Martin Luther King Day in Jamaica: The Dark Cloud of Violence

Today was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States.

Jamaica: On New Year’s Eve (I was just reminded just this evening) I heard an eruption of fireworks, from people’s yards. There was a curfew, so there was no public display downtown.

What I also heard was the insistent pumping, the flat thump of gunfire (“gun salutes”) to welcome in 2021.

Now according to the news, 25 people were murdered in Jamaica over the past weekend. Many were injured.

The victims included an elderly woman; a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the face and is now in hospital; a mother and daughter at home on Sunday morning; a middle-aged deaf mute man; a young music producer at a football match; a chef at his cook shop; an elderly shopkeeper; neighbours talking at the fence.

There are now curfews in two parishes – not COVID curfews. Crime curfews.

Did the States of Emergency (a “tool in the tool box”) work? Are tools enough to fix things?

Residents are packing up and running away from Trench Town.

Yellow tape is draped across roadways, and doorways.

Most murders are “gang-related,” says the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Some people were killed by bullets “not intended for them.” Collateral damage.

All this news arrived on a lovely Monday morning – blue sky, wispy clouds. Celebrating Dr. King.

A great collage from Wayne Chen (@wcchen) on Twitter of Dr. King’s visit to Jamaica (Ebony Magazine, 1967).

Jamaica and Martin Luther King: We were reminded that Dr. King and his wife Coretta visited Jamaica more than once, and that he loved the island. “In Jamaica I feel like a human being,” he said in 1965, making a speech at the University of the West Indies.

Ann-Margaret Lim reads Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World” for Martin Luther King Day.

The lovely Jamaican poet Ann-Margaret Lim sat in the U.S. Embassy’s library and recited Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World.”

Jamaican sculptor Basil Watson with his statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Atlanta, Georgia, on January 14, a new bronze statue of Dr. King was installed. It is sculpted by Jamaican Basil Watson and entitled “Hope Moving Forward.” It is 12 feet tall and is the first of seven planned installations meant to honor the legacy and worldwide influence of Dr. King. The base of the statue features a quote from Dr. King, which states, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew Delroy Williams shared this: In June 1965, Dr. King visited Jamaica. Pictured below, Dr. King addresses a large crowd at the National Stadium after receiving the keys to the city of Kingston, presented by the Commissioner of the KSAC, Mr. Eustace Bird. – (Gleaner Photo)

There were many quotes and memes, and the footage of the “I Have a Dream” speech, all over social media. Perhaps in light of recent events, the fervor and desire for healing was greater. But wait – here’s one that struck me particularly, from “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963).

And I read these words (quoted by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill):

“Those who abjure violence can only do so by others committing violence on their behalf.”

― George Orwell

But then, that was wartime. Which begs the question… (You know what the question is).

A dark cloud of violence hangs over us.

Last night, the flickering blue lights of a police car sped in silence past our gate, in the darkness of curfew. It crossed my mind…Are we sending out our heavily armed security forces to do violence on our behalf? Are we happy to just do that?

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. (AP Images)

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