When his­tory comes to meet us

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.co­mor tweet @an­niepaul.

AT A dis­cus­sion af­ter a sneak pre­view of the film Four Days in May, which doc­u­ments what sur­vivors ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the blitzkrieg we re­fer to as the Tivoli in­cur­sion, a young man said: “We can all re­mem­ber where we were when his­tory came and met us.”

“It come like a war zone. Caw dem a drop three bomb, eno. Nuff a mi fren dem dead. Af­ter di in­cur­sion, mi can tell yu seh mi guh fu­ner­als,” said an­other res­i­dent who can’t for­get what hap­pened to his com­mu­nity in 2010, when the armed forces con­ducted their search for Dudus, the strong­man of Tivoli Gar­dens on whom the United States had placed a bounty.

His­tory will record that the most se­nior cus­to­di­ans of the State lied shame­lessly about what took place dur­ing those four days. They said there were no bombs; they did not ‘re­call’ any such thing. More­over, no an­gels had died in Tivoli. The 69 or so civil­ians who were killed should be seen as col­lat­eral dam­age, they im­plied. What is worse is that large swathes of Ja­maican so­ci­ety agreed with this view.

Nearly eight years later, even as a state of emer­gency in St James seems to have con­tained the spi­ralling vi­o­lence there, it feels as if the crim­i­nals have sim­ply scat­tered to dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. How else to un­der­stand the mur­der­ous turn of events in Au­gust Town as soon as 2017 ended and 2018 be­gan?

In a re­mark­able ar­ti­cle called ‘Teach­ing in the line of fire’ ( Gleaner, March 5, 2018), UWI se­nior lec­turer Saran Ste­wart tried her best to raise the alarm. For those of us who live and work in this cor­ner of Kingston, the last few weeks have been punc­tu­ated by gun­fire, some­times so loud it seems to be on the UWI cam­pus it­self. Wrote Saran:


“It is now month three of the new year and the shots have left the dead of night and ring loudly in the peak morn­ing time when chil­dren are still walk­ing to school. Our ed­u­ca­tors teach in the line of fire and not only in the com­mu­nity of Au­gust Town, but also Den­ham Town, Flanker, Nor­wood, Cam­bridge and Rose Heights, just to name a few. In these com­mu­ni­ties, gun­men trade bul­lets for the sim­plest ne­ces­sity, such as a tin of mack­erel, and barter lives for a ‘bills’ ($100).

“I have taught nu­mer­ous stu­dents from volatile com­mu­ni­ties, whether they were born and raised there or cur­rently board­ing. Try­ing to cen­tre their minds about the philoso­phies of ed­u­ca­tion be­comes fu­tile when my stu­dents learn first-hand the ide­olo­gies of gun vi­o­lence. As an ed­u­ca­tor, I have had to drift from the stan­dard course out­line and in­clude stu­dents’ lived ex­pe­ri­ences as a mech­a­nism to nav­i­gate their re­al­i­ties and con­sciously re-cen­tre the course around their true learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

“There are stu­dents who write their pa­pers in the shell of their bath­rooms by can­dle­light, as it is the safest con­crete box in the house. When the Ja­maica Ur­ban Tran­sit Com­pany (JUTC) sus­pends bus ser­vices, how do chil­dren leave those said com­mu­ni­ties to go to school? As ed­u­ca­tors, we try to find ways for stu­dents to un­learn what they per­ceive as st4an­dard, nor­mal ac­tiv­ity such as see­ing mourn­ing, or­phaned chil­dren, weekly fu­neral gather­ings, yel­low ‘cau­tion’ tape, bul­let holes, blood­stains, smelling gun­pow­der, and read­ing What­sApp mes­sages stat­ing, ‘Daddy dead.’”

Yet this ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle re­mained rel­a­tively un­no­ticed while the me­dia ex­ploded in an orgy of moral out­rage about silly state­ments by mem­bers of one po­lit­i­cal party call­ing a mem­ber of the other party “black roy­alty”. Day af­ter day, for the en­tire week, ra­dio talk shows gave oxy­gen to this ba­nal non­sense as if we live in Switzer­land or Sin­ga­pore and have noth­ing else to worry about.

When one of Saran Ste­wart’s stu­dents texted her from Au­gust Town to say that her as­sign­ment would be late as a fam­ily mem­ber had been shot dead, Ste­wart asked her to for­get the as­sign­ment and doc­u­ment her raw emo­tions in­stead. This is part of what she wrote:

“Over 20 years of blood­shed! Has vi­o­lence be­come my norm? With­out think­ing about my an­swer to this ques­tion, I would im­me­di­ately say ‘yes’. Crime and vi­o­lence has be­come my norm. Born and raised in the com­mu­nity of Au­gust Town, nes­tled in a val­ley in the par­ish of St An­drew, sur­rounded by hills, the Hope River and in close prox­im­ity to two univer­si­ties, this is my com­mu­nity.”

There’s more, but is any­one lis­ten­ing? Is this re­ally how we want our young­sters to meet his­tory? Bru­talised, shat­tered and trau­ma­tised, with no one even will­ing to pay at­ten­tion when they write or talk about it?


De­spite the vi­o­lence plagu­ing his com­mu­nity, five-year-old Jade Pick­ers­gill, who at­tends Au­gust Town Early Child­hood Cen­tre, still finds time to play with his wooden toy truck on Fe­bru­ary19. Gang vi­o­lence has rocked the east­ern St An­drew com­mu­nity of Au­gust Town since Jan­uary.

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