Commentary: 14-year-old raped, killed and burnt – a troubling new normal in Jamaica

By D.R. Miller

Photo Credit: Latoya Riley, the mother of 14 year-old Yetanya Francis

How do you comfort the mother of young Yetanya Francis, who was raped, murdered and her lifeless body found on August 24, 2018, after simply being out on an errand for her mother?

Her gruesome headline story is not unique to Jamaica; especially untimely deaths of young girls where other parents still search for answers.

What is different today is that social media has taken these victims’ stories globally.

In response to these barbaric atrocities, vigilante justice, which often kills innocent people, does not help, nor does the prime minister’s hug, despite good intention for comfort, or other leaders’ feel-good speeches, which cannot reverse this criminal trend.

Additionally, elected leaders who are in denial are only positioning themselves for the revolving election door in which they once failed while in power, which has only contributed to this normalcy.

What these neighbourhoods need is value, hope and tangible results. Several scholars have noted that fighting crime requires a broad range of technology, leadership, the community and management skills.

Who will be next on these sexual predators’ and mentally sick individuals’ lists?

Students must now deal with the psychological trauma of losing their classmate, while parents are scared to send their daughters to school or a local store.

Sure, some will disagree and point to other places globally. But 13-year-old Aliesha Brown, who went missing and was later found dead on October 2, 2014, is another reminder, along with several heinous crimes since her death.

Being vigilant is now part of the tour guide package as the new normal after reported warnings.

DR Photo-Flying over Jamaica

Jamaica’s ‘cool runnings’ vibes and local smiles have not washed out to the ocean despite the negative headlines. The local corner shops where you can repair a flat tire, to a restaurant pinned up against the mountain selling local authentic Jamaica dishes still welcome everyone.

Even the white sand and turquoise water, as the sun beams through trees, with a cool breeze hitting your face that can make you feel as if you are shedding your skin like a snake to take on a new identity and temporarily forgetting your troubles as if you were at a spa remain intact.

But, these natural occurrences and postcard moments can create fallacies because the danger remains in that snake’s venom despite its new beautiful skin. And psychologists have noted that what seems normal is sometimes not healthy.

How did Jamaica get to this point?

It is a struggle to separate the perception from reality.

Several murders cases are left unsolved I believe from the lack of technical skills and resources or a police force that is stretched too thin to cover these dense areas.

Headlines of murders, rapes, assaults, thefts and robberies cannot be solved by a pledge alone, and/or a few operations when criminals are tipped in advance, leave the area only to return to strike again.

An education system, which is critical to prepare the next generation of leaders and to rebuild the middle-class, has diminished.

Few argue that poverty, corruption, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, high unemployment and crime rates have created an emotional desensitization and lack of responsiveness after repeated exposure to violence from the constant news.

Furthermore, if, as reported, some who are sworn to serve and protect now find themselves with case numbers from their own criminal activities further erodes trust.

Concern and outrage often seem to be short-lived in a few news cycles.

Even those who are empathetic and would like much-needed change are now convinced that these crime symptoms do not need a doctor because, emotionally, they have become detached.

This is a far cry from Jamaica’s relax-no-problem vibe that often-greeted visitors and returning residents.

The Jamaica Observer reported that, in 2017 alone, over 1,600 people lost their lives. Other reports noted that, since early 2000, over 200 British, American and Canadian expats were murdered, and since the start of 2018 over 500 have lost their lives.

Many believe that violent gangs and the ongoing lottery scam in major cities as reported is still a problem, where expatriates are seen by criminals as soft targets.

What is troubling is what seems to be a disturbing pattern of acceptance of crime, dishonesty and a lack of a moral compass, while several leaders remain silent.

Sure, crime control models have been implemented to eradicate this criminal cancer, but, with these criminal trends, some believe that they have done little to deter easy access to high powered weapons, gangs and other criminal activities.

Dispute are now being settled by whoever has the better weapon, and the normalcy out of fear puts good law enforcement officers at a disadvantage.

