Murdered Children, The Recurring Riverton Nightmare, and the Elite Picnic in White : Saturday, March 14, 2015

The past couple of weeks have been intense. My apologies for the unanticipated hiatus. We had a fairly major break-in at our yard, which was unnerving, and the repercussions have been painful. We are, however, pulling ourselves back on our feet again and refocusing. As for poor old Jamaica… We are in great pain, I believe. Great pain.

Kayalicia Simpson was murdered in rural St. Thomas. She was over four months pregnant. No one in her family or community was aware of her terrible situation.
Kayalicia Simpson was murdered in rural St. Thomas. She was over four months pregnant. No one in her family or community was aware of her terrible situation, apparently.

I have left it too long to talk to you about the killing of our children. Last month, I told you about fourteen-year-old, pregnant Santoya Campbell. Since then, four more children have been killed in terrible circumstances – all involving sexual abuse. Fourteen-year-old Kayalicia Simpson was chopped to death early one morning as she prepared for school at her home in St. Thomas. An autopsy revealed that she was pregnant. In Kingston, three children died in a house fire, which was set by their mentally-challenged uncle (who had attempted to molest nine-year-old Abigail Reid and then became angry when she raised an alarm). Abby and her brother Leonardo were regular students at the Trench Town Reading Centre; their friends at the Centre are traumatized and weeping. So much grief lies in the wake of these tragedies; who picks up the pieces? Can the pieces be picked up, or are lives just left broken so?

The three siblings who perished in a fire in Arnett Gardens. A relative has been charged with their murders. Neighbors heard nine-year-old Abigail's cries for help, but the fire was already too fierce.
The three siblings who perished in a fire in Arnett Gardens. A relative has been charged with three counts of murders and arson. Neighbors heard nine-year-old Abigail’s cries for help, but the fire was already too fierce.

And our communities are silent: I wrote about this in my Gleaner blog:  This is the story of Jamaica. Nuff said.

William Mahfood's aerial photograph of the Riverton City dump fire on Thursday. (Twitter)
William Mahfood’s aerial photograph of the Riverton City dump fire on Thursday. The black smoke on the right is where tires are burning. Yes, they were burning last year, too. (Twitter)

On fire…again: Here is our recurring nightmare: The Riverton City dump (it is not/not a landfill) is on fire again, blanketing the city in murky, toxic smoke. This is Day Four. Schools in Kingston and Portmore closed, and several businesses (even the port) closed too. Businessman William Mahfood posted an aerial photograph showing the shocking extent of the fire (which covers approx. half of the 120 acre site). A Gleaner video showed an area of very black smoke, indicating that tires were on fire. We do not live near the fire, but were coughing and sneezing. Jamaicans, mostly children and including many asthmatics, who were badly affected by the fire, overwhelmed hospitals and clinics. The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) has served notice on the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) re: non-compliance with their environmental permit. Has an alternative site been found for the dump? Has anything at all been turn in terms of prevention after last year’s (and previous years’) terrible experiences, which I documented in my blog? Meanwhile, productivity slowed right down on Friday. This happens year after year. What action is being taken?

A parent rushes his child who was overcome by smoke to a medical facility. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)
“We Can’t Breathe”: A parent rushes his child who was overcome by smoke to a medical facility on Friday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Off the island: While this crisis was rapidly unfolding, Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott and most of the staff of the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) were on the other side of the world – Japan, in fact, at the UN Third Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Of course, no one has actually used the words “public health emergency” and our Health Minister doesn’t seem to find them applicable. What does it take, I wonder? ODPEM has been largely invisible for the past year or so, anyway, so they might as well be in the Far East…

Oh, the irony! That our Minister of Water, Land, Environment & Climate Change just made speeches about carbon emissions, climate change, deforestation etc. while the dump fire poured poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere and while plans continue to destroy the dry limestone and thick mangrove forest that makes up Goat Islands. Yep. Jamaica is really doing its bit for global warming, folks. (Don’t our Ministers realize actions speak louder than words?)

