Sun | Sep 19, 2021

Garth Rattray | Blam...blam...nine gunshots that shattered the morning

Published:Monday | July 26, 2021 | 12:07 AM

I was on the office premises getting some paperwork done when, at about 6:25 a.m., I heard Blam…Blam…BlamBlamBlamBlamBlamBlamBlam!! Nine explosions interrupted the ambient sound of light morning traffic along a nearby thoroughfare. I wondered if they were gunshots, then I began hearing the unmistakable sounds of suppressed, high-pitched wails. The wails were joined by moans, then several voices of males and females speaking softly, as if to avoid attracting attention to themselves.

I called the police. That was an interesting event. It took three tries to eventually get through to someone at 119. There were two dropped calls and the operator had a flawed protocol for responding to the call appropriately. I did not know the address of the supposed shooting, but I could direct the police to the position that it occurred with a great deal of accuracy. However, the operator said that their response system divides that roadway into two sections. Depending on where the problem is, the response team would be sent from one of two nearby police stations. The problem is that that entire minor thoroughfare is equidistant from both nearby police stations. A serious error could be made in dispatching the team to the wrong end of the road. I worried about what would happen if I were trying to prevent a shooting rather than reporting one.

The traffic noise continued for a very short time because the police were very quick on the scene. This was followed by the usual silence brought about when a crime scene is cordoned off. I subsequently learnt that the victim was a fruit vendor who was fatally shot while setting up his stall.

HAUNTED MY MIND

I never met or saw him, but whenever I drove by, I noticed pedestrians and motorists purchasing from him. It saddened me to think that I heard his life being snuffed out by bullets. It haunted my mind that what I was hearing was a murder being committed; a cruel, evil, cold-blooded murder. Somewhere between those nine shots, a man stopped living – and I heard it happen. The suppressed cries of terror, anguish and lamentations punctuated the temporary silence that followed the heinous act. But then, the noise of traffic resumed as if nothing had happened. There was no reverent pause, no rain clouds to wash away the blood and the sin; life resumed without so much as a hiccup.

Immediately, I wondered what it was like for my fellow Jamaicans living in our violence-torn inner cities. I could not help but replay those life-ending staccato explosions over and over and over and over again in my head. How do our less fortunate cope with not only the sounds of death, but with their lives being threatened every day? I remembered that recent incident with the little boy who sat on a bicycle and was killed by bullets from gunmen intent on killing, on destroying lives, on terror and anarchy. He was one of many Jamaicans – and several children – shot and killed senselessly in recent times.

We try in vain to rationalise wanton killings. We ask, was the victim ‘mixed up in something’? Perhaps he/she saw or heard something that he/she should not have seen or heard. Perhaps he/she was a relative of another gunman. Perhaps it was a reprisal killing, mistaken identity, or the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps it was a revenge killing – perhaps this and perhaps that – perhaps anything that might make us feel excluded from the vulnerable group. But, as long as someone is vulnerable, we are all vulnerable.

And so, the forensic team did their thing, the fruit vendor’s lifeless body and police tape were eventually removed, and traffic began flowing again. Family, relatives and friends are mourning, but everybody else’s life goes on as if nothing had happened. But something horrible did happen, and it could happen to you or me.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.