I began to wonder if religious institutions, often the beacon to inspire and calm residents in these troubled times, have now aligned themselves with politicians and criminals, and chosen sides for their own survival.

Jamaica has never lost its boisterous attitude, values, pride, vigour, and tenacity, where communities look forward to the weekend simply to get out to have a good time.

Sadly, many hangout places have become more isolated and indoors due to safety concerns, like the threat of a hurricane.

Yes! I get it; crime, poverty, inequality, and poor socio-economic issues are ubiquitous.

Even recently in The Bahamas, Carlis Blatch, an aide to the governor general, was gunned down while waiting on his son from school according to the Nassau Guardian.

Photo credit: Steve Walker, whose brother Delroy Walker was murdered in Jamaica

Delroy Walker’s death in May 2018 is another remainder of the danger few admit. He was stabbed and killed upon his return to Jamaica to enjoy his retirement from the UK.

He was a champion for the youth, giving back to the community, utilizing his skills and resources through his charitable organization.

This untimely death robbed the youth of a shot of success, those who yearn for a sunbeam that is getting cloudier on these shores.

When youth have no hope, or even lack the resources to chart a vision, crime become more attractive.

Although his killers may have been caught, the criminal enterprises silently devastating these once safe communities are a major threat to a normal life.

Delroy’s death further stymies many charitable barrels of goods slated for the island to help others now under reconsideration by eBay and Amazon, held in a basement or storage centre because of safety concerns.

When honest hard-working and successful people, those who want to help, are now seen as a threat, the region loses and remittances alone cannot solve these systemic issues.

One close friend talked about her container of goods sent home after years of hard work abroad and upon arrival half its contents went missing, with no accountability.

Public service is a noble position where honesty is key. It makes one wonder who is hiring these people, but that too has become normal.

Often it is fear, and connection to those involved, so communities refuses to come forward.

Maybe the pride Jamaica developed from the old colonial rule continues to use minimization, and deflection to balance the lack of accountability and even for survival; therefore, this behaviour has contributed to its normalcy.

Desensitization surrounding these crimes may be a way to disguise the pain.

Today, Jamaica’s main economic driver is tourism, but the youths I have met and on social media do not bet their future on visitors alone. They are tired of photo-ops and want tangible options, and educated leadership that has a vested interest in their future and knowledge of a changing world to lead.

They remain hopeful that the sun will rise again, but these communities must restore their pride, confidence and safety. Because only an individual alone can decide what is normal, or change and fix what is not.

The Chinese are coming, corals reefs are dying. What next, the mountains?

by D.R. Miller

Modernization is important; but should it reiterate a nation of its once colonial rule where only the ruling class and famous get to write the rules.

Several Caribbean islands and African nations have seen an explosion of Chinese businesses over the past decade. These investments may offer a path to better economic growth, but some communities are now skeptical that these inroads are platforms for the dumping of their cheap goods and services to maintain their economy for over a billion people.

Some of these developments offered by investors are like a hanging Pinata. They are attractive to many leaders in these poor and developing countries. And it seems some are eagerly waiting to take a whack.

However, a piñata often leaves trash for someone else to clean up. Furthermore, when poor governance struggles to balance their financial books and move people out of poverty, this frequently leads to forced marriages.

Sadly, when the honeymoon is over, what it will take to maintain this economic marriage to keep the family together?

Recently, Jamaica reported about a $180 million grant from the Chinese for border security and airport operations. Any investments that make the best use of safer communities and enhance travel security should be welcomed. But I wonder when did Jamaica, and China has border issue concerns? Moreover, the region does not have political turmoil from people fleeing their neighboring islands or parishes.

We do understand that economic agreement and technical corporation should benefit all. In fact, new technology and infrastructure have made the flow of goods and services more efficient. But who benefits when the region is now dominated with massive imports?

Is this a “debt trap” diplomacy like others have noted in different places?

