Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Annie Paul | Children's lives matter!

Published:Wednesday | November 2, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Annie Paul

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 Parent-Teacher 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 video-recording 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.

- 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.