Killing the living for the dead


Deadman walking; gone too soon

It takes an extraordinary person to become a funeral director. Whether it be the preparation of the deceased, supporting friends and families to express their last respect, at a church, a funeral parlor, community center, or school during these trying times, this responsibility rests in their hands.

Thirty-nine-year-old Funeral Director Wayne Nash, a local business owner down, his weapon stolen in December 2019, in a quiet community in Manchester, Jamaica; leaving his community questioning why people who devoted their lives to caring for the dead are being targeted.

After he was gunned down, his licensed firearm was stolen, according to local report. But irrespective of his weapon being taken, they scorched his business vehicle. They were reports of another funeral home burned down in the area while start-ups remain on high alert.

Unfortunately, there will be more cases like this to come from this barbaric mentality where people need to mobilize and demand answers, but like several other issues on these shores, silence from fear and protection of personal interest while its moral compass continues to deteriorate.

After Nash’s untimely death, few maintained it is not random. But quietly, many believed that fighting over drugs, scamming, and gang affiliation where criminal activities typically fight over turf has now expanded to the funeral home business.

Decades ago, few people own a firearm on these shores. Usually, a local business owner, security, and law enforcement officers. Today, a grocery worker, taxi driver, and food stand vendors are armed. Carrying a weapon has become the norm more than job security, economic development, career plan, or youth deterrence programs.

The other silent victims

Violence is not a result of what side is in power, as several expatriates’ concern that if even the man who handles the dead is not safe, why come? And if the only people returning are the dead, why invest?”

Jane expressed she is going back to the UK to enjoy her retirement because people’s lives have reduced to numbers. She felt like she is living in a jungle, kill or be killed.

Delroy Walker, 63, stabbed to death in Rio Nuevo Resort in May 2018, and Charlie and Gayle Anderson, 74 and 71, killed on June 22, 2018, in Hope Bay according to the Sun news. There have been over 1,600 murders since 2017 in Jamaica. Though they do not link these deaths, and they were returning residence, it goes to the broader public safety issues in the region.

Recently a local grocery store manager gunned down his lover in a domestic relationship that went bad inside the store he managed. Accountability is also key to getting the community to become more engaged. Social media alone cannot replace good governance.

Authorities habitually lack the resources, especially in rural areas, where technical skills to solve challenging crimes could use an upgrade.

24-year-old Shantel Whyte (Domestic Violence-Victim)

The reality that cannot be ignored

The World Bank and the UN have consistently ranked Jamaica and other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago in the top ten nations having the world’s highest homicide rate. This past decade, in Jamaica from 2010 to 2020, has seen a slight reduction in murders to 12,698 from 13,418 according to Jamaica Information Service. It is a reduction in the right direction, but I am not sure if it a trend to celebrate at this time.

Photo by Renato Danyi

This past decade, in Jamaica from 2010 to 2020, has seen a slight reduction in murders to 12,698 from 13,418 according to Jamaica Information Service. It is a reduction in the right direction, but I am not sure if it a trend to celebrate at this time.

There is a major concern that still hangs over a history of unresolved cases, from missing children, rape, robberies, and killings, these communities have already seen many cases moved to the ‘cold file’, or the “we are working on it until forgotten.”

The conjugated history of misgiving between the police and its people often led to apprehension from coming forward and speaking up. But the community ought not to blame law enforcement alone if they have information and remain silent.

Measures to control this crime epidemic have forced leaders to an uncomfortable space issuing licensed weapons to citizens as a deterrence at an alarming rate, in which some argue that individual safety is important, but what may work for other countries might not be suitable for this region.

There is a criminogenic risk that must be addressed rather than looking for an opportunity to blame it all on illegal imports of weapons. Changing a psychological deficit where community youth programs interlace with a comprehensive crime control strategy is critical.

Despite a few community initiatives making a difference in some high-crime areas, leaders talked about the lack of funding. Others are competing where titles appear to be important than delivering much-needed change.

And when it is being celebrated that no one has died in 24 hours during the New Year, 2020, it shows liberation from mental anguish, where it affects the psychological and physical well-being of individuals often seen in an active war zone from hopelessness.

The business of death

Regardless of these homicide numbers, it is still a social-democratic and capitalistic society, and these entrepreneurs capitalized on an opportunity from the death rates with modern medical science that made it easier to revamp an old business model.

The death business mentality now seems like taking out life insurance on a family member, or poverty-stricken person, and observe them suffer knowing that there will be financial rewards upon this person’s death.

History told us that about 4000BC the first embalming of the deaths occurred in Egypt. Funeral business came along the way for centuries from cost to preservation. The medical specialty advancement has made the preservation of the deceased much easier.

The funeral business is lucrative where an average package could cost anywhere from USD 2,000.00 to $5,000 on these shores.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas

Once a monopoly where only the middle and upper class could afford a decent funeral package, they must now compete with a no-name brand that can deliver the same service for much less. The older establishment is now competing with a taxi driver or a police officer who has entered this lucrative business as a side hustle where a corpse can be kept in one’s anywhere.

Today they can house a body in one of the major funeral homes, but there is a sub-group responsible for preparation at another location and burial. Even using taxis to carry the dead today not frowned upon where the tradition was a hearse draped with flowers playing sad songs.

Even well-established churches with dedicated burial grounds where if you are baptized there and have attended once in your 75 years, you may able to get a free burial spot, but those no longer exist.

Even active members now must pay for internment, but in their defense, historically church membership has declined, as the youth who should have carried on the tradition are far less into religion as most studies have shown. The few structures are left needing considerable repairs, and the funeral has now become a business to fill those gaps.

These new undertakers operate like Amazon, as one location maybe next door to your new condominium, while a startup can deliver a casket in 24 hours, the pallbearers, mourners, live band, and pastor in one package. These uncertainties setting up a death contract in these overcast businesses to honor one’s wish after death today seems unwise.

Sadly, a dream home in a prime multi-million residential community can be converted into a funeral home, and some without recourse must leave, start yours, or merged into that business. It reaches a theme where you now have two funeral homes next to each other. Possibly some argue that kickbacks and corruptions by officials ignore zoning laws that resulted in funeral homes popping up like cafes.

Time for a new paradigm shift

The educational system is more critical today to teach respect for the rule of law, psychological shift, and empowerment, especially for women that will shape the future, reintroduce integrity, security and invigorate these communities plagued by violence.

Conceivably the generation will take on the mantle of the next morticians without fear of being killed and even provide a free funeral for the one who may have been left by the roadside with a good sendoff.