This seems like a new conquest of colonization that has not lifted the poor from poverty since it started. Even locally grown products have dwindled to small corners like news racks covered with international news clips while local customs and identity get lost.

Few reports noted that China has also used its financial influence throughout the Caribbean Community through [CARICOM] to expand its influence. Several projects from medical centers to stadiums have been built in Saint Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, and Jamaica with cheap loans.

Unquestionable, these developments have some positive effects, but who are the long-term beneficiaries? This is not a new pattern; especially in Jamaica since more people are talking freely.

Reports have shown that China started its diplomatic engagements in the early 1970s, or what can be called their blueprint. For Jamaica, the voyage started under the former prime minister, P.J. Patterson on a high-level visit in 1998, when Jamaica opened an embassy in Beijing. Later, the Caribbean Economic Trade Cooperation was forged.

In 2005, Jamaica hosted the first China-Caribbean trade fair and this pattern remains, while the people who elected these decision-makers have no say in what is next.

Is this economic investment or exploitation?

Photo Credit: 2012-12-1: Reception Celebrating Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between China and Jamaica

The lack of transparency, accountability, even corruption, and ignorance often reported has caused frustration for numerous locals. You can’t have an expansion of trade agreement, and only to find your international competitiveness reduced, and no long-term economic gains for the local people to improve their standard of living.

Some argued that when they arrived, they brought their staff, and locals are not employed in any leadership positions to earn a good salary. They may have contributed to today’s lower employment rates as reported, but poverty remains high due to underemployment, low skills job, less employee protection from low wages being offered.

Other concerns are that land areas that should have been designated as historic sites and preserved are either leased or bought by foreign investors.

Soon Mandarin will become the official language of these places. There are also reports that leaders are granting the exploration to mine famous un-touched mountains that play a pivotal role in the environment. Some argued that these new deals amount to personal financial gains, even after they leave office. But the local people must hold them accountable, demand real answers, and not a quick political response in a tweet.

If the coral reef continues to vanish, so does the island. Tropical coral reefs play an important part on our ecosystem on this planet, it contributes to not only clean air but provides a local fisherman the ability to fish and support his family to attracting tourists.

Photo Credit- R Flying over Jamaica

Few businesses on the sea line now must move further inland, due to rising seawater. After it was reported that a few years ago; Jamaica received US $166 million to begin addressing climate change. Who are tracking these projects and few solar systems alone is not the answer?

Today, these coastlines are being torn apart by development causing severe climate issues. And it seems that the failure of leadership to use economic leverage has made it easier for the public land to be sold off.

It seems someone has put out a fire under the ocean. Has anyone analyzed the impact of non-operational mining plants to see what contaminants have washed out to sea from a poor drainage system?

There are also reports of warmer temperatures on these islands. On a recent trip with a few friends and family, we took a glass-bottom boat on a brief tour. Our tour guide tried to convince us that this is the best coral in the area.

We left wondering if he has been to other parts of the Caribbean where it seems more environmentally friendly, and what a healthy coral reef should look like. Many of the coral reefs look like dying plants on land that could use some fresh water. For the 20 minutes ride, only a few small fishes emerged looking as they too want to escape.

Driving on the coastlines can be breathtaking from new developments, but for many locals on a hot day, without entry fees to prime shorelines to cool off, they now must drive for miles too much fewer desirable areas. This once treasured past-time when friends and family looked forward to the weekends to relax on the nearby beaches, several areas have now become an idea for various locals.

One person I spoke with said, “some of these now gated shorelines are local self-inflicted wounds.” He noted, “when it was free, they littered the area with trash and other questionable activities, and no one bothers to clear it”.

The delicate balance is that new development can offer an opportunity for a local artist to support his family, thereby selling hand-crafted souvenirs. While tucked away at a small stand making sales, the culture fades and weakens through erosion and gentrifications. “Imagine prohibiting citizens from a public park,” as one vendor’s legal struggle to keep one of the last free beaches from development

While social media likes may spread awareness, it takes community collaboration to stop the sand from being swept from under their feet. Jamaica is not all about reported reggae music, high crime rate per-capita, marijuana use, and a relaxed attitude.

