On Sunday afternoon, seven women including myself visited Luke Lane in downtown Kingston. This is where two year-old Demario Whyte was shot dead, when a group of armed men invaded the area on August 23.
We drove slowly along Luke Lane, following a truck carrying several policemen. As the police officers climbed out, their “long guns” seemed huge in the cramped space. This struck me immediately. The lane is so narrow (never designed for cars at all) that anything that happened along there would impact the whole community. There would be almost nowhere to hide – except, perhaps behind one of the metal doors, reinforced with grilles, behind which people live.
As we got out of the car, a group of women came to greet us. They were smiling, and one called out, “Call the media!” We asked them not to. But, I understand why; they did not want Jamaica to forget them. They did not want Jamaica to forget Demario, who was shot right there on the kerb side.
We asked where he died, and they pointed. It was exactly where we had stopped, and the stains were still there. We had brought some flowers from our gardens; yes, we have beautiful gardens with flowers. There were strong pink ginger lilies and bright bougainvillea and ixoria and my lilac-colored petra, whose flowers were starting to droop in the heat. There are no gardens in Luke Lane. We tried to place the flowers so they covered the stains. Then we met with the grandmother, a slim figure with a quiet face and sad eyes, and two grand-aunts. We introduced ourselves. We gave her a small gift basket, with a bright red teddy bear and some tea and snacks. The women brought a memorial poster of Demario and tried to stick it on the painted wall with Scotch tape, but it wouldn’t stay up very well. From the chipped blue painted wall, Demario’s soft brown eyes smiled at us. A small child joined us, staring up at our faces, clutching a small packet of cookies. When he felt a little more comfortable and someone picked him up, he began to eat the cookies, a damp sticky mess in his small hands.
Jean Lowrie-Chin read a beautiful poem from her book “Souldancing” which brought tears to our eyes. We gave Demario’s grandmother her autographed book, and a card we had signed.
We stood in a circle around the spot, about fifteen of us, and held hands, while our spiritual guide Pat Phillips spoke. Then we shared words that came into our minds as we stood there.
Overwhelmingly, the words we spoke – and repeated – were “love” and “peace.”
Where were the men? I noticed one man walking swiftly past us, averting his face, as we arrived. A few others, old and young, stood here and there down the lane. They did not join us, but I felt they were watching and listening – from a distance. We spoke with one older man just as we were leaving, though. He told us how he was called away just before the shooting to go to a shop not far away. He took his little grandson with him. When he returned not long afterwards, the yellow tape was already up across the lane.
This is how things happen, in places where things happen suddenly.
Demario’s mother is overseas; Demario’s father, who was injured in the gun attack along with his brother, is grieving. Demario was his only child. The family is waiting for the autopsy to be completed, before they can arrange the funeral. So, there is no date yet.
I spoke for a few minutes on radio this evening about our visit with Judith Wedderburn. She is a member of the 51% Coalition, as I am. Judith said our governments (chosen by we, the people) have let the people down over the years. She described the “abject poverty” in places like Luke Lane. There is nothing. Just nothing. The Jamaican people have been let down.
I spend a lot of time online – especially on Twitter (@petchary) and on my blog. We wring our hands (virtually). We post little emojis with tears falling from faces. We sympathize and exchange expressions of shock and sadness. We feel helpless and disconnected. And yet, there is one thing we can do, and that is to connect with those who are suffering, on a personal level. I honestly believe that standing and talking to someone who has been hurt and traumatized, even for five minutes, helps everyone enormously. It’s not hard to do. We can all try to reach out more. Those are my thoughts, for what they are worth.
Because, quoting the Dalai Lama:
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.