Carnival-crazy at the University of the West Indies: revelers doused in water… (Twitter photos)
Carnival-crazy at the University of the West Indies: revelers doused in water… (Twitter photos)

Fête upon fête: Meanwhile, nothing is going to stop the revelers at the University of the West Indies’ Carnival today…

Budget on fire: Meanwhile, Finance Minister Peter Phillips opened the Budget Debate in the Lower House. We learned there is going to be an increased gas tax and tax on phone bills; and cigarettes will be taxed, in order to help plug the revenue gap. The corporate and individual tax evaders apparently cannot be tracked down and made to cough up the money they owe; so the “small man” must be taxed by having to pay more for gas and phone calls – something he/she can hardly avoid. Very sensible, said one leading academic. Well, that’s a rather cold way of looking at it! Why not go after the corrupt ones? By the way, Jamaica has missed its tax revenue targets for the past seven years. Higher gas prices will likely affect many economic activities and push prices up generally, although Minister Phillips went into a discourse on “hedging” when asked about it. Doesn’t he know hedging is a pretty risky business? The Minister mentioned the “g” word several times, predicting a growth rate of 1.6 per cent for the upcoming fiscal year, and noting money would be spent on large infrastructural projects to spur growth. These will be “catalysts.” What lovely words these are.

Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell (left), is in discussion with Principal, Calabar High School, Albert Corcho, during a career exposition on March 10 at the school. (Photo: JIS)
Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell (left), is in discussion with Principal, Calabar High School, Albert Corcho, during a career exposition on March 10 at the school. (Photo: JIS)

e-Questions: How is Minister Phillip Paulwell’s much-touted one-year e-learning pilot project going? Are the children using the tablets distributed properly and taking care of them? Moreover (and importantly) what about the books to be uploaded on the tablets? Are the students using them? Minister Paulwell told us recently his ministry has distributed over 20,000 tablets to 38 schools, which all now have wi-fi installed. Fine. But how many students are reading the books? We are six months into the project now, so a half-time evaluation might be a good idea.

This week, Jamaica’s élite swanned around in Emancipation Park, robed in white. It was a special event called “Diner en Blanc” (things sound so much more classy when they are in French, don’t they?) Now the park remained open to the public, so the less well-heeled could watch the upper classes dining from the sidelines. To me, the affair smacked of classism and colonial-era snobbery. However, I was told that rich people can spend their money how they want to. Indeed, they can and they do. But it would have been nice if it had been a fund-raiser for a worthy cause, instead of in aid of the champagne and caviar producers. But I was also told that local firms, and the people who served the citizens in white benefited from the occasion; and that this event improved the “brand image” of Jamaica. How lovely.

In honor of this, and the subsequent conflagration, fellow blogger Durie Dee posted a fascinating chronology: #RivertonSmokeEnBlanc, a wonderful hashtag a Twitter friend created: @MizDurie went back to 2004, concluding: “So, whaddaya say…next year again – same time, same place? See you then!” Ugh.

Minister Anthony Hylton at the Jamaica Investment Forum 2015 this week. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)
Minister Anthony Hylton at the Jamaica Investment Forum 2015 in Montego Bay this week. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Remember the logistics hub? Our Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton made a big announcement this week at the Jamaica Investment Forum, where a lot of hot air circulated (no, the air conditioning was working perfectly). Minister Hylton said a mystery investor (which the Prime Minister let slip was an Austrian firm) was planning to put US$5 billion into the…yes, you’ve guessed it…logistics hub! A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed. The Minister hopes Jamaica will be transformed into the “logistics hub of the Americas.” Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made a feel-good welcome speech, concluding with a line from the much-overquoted Bob Marley quote:“Let’s get together and feel alright!”  

Jamaican workers at the Moon Palace in Ocho Rios protested last week over outstanding wages, and are disgruntled at the number of Mexican workers employed there. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)
Jamaican workers at the Moon Palace in Ocho Rios protested over outstanding wages. They are also disgruntled that Mexican workers are employed there. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

410 Mexicans received permits to work on the refurbishing of the Jamaica Grande Hotel (to be renamed the Moon Palace) in Ocho Rios. So says the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union. The Ministry of Labor says only about half that number received permits as “specialist finishers.” The completion date for the hotel is now scheduled for next month. Jamaican workers have been extremely unhappy and downed tools. Contractor General Dirk Harrison says his office will review the issuance of work permits for foreigners.

The two “D”s: The Jamaica Labour Party saga has taken a back seat for a little while in light of other dramas. The main protagonists now are Delroy (Chuck) and Daryl (Vaz). Mr. Chuck is especially  miffed at their leader Andrew Holness. I think I am tired.

