In light of today's front page, I thought I'd post the columns I wrote the last three times this happened. I can't find the one I wrote for Sean Luke, but when I do I'll post it. Please forgive me if I'm somewhat incommunicado these days. I'm sure you understand why.
WAITING FOR ANSWERS
(For Akiel Chambers)
Several years ago, I had the dubious distinction of seeing members of our police force at the scene of a crime. The crime had taken place at the house of an associate in the early hours of the morning, the time they were accustomed to occurring back then, before criminals became more emboldened and waited for their victims in the brightness of day.
Frantic calls to the police resulted in us being told that they would be there in a while, despite their being told that due to the nature of the crime there was a very good chance that the perpetrators may still be nearby noting the results of their actions. When they eventually came, they were appallingly ill prepared for the task ahead. The witness spent over half an hour getting the officer taking the report to understand what she had seen. The other officer, meanwhile, was picking up evidence with his bare hands.
Those of us who had grown up watching cop dramas looked on in horror. We knew this to be a major mistake that could ruin fingerprints and contaminate evidence. The officer accepted the offer of a pair of rubber household gloves. He didn’t even bother to put them on.
Those of us who stood watching pointed to the bushes at the end of the street that lead off to a forested area. Walking through this area lead one to the Eastern Main Road. The witness had seen the perpetrators take off into this bushy area and then stop. We suggested to the police officer that maybe both he and his partner – who had spent most of the time thus far essentially walking around the premises and talking on the phone – go into the bushes as there was a good chance that, even if the criminals weren’t there, there may be further evidence.
The officers took one look at the bushes and said no, the men were long gone and they didn’t leave anything behind. I remember looking at the policemen’s stomachs swelling grotesquely over their belts and not being surprised at their reluctance. After all, these were men who couldn’t be bothered to put on a pair of gloves.
So this latest example of investigative inefficiency in the Akiel Chambers case causes no surprise. After all, this case has been mishandled and mismanaged since Akiel’s death back in 1998. Back then the police ruled his cause of death as accidental drowning. And to this day, apparently, they persist in that view. This is despite the fact that when he first went missing , the pool was checked and his body was not there. This is also despite the fact that the autopsy revealed that he had been sexually molested just before his death and that evidence strongly suggested he had been suffocated during the act. What person, realising he is drowning, will assume a crouching position? How could a child drown in front of so many people with no one witnessing it?
Accusations of evidence tampering and contamination surprise no one, especially those of us who have had any first hand experience with the police service. What is surprising, and very, very disturbing in its implications, is the callous and brazen indifference Akiel’s family and the public at large are being treated with. Twenty months of supplementary investigation have lead the police to announce they have no “clear suspect” in a murder case they still treat as an accident. And this is despite the presence from the onset of the investigation of DNA evidence that could have revealed – at the very least – who his rapist was, if not his murderer.
The lack of accountability has created a miasma of incompetence that reeks to the heavens. One cannot help but wonder, are we supposed to believe our police force is so inefficient or is something else, something more sinister, at play. So now the excuse isn’t that there are no gloves. The excuse is that there is no legislature that allows the police to collect DNA samples from possible suspects, even though there is no law that says they cannot. Strange, this sudden desire to play strictly by the rules, when it has not been the case before, especially in this case. And suddenly, there is vacillation over accepting Charles James’ offer to fund the DNA testing in the United States, when gifts of cars to assist police in cases being investigated have not been a problem in the past.
The case I outlined earlier was never solved; it was ruled that there were no suspects. The evidence that had been improperly collected was improperly stored. The case went nowhere until all parties involved eventually moved ahead with the business of living. This cannot happen in Akiel’s case. We cannot allow the molestation of a boy to be dismissed as unimportant. We cannot allow his death to go unanswered and unpunished. To keep quiet about this enduring example of gross complacency and ineptitude is to accept it and to accept it, is to accept a degeneration and degradation of our collective social conscious.
IT'S JUST ONE MORE
(For Dane Andrews)
When I was in primary school, there was a girl in my class who had no friends. She had the tragic misfortune of being both white and poor – a terrible combination as anyone from the Caribbean knows. To be white of skin and empty of pocket seems to us to go against the very laws of nature, and as children, forever in tune to the adult world around us, we subconsciously adopted their attitudes for our own.
Her status was not just determined by the inability of her ethnicity and wealth to coincide though. She was taller than most of us – a tragedy in itself – and was the only girl in a family of boys, her mother having died when she was younger. Her father we didn’t know much about, except that he wasn’t the type to notice when school skirts needed replacing and hair needed brushing. She carried her motherlessness like a banner on her shoulder that anyone could see. She didn’t fit in with the rest of us whose hair was always slicked back and secured firmly with baubles and red ribbons. And the boys didn’t want her. So she skulked around the school yard during recess, during lunch, trying to fold her tall frame into a less conspicuous size.
She also didn’t fit in because she was being sexually molested. We all knew it, to varying degrees, even those of us who didn’t know the words or what they described. We just vaguely knew it had to do with the touching of “piggies” and “poonkies” and firmly belonged in the realm of the adult world. We knew there was something wrong with the relationship she had with her father. She had a precocious knowledge of what men and women did at night, a knowledge that, far from impressing us, disturbed us immensely and made us shun her more.
She would sit in class for hours on end rubbing herself back and forth against the edge of the bench until the teacher grew disturbed and shouted at her to stop. We were all disturbed by this monomania and by the stories another classmate who lived next to her told, stories she’d overheard from adults who spoke of the “poor child” and the “nastiness of white people”. We looked at this victim of “damn slackness” who was being “interfered with” and even though we didn’t know what it was, we knew instinctively that it was terrible.
In secondary school too there were girls who were being “interfered with”. Problem girls who drank and cursed and quiet girls who spoke only when spoken to and ate lunch silently at their desks, all of them sufferers of the same fate. Once again we picked up the attitudes of the adults around us and only rewarded with friendship those who managed to conceal. In the world of the convent that prepares you for entry into a perfect life one has to learn to pretend that one’s life is, already, perfect.
As an adult I’ve met guys, dated guys, am friends with guys who’d had broken relationships with girls who had been abused. It’s never spoken about the way it is on TV or in the movies, with the terrible hushed expectancy, the tears and unbridled horror at the revelation. The boyfriend, husband, lover doesn’t swear vengeance on their behalf. It’s sad, but it’s a commonplace sadness. There’s always someone who’s had it worse. You’re always luckier than somebody else. There are always blessings to be counted.
And looking back, my primary school self, my secondary school self and even my adult self had no idea what should have been done or even what could have been done. There were no ad campaigns, no adult spoke to us about this terrible thing that infiltrated all our lives, only in differing degrees. If it had happened to any of us, we would have had no idea what to do. The experts all say that you should tell an adult you trust but many times the adults already knew and, in subconscious consent, chose to ignore. Some were the perpetrators themselves. And in the case of Dane Andrews and Akiel Chambers, in fact, in the case of most victims of abuse, it’s someone you know and trust whom you follow willingly to your own destruction.
And now the villagers are tumbling over themselves to speak about what everybody knew about before but no one chose to speak about. And what about the children who aren’t killed and so no one ever speaks about them because they’re just one more in a world where there is always one more?
So another child has been raped and murdered. Another family cries as the child no one thought they would outlive is buried. And we all wait to see if once again, another child who has been destroyed because of ignorance and silence will go unavenged.