Several viewers became aware of the hidden stratification quandary on Sunday, November 17, 2014, after CNN aired the late Anthony Bourdain’s Part Unknown.

This episode illustrated a deep tide that has been uprooting the soul of these coastlines, and that this small land with a global image, few are willing to sell its soul. With high unemployment and poverty, low production, the criminal enterprise often thrives as several youths become hopeless.

Economic stagnations that confine up-ward mobility often breeds tension and violence as they fought for equality and survival. Alone the multimillion-dollar coastline, I left wondering how a young police officer will be able to afford a home in some areas they will patrol to protect mega properties.

Analyzing the region’s plight from the outside can be difficult, but who are the investment bankers in disguise? It seems few uses the one-love vibes while quietly threatens the native culture and their environment?

Economic and environmental policies that are geared to enhance the standard of living should not only benefit few but move people in general forward while protecting their environment. As Burning Spear, one of Jamaica’s favorite reggae superstars once said, in a song, “My island don’t sell out.”

Photo credit: Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Commentary: The complexities of rape victims’ cases in the Caribbean

By. R.D. Miller

A sexual assault alarm: Stuck in traffic on a commuter bus one evening heading home from work, I came across an article published on October 2, 2018, by the Detroit Free Press about two women raped in Jamaica at an exclusive hotel by an employee hired few days earlier.

He crawled up a balcony, armed with a handgun; he entered their hotel room and raped them both. These victims fought back, and he was shot in the arm with his own weapon, he was arrested when he sought medical attention at a local hospital who alerted law enforcement.

This sexual predator was once brought in for questioning in other suspected rape cases in another parish by local law enforcement, but managed to escape on foot. This search went cold and was called off like many others before.

It was much easier to join a few on social media on the subject, where some missed the burden women often face from counter attacks by the misinformed about liability or culpability when they have been raped and seek justice.Some argued that it is not a Caribbean problem alone or an isolated incident or misunderstanding.

In fact, this is a form of minimization, shame, guilt and hopelessness to deflect from the negative press, as the Caribbean region continues to struggle to maintain a firm grip sexual violence.

In many rape cases studies have shown, some believe that she must have asked for it, flirting, dressing provocatively or being promiscuous, and was out outside the safety of their homes.

Rape is simply an unlawful sexual activity carried out forcefully against someone’s will regardless of location.

This mentality silences victims from coming forward, and further isolates the seriousness of sexual assault crimes along these beautiful shores that necessitates responsiveness while holding offenders accountable.

The focus, especially in resorts, is simply awareness, adequate services, and a safe space for victims.

Between 25 to 35 percent of women will be raped at some point and many choose not to come forward; especially the younger generation, some studies have shown.

Maybe new welcome packages for all visitors should have an insert on how to handle sexual assaults or suspicion, and unwanted behaviour.

Local managers and human resources must now re-evaluate their hiring policies and practices, although it is difficult to know these predators’ intent

The institutional barriers: This recent global case will not change the island immediately. Despite tough laws that hold offenders accountable on these islands, after sentencing could use an upgrade to reduce the chance of re-offending, and especially in relation to victims’ rights

Many rural courts lack resources even to order an assessment from experts to diagnose to further treat these dangerous offenders.

Concerns about cases held for long periods before trial while some predators are released on bail, free to move like the ocean, only to target victims and re-offend.

Reporting rape or even domestic violence incidents is sometimes not handled in the right way.

Victims often spend several hours at police stations to file an incident, and any chance to collect DNA evidence if equipped quickly diminishes.

Specialized training to handle sensitive cases is still an issue. Some victims’ interviews are conducted in the open. Poorly run and underfunded medical systems tend to lack the skills or authority to guide when one comes forward.

Furthermore, overcoming unrealistic expectation of suspicion because a victim may have had a relationship with the perpetrators.

