Mon | Mar 19, 2018

Shelly-Ann Harris | Minding your business could be deadly

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Shelly-Ann Harris
Teachers console a grieving student at Jamaica College on Thursday, October 27, a day after Nicholas Francis was murdered.
Sixth-former Naseem Milton in grief at Jamaica College on Thursday, October 27.

The other day, as I was exiting a pharmacy with two of my daughters, a little girl no older than about five years old partially stepped out behind us and discarded her disposable juice bottle and bottle cover on the pavement in front of the pharmacy.

Without a second thought, I immediately spoke to her, instructing her to take them up and throw them in the garbage bin available inside. She was very reluctant, but eventually did what I said. I asked her where her parents were, and she pointed to them inside the pharmacy. They were well within earshot of my instructions to her. They didn't come to see about her, they didn't come to agree with me and reinforce the point not to litter, or even to accost me for giving their daughter instructions. Nothing.

The point I am getting at is the business of taking a stand when things are not going right. I could have walked away and then complained to myself and my kids about how nasty we are as a people and gripe about how the nastiness leads to all kinds of health and environmental hazards.

But that day, I said no, I am getting involved. This young princess needs to pick up this bottle, not deface the pharmacy environs, and learn to throw trash in a garbage bin.

But the question I ask myself is: would I have got involved if it was a man who threw this bottle? Or if it was a man shooting a child in a taxi? Or a man on a bus stabbing a child for his phone and precious wristwatch given to him by his beloved grandma? Or would I be out of my depth in those scenarios?

I know a precious few people who would get involved, mostly men, like my husband and my big brother. And usually, when they do get involved, I am the one, out of fear of danger to them, saying no, leave it alone, don't get involved. Go figure.

Now, as I tearfully reflect on the way that the Jamaica College boy was killed on a public bus, I wonder if there were any men like them on board who would fearlessly step in and defend it! Not because it was their brother, or son, or bredren, but because a great injustice was happening and they weren't going to stand for it.

These are the sort of men I have got used to being around, and I guess have taken them for granted. But apparently, they are not the societal norm. It looks like we have been completely buying into the idea that everyone should mind his or her own business and not get involved, not unless, of course, it concerns us personally.

We may also not be raising boys (or girls) of courage. Are courage and selflessness virtues that we teach anymore? Or do we simply teach people to thrive, be the best they can be, and live their own lives?

It may not be immediately apparent, but there is a problem here. We are not being our brother's and sister's keepers. In my mind, I can hear a generation of young people, and older folks as well, sighing and saying they don't care and that they are not their brother's or sister's keepers; every man or woman for himself or herself. Except that this philosophy or perspective has never led to anything good or great.




It is exactly the opposite perspective of valour, community, of caring greatly about others as much as yourself, and being one's brother's keeper that has resulted in some of the greatest and most impactful movements in human history.

Honestly, I find it hard to process how a boy could be harassed for his phone and watch, dragged, stabbed and thrown off a bus full of people. I find it hard.

Maybe people saw and thought it was another unruly bad 'schoolaz' who was in some kind of altercation with a crony and that they 'justifiably' didn't want to get involved. However, this makes no sense. from the reports, the man was clearly abusing the child and dragging him through the bus. Maybe all the men and women on board felt ill-equipped to tackle some criminal with a ratchet. Maybe.

Maybe the only person of courage and ability on the bus was the fifth-form JC student who jumped through the bus window to attempt to accost the escaping murderer.

I wasn't on the bus and I don't know exactly what happened, but as I process the unfathomable murder of the young man, a few things come to mind:

- My daughters (and all children) must learn self-defence, especially against predators with weapons in both public and private spaces.

- We need to ensure that there is some kind of security mechanism on all public transportation. Should we now consider having a police officer stationed on each bus? Or at least a panic button that the victim or an onlooker can press for help?

- There must be some responsive measure of security given the times that we are now living in.

- In the same way that we scan for weapons when going on a plane, should we not also scan for weapons on buses? Or is this going too far? I think not.

- Furthermore, I figure that more people (men and women) would be more willing to get involved in a fist-fight altercation rather than an incident featuring a knife or a gun.

- How can we reasonably protect the witnesses who come forward with statements? There must be promotion and strengthening of Jamaica's witness-protection programme.

- We need to rethink the values that we espouse in this modern time and what we choose to embrace as a people. Mind your own business versus getting involved.

The fact of the matter is that we can't rely on men (or women) of valour to always come forward in circumstance like these to rescue a victim. We must move to put systems in place that, as best as possible, protect our precious youth and all our people and allow everyone to realise his or her potential.

Even as we should strive to take some action, let us also be mindful that "except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh, but in vain." (Psalm 127:1)

May God envelope and embrace the JC student's family, friends and school community as they struggle through unimaginable grief.

- A mother of three, Shelly-Ann Harris is the editorial director of Family and Faith Magazine. Email feedback to and