Killing the living for the dead

By R.D. Miller

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 businessman was gunned 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 is being targeted.

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

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.

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.

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. Furthermore, 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 major concern 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 it is 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.

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.

Authorities are modernizing and engaging the community, adding better data collection, new technology, and training according to reports. However, these changes take time and it must be taken with a top-down approach, without political influence that often leads to high turnover. Not even a local fast food restaurant can be effective with such turnover at the head.

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

Violence is not a result of who is in power as several expatriates’ concerns are justified; “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 that she is going back to the UK to enjoy her retirement because people’s lives have been reduced to numbers. She felt like she is living in a jungle, kill or be killed.

Delroy Walker, 63, who was stabbed to death in Rio Nuevo Resort in May 2018, and Charlie and Gayle Anderson, 74 and 71, who were killed on June 22, 2018, in Hope Bay according to the Sun news. They were all returning residence. There have been more than 1,600 murders since 2017 in Jamaica.

Dejectedly, some local news outlets tried to compare places like New York City and Chicago death toll for that year. This creates a moral equivalence message that is diminutive to deflect from local delinquencies. In fact, English-speaking Caribbean countries are at or above 30 per 100,000 people. These rates are 6 times US levels and 15-30 times those of most European countries.

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 2010 to 2019, has seen a reduction in murders to 12,698 from 13,418 in the 2000’s according to Jamaica Information Service. And when it is being celebrated that no one has died in 24 hours during the New Year, 2020, it shows liberation from simply mental anguish, where it affects the psychological and physical well-being of individuals often seen in an active war zone from hopelessness.

Regardless of these numbers, it is still a socio 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.

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.

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 policeman who has entered this lucrative business as a side hustle where a corpse can be kept in one’s anywhere.

Today a body can be housed in one of the major funeral homes, but there is a sub-group that is responsible for preparation at another location and burial.

Even using taxis to carry the dead today is not frown upon where the tradition was a hoarse draped with flowers playing sad songs.

Even well-established churches with dedicated burial grounds where if you were baptized there and have attended once in your 75 years you may able to get a free burial spot.

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. Furthermore, the few structures are left standing in need of 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 adjacent to each other. Possibly some argue that kickbacks and corruptions by officials ignore zoning laws that resulted in funeral homes popping up like cafes.

All being well, 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.