A video has circulated of a Jamaican man who apparently resisted arrest for smoking a “spliff” and was allegedly shot dead by the police. The video, if authenticated, is disturbing on many levels. But hold on! The Amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act have not yet been signed into law, I understand, by the Governor General, nor regulations produced. Despite that, haven’t the police got the message that they are not really supposed to harass or arrest citizens for the possession of small quantities of ganja? As RJR reporter Dionne Jackson Miller mentioned in a recent commentary, there is an urgent need for a public education program on the ganja law. I am afraid there may be more cases of confusion and misunderstanding, otherwise. By the way, the police killed 16 Jamaican citizens in the first two months of 2015 – only two in February, which is considered remarkable. There were twelve non-fatal shooting incidents, according to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

I have not posted a brief since February 27, so this list is longer than usual, obviously. The trail of grief and suffering left by the untimely deaths of Jamaican men, women (seven) and children (six aged 18 years and under) must go all round the island and back again. These are the names. Let us not forget.

Abigail Reid, 9, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston

Leonardo Morris, 15, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston

Bebeto Harris, 17, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston 

Rosemarie Ballentine, 45, Hundred Lane/Red Hills Road, Kingston

Donna Daley, 44, Hundred Lane/Red Hills Road, Kingston

Jas Wellington, 30, Constant Spring Road, Kingston

Sanjay Crook, 36, Lorna Avenue, Meadowbrook, Kingston

André Ferrier, Farewell Drive, Kingston

“Duke,” Denham Town, Kingston

Hubert Richards, 42, Elm Crescent, Kingston

Shane Duncan, 29,Elm Crescent, Kingston

Dacianne Calder, 22, Cashew Ridge/Jacks Hill, St. Andrew

Garfield Coburn, 44, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew (killed by police)

Robert Pryce, 46, Fairview Housing Scheme/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Constable Colin Raynor, Hartlands, St. Catherine

Ainsley Campbell, 48, Central Village, St. Catherine

Natalee Gayle, 35, Kilsyth Primary and Infant School, Frankfield, Clarendon

Solomon Sill, 48, Bucknor, Clarendon

Devon Nelson, 18, Stewart Town, St. Mary

Valerina Whyte, 71, Cornwall Barracks, Portland

Nicole Luton, 37, Arcadia Bottom/Spring Mount, St. James

Saskia Mullings, 2, Arcadia Bottom/Spring Mount, St. James

Two unidentified men, Seven Rivers/Montpelier, St. James

Irving Williams, 47, Louden Doe District/Airy Castle, St. Thomas

Anika Rose, 20, Danvers Pen, St. Thomas

Kayalicia Simpson, 14, Newlands, St. Thomas

Wayne Walker, 47, Lancaster/Newport, Manchester

Two unidentified men, Chester Castle, Hanover

Unidentified man, Lances Bay, Hanover

Jermaine Dixon, 28, Ramble, Trelawny

Jermaine Redd, 29, Ramble, Trelawny

The community of Hundred Lane off Red Hills Road in Kingston was in shock after the shooting deaths of two women in separate incidents. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
The community of Hundred Lane off Red Hills Road in Kingston was in shock after the shooting deaths of two women in separate incidents. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Constable Colin Raynor of the Linstead Police Station was shot dead today while fishing with his brother in Hartlands, St. Catherine. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Constable Colin Raynor of the Linstead Police Station was shot dead today while fishing with his brother in Hartlands, St. Catherine. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Kingston wharves blanketed in smoke. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn)
Kingston wharves blanketed in smoke. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn)

31 thoughts on “Murdered Children, The Recurring Riverton Nightmare, and the Elite Picnic in White : Saturday, March 14, 2015

  1. And in one fell swoop the gulp of despair for our island just choked hope out of me Emma.
    Wtf?! Apparently in lieu of proper leadership and effective govt/social programs, branding and hot air -the long believed saving currency on our island- has in fact bankrupted prospective development and hitched our future on rolling dice.
    Thank you for your eyes and words. And…what do you mean ‘break in’? Gasp!


    1. Oh, no – don’t despair my dear! So sorry. Jamaica is still wonderful. Yes, someone broke into our yard but we know the circumstances and we are getting over it. Worse things can happen. The main problem in our island is leadership, leadership, leadership… They talk a lot, then do something completely different – or, oftentimes, they do nothing. Nothing at all. That’s our problem!


