Kingston’s Bishop Thomp­son on the news. Ah, well, since this was nei­ther a case in­volv­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (the only threat to Ja­maican so­ci­ety as far as the clergy is con­cerned, it seems) nor a prayer break­fast, they couldn’t be both­ered, one sup­poses.

Re­mark­ably, the mur­derer of Ni­cholas Fran­cis has not only been iden­ti­fied, he has turned him­self in. Such was the out­rage and re­ac­tion to this case that Qua­cie Hart, the sus­pect, soon re­alised he could run, but couldn’t hide. The venge­ful threats on so­cial me­dia of the vi­o­lence that would be done to him were he found by the pub­lic, and the bounty of a $1mil­lion of­fered by Crime Stop, no doubt con­vinced him that the safest place for him to be was in po­lice cus­tody; oxy­moronic as that may sound.

All the same, when Hart’s photo started cir­cu­lat­ing on Face­book and Twit­ter, I did won­der how he had been fin­gered as the killer. Did some­one on the bus take a photo of him? Or video? Al­most ev­ery­one has a cell phone with still photo and vide­o­record­ing tech­nol­ogy nowa­days, equip­ping the pub­lic with the pow­ers of Ar­gus Panoptes, the hun­dred-eyed gi­ant of Greek mythol­ogy. Let the crim­i­nal be­ware, cam­eras are ev­ery­where.

RU­DOLPH BROWN/PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Ruel Reid talks with Betty child ad­vo­cate Ann Blaine at Mon­day’s protest out­side Ja­maica Col­lege (JC) against the mur­der of 14-year-old Ni­cholas Fran­cis last week. Reid, a for­mer prin­ci­pal of JC, stoked con­tro­versy when he urged stu­dents to fight back against at­tack­ers.

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