In an earlier report, it talked about one foreign student on a study abroad program was sexually assaulted and robbed, only to be brought to the airport in her pajamas and covered in dried blood after spending nine hours at a hospital

These victims face a long-term physical and emotional trauma, confusion, anger, suspicion, anxiety, and the negative perception that often follows.

There is still a wide debate between scholars and the role that masculinity and patriarchy play in these communities. Others point to colonialism, in which rape was a common practice of enslaved women carried over.

Although the Atlantic slave trade that brought millions of African slaves to the region remains a dark period and a complicated issue, these islands today are far more educated and not delimited.

Is it an aspect of the cultural music sexualized dance?

These islands obligation: What numbers of rape cases in the region resulted in a conviction, dismissal or unsolved?

Today several women still on these islands or ones who migrated have similar stories, but decided to remain silent.

The Caribbean region and its gated resorts are now at a crossroad to manage complaints promptly and effectively. To solve these issues, requires awareness, training, and accountability.

Law enforcement cannot do it alone, they too lack resources to track and solve these criminal cases.

Sadly, this story will be lost and over half-a-million will arrive again for a vacation on these islands, but it has opened a much-needed awareness and conversation along these shores.

In 2014, another report talked about a woman who was gang raped at the Sandals Resort in The Bahamas, and others sexually assaulted.

Additional reports out of Mexico, where about 170 tourists experienced illness, and blackouts in which offenders used date rape drugs, and tainted alcohol in drinks.

Several reports have noted that over 70 Americans have been sexually assaulted in Jamaica in a seven-year period.

The US embassy also warned of sexual assaults that occurred in residence hotels rooms, casinos, and cruise ships.

The game changer: Today’s “Me-Too Movement” has given victims a platform to come forward and talk about their bad experiences of powerful men who have behaved badly.

And although few men lost their jobs and faced criminal charges; several organizations survived and the culture remains.

Since this incident unfolded in Jamaica, others began to talk about their own past experiences at some of these 5-star hotels.

These stories, for decades, were kept in the dark because they were teenagers, and were scared to ruin their parent’s vacation.

What if these hotels were to be treated like a college campus where posters, and emergency buttons for awareness where studies have shown that almost 28 percent of college students surveyed reported some form of unwanted sexual contact.

There are also other victims of rape and murders from the gay and lesbian community. These cases are up against a high tide because many still see these same sex relationships as a sin.

I am also concerned about the ones who have not come forward, a high-school student, an employee whose life depends on that income, seeing these sexual predators daily in a hostile environment, but staying silent because of fear.

Time for a discussion: Masculinity should not be targeted as rapist. People of African descent have enough burdens simply because of the variation in one’s skin colour.

On the other hand, if as reported Jamaica ranked with Egypt and Morocco as of one of the most dangerous countries for women, selective amnesia by some postings on social media does not help victims.

This issue must be given that same importance not only when it threatens the hotel industry revenue.

Researching sexual assaults is critical. The violence must be recorded and tracked in the community not only for treatment, but also the victim’s safety.

Many predators are hard to detect because they can be some of the nicest and most well-groomed people, and this behaviour cannot be cured by a trip to a few Sunday sermons.

Sexual predators come in all forms: A perverted doctor who is more interested his patients’ underwear than the basic examination or a teacher, who engages and targets a young student’s vulnerability is just as dangerous as one who broke down a window for entry.

See if you can spot the wolf-in sheep clothing.

Men’s sexual violence is a wish to exert power over women, as feminist movements noted. However, these people need treatment and close monitoring to cut the danger they pose to society.

I consider myself one of the unofficial marketing managers who have recommended others to the region for vacation and, when they asked about safety, I was able to say, you will be in a gated area, but today the threats are also within.

When will be the next law enforcement operation to round up sexual predators because they are just a dangerous with their dysfunctional brain as any other high-powered weapon?

We are all affected when other people are hurting.