  2. I’m not going to belabour the point about diner en blanc, but suggest a step back to think how Jamaica and Kingston are often seen. Just a few instances. First, a Canadian visitor, who lives in the Clarendon hills 6 months of the year: he’s advised each visit by his government to never set foot out of his hotel compound (where he starts his visit) because he will be shot (his words); each time he returns to Canada, he goes through security checks to discover what contraband he’s smuggling in, because “people go to Jamaica to get drugs to bring into Canada”. Those are two damaging official views of this country that are hard to counter. The 2nd view was from an American visiting another Caribbean country who wanted me to know that you cannot walk the streets of Kingston because crime Is so rampant. That’s not to discuss what privilege allows but to think about what many foreigners see or are fed as the true view of a country where nothing but the most violent and inhospitable conditions apply.

    In the same way that those of us who live here can counter that by getting on with daily lives (break ins, apart, Emma), it’s a rotten balance that we need to strike on whether this is a country where things that can happen without much comment abroad can also take place.

    Having just spent 3 weeks abroad, I know I spend a lot of time telling people that Jamaica is not an utter wasteland of social and criminal depravity. No replies needed.


  3. I find the murders and sexual abuse of the children to most upsetting. For such a small countr and to have such a high murder rate is most depressing. What pray-tell is the reason for this? Are Jamaicans so unhappy with their lives.


    1. Ah, Catherine – you have asked a fundamental question. The answer to it is long and complex, I think. Poverty is one factor but not the only one. The fragmentation of the Jamaican family (including migration of one or both parents) is another… It is very depressing, I agree. We are too small, so we really feel it!


    1. Oh dear! I know this has been a particularly grim post and not much joy here, but like everywhere else there are lots of good things happening, as you will see from other posts I make. I just try to share the good and the bad and I think I make a fair and honest representation.


  4. A “White-On-White” dinner for the elite, served outside where the peons and serfs can catch a longing glimpse, helps improve Jamaica’s “image”?!? I don’t know where to start but there must be a special place in hell…..


  5. Emma, thanks much for your inquiry about the Tablets In Schools pilot project. i respond from my position as chairman of e-Learning Jamaica Company.

    We have had some start up issues for providers of tablets and connectivity as well as teachers and students. Some issues were anticipated and we had established systems to address them. The more challenging problems (illustrating high-level technical know-how on the part of students from “failing schools) have led to increased innovation in finding solutions.

    Some hitches with connectivity has contributed to slow downloading of e-books. However, this problem is partially resolved and should be fully resolved in days. I therefore expect the next quarterly pilot project to provide data on students’ responses to e-books.

    Evaluation of the TIS pilot project so far has shown on the down side that students are distracted and the start-up of classes can be slow when teachers make technological adjustments before they begin to teach. Teachers say the students remain at school too long, and parents say they stay up till too late at night. There have also been device problems with chargers, passwords, and shutdowns, and we are working at speeding up the repair of damaged and defective tablets.

    The TIS pilot project has also had up sides that were well illustrated by a group of Mona Primary school who were guests on Cliff Hughes’ Impact on Sunday March 8. Some of the positives are as follows, when tablets are used as learning tools:

    1. Material is posted for absent students; teachers email assignments and students sent assignments vis e-mail
    2. Students’ show greater interest in class and are more eager to learn.
    3. Teachers create online portfolios of students
    4. Students’ research is improved, and they watch and create their own videos.
    5. Students’ cooperative learning and participation are increased.
    6. Students in special schools are more responsive
    7. Infants and students in special schools are particularly protective of their tablets.
    8. Tablets are particularly useful to teachers of math, language, reading, literacy, Spanish, music, geography
    9. Tablets have proved particularly helpful in GSAT and CSEC preparation.
    10. Teachers have reported fewer behavioural problems, less conflict, and less loitering when tablets are used in instruction. Special school and infants particularly protective of tablets
    11. There is noticeably better attendance on blocks with reliable Internet connectivity.
    12. Students are reluctant to take breaks and have fewer playfield accidents when they have tablets with learning content (as well as games!).
    13. Tablets have enhanced school management as well as home-school communication.

    On balance, the feedback has been positive, and our work at improvement is ongoing.


    1. Thanks so much, Yvonne for this comprehensive overview of the e-learning project. I can understand there are often “teething pains”… This is really helpful, and I hope my readers will read it. All the best and keep pressing on (I know you will!) 🙂 I look forward to hearing more about the e-books.


  6. Powerful commentary, Emma, on many challenging issues in Jamaica (and also in many other parts of the world). My heart goes out especially to the children being affected by these various tragedies born of greed, ignorance and evil. What is the solution? Better leadership, education, and more caring about what is important and really of value in our lives. Many are working for this kind of change but more are needed!


    1. Thanks so much, Lisa! I think all those things you have listed are solutions and as you say many other parts of the world are suffering from similar problems with varying . The dialogue on poor leadership in this country continues – I think it really is an issue (and I am not just talking about political leadership, but at all levels). We just have to produce more leaders Jamaicans can trust! More have to step up to the plate. I agree also that education is key…


  7. Emma you have touched on all the subjects that have pained my heart over the last two weeks. Perhaps this has accounted for the “mysterious” depression that plagued me last week. Or maybe it was because I didn’t have a suitable white outfit. We are seriously deluded if we think that having these obnoxiously elitist affairs in our struggling developing country is good for “brand Jamaica”. If it is I suggest a serious re-branding.


    1. Dear Janet: I am sorry to have reminded you of so many painful issues. But I understand about that vague feeling of depression – these things do affect us psychologically. I don’t understand the “branding” argument at all… I think branding is quite an obsession in Jamaica. We need to be less concerned about image. If we do the right thing and not pretend to be something we are not, the image will be a good one, won’t it?


  8. Thank you for the summary on the current state of Jamaica. People are not party puppets for government to mock, kill n destroy. We must come together as citizens n rise up against violence in Jamaica. The selected few who are running Jamaica in the ground need to step down. We need change but it has to start with the citizens of Jamaica, not the government. They only have their interest at heart, not the people of the island. No one is coming to rescue Jamaica from it’s crimes but Jamaicans. Where is the One Love? Jamaica We Have Problems!


    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Karen. I agree with you the citizens must lead the change. On my Gleaner blog I wrote about The Silent Community last week. We need to break that silence and start taking responsibility…and above all, being our brother’s and sister’s keepers… Sigh.


  9. Whether elitist things serve social purposes doesn’t make them better or worse: it’s a fallacy that somehow deciding to spend the money one has on the apparent welfare of others, that is distributed very unevenly, is somehow better. It isn’t. It’s another choice that comes from being able to make such choices, no less than choosing to visit cafes to sip tea and eat out or take beach trips.


    1. Well, I completely disagree with you here Dennis. I guess you can drink champagne in the park all dressed up, while the less privileged look on (presumably they were fenced off), if you want to. I am not saying they shouldn’t – just that I find it offensive in a post-colonial society still riddled with class considerations. Oh, I think anyone can take beach trips, by the way – at least to the few public beaches still open. Even “poor people” do it, one of the few options for relaxation (but mostly not those trapped in the inner city). What I suggested was that this display of privilege could have been at least in aid of some of our ignored and marginalized Jamaicans, for example. Nothing wrong with a fund-raiser, eh? Eve for Life, for example, needs a mere 2 million Jamaican Dollars to continue its work with young mothers living with HIV. Ah well, they will just have to go beg.


      1. Of course, nothing wrong with fund raisers, and it’s often the same group who have the privilege to be able to give and still live a decent life. Next 5k should be ‘sponsor a runner from (pick your community) ….’? Or, better if the entrance fee just went directly to a family? Anyway, good to keep pushing and thinking 😊


  10. Thanks for leaving a respectful memory of my family. RIP Kayalicia we pray for justice.

    I was just saying to my mom that it is funny that all of a sudden no one is writing about her anymore and I wrote a letter to the Observer that was never published.

    Thanks again


    1. My deepest sympathies to your family. I cannot imagine the pain you must all be going through. I am so sorry your letter was not published – the media has a tendency to move quickly on to the next “big story” (in Kingston we are all distracted by the Riverton City fire, now). If you would like to email your letter to me I might be able to publish it on my blog. Do let me know. Or you could post it on this comments page and I will repost it on my blog. Please consider doing this. With warmest wishes to your family and although it must be hard to see this now… “All things must pass.” Emma


  11. RIP Constable Collin Raynor. The entire class of JGHS mourns with your wife and family. We will always remember you.


    1. I am so sorry, and also again extend my deepest condolences to Constable Raynor’s wife and family. What a tragedy for them all and especially for his widow. So young! Is that Jonathan Grant High School? All the best to you all, his former classmates. It must have been a shock for you. Warmest wishes.


  12. This is heartbreaking and must be very difficult to witness — oh, those dear children and the pain felt by all who loved them! the fires/pollution – gasp/choke/cough — how can anyone breathe? It makes me wish for a way to pump that pollution via hose and blow it into the offices of those responsible – or those who are looking the other way.

    I’m sending empathy – wish I could do more. Thank you once again for going to to the top of your tree, going out on a limb and sharing this with those who have ears and are listening.


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