In Jamaica, citizens urge action, not more words, following a child’s murder

Feature image via Canva Pro.

On June 8, an eight-year-old student of Braeton Primary and Infant School, Danielle Rowe, was collected from school by an unknown person. A Jamaica Defence Force soldier later found the child on a street in Kingston with her throat cut; she eventually died at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital on June 10. There followed an extraordinary outpouring of emotion and grief on social media as Jamaicans agonised over her fate.

The police issued a composite picture of a woman they were seeking, as well as CCTV footage apparently showing her with the child, and the public has been urged to give police any information they have. However, to date very little progress has been made in the investigation, with the police reporting that they have “no clear leads at this time, despite the tremendous efforts of investigators.”

Danielle’s abduction and murder continues to reverberate in both traditional and social media. On June 19, media houses waited outside the location of the autopsy, chronicling every moment of the parents’ grief. Her murder brings to 10 the number of Jamaican children who have been killed since the start of 2023 — five girls and five boys.

As public outrage continued, there was a flurry of announcements and pledges from political leaders. Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams announced on June 12 that CCTV cameras would be installed at the entrances to the over 1,000 primary schools, while conceding that such a project would take several years to complete. This could be connected to the island-wide “Jamaica Eye” CCTV project, a public-private partnership that has made limited progress on the crime detection front. While plans had been afoot to expand it, since Rowe's murder Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that “massive investments” are going to be made in that area:

[T]he government will move to make it such that all public entities must have closed-circuit cameras at the entrance and exit to their public service space, which will include schools.

Prime Minister Holness also announced that the government’s School Safety and Security Policy Guidelines will be reviewed to include recommendations for the collection of children at schools, commenting that a “stranger or a person who is coming for the first time can’t just come and receive a child.”

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen announced a National Day of Mourning on Friday, June 23:

The governor-general, in a speech read by custodes (his representatives in each parish across the island), said that the root causes of violence must be addressed, as Jamaica is “failing its children”:

On Friday, I invite us all to wear black and turn our headlights on. Our schools across the island will pause for devotion at 8:30 a.m to pray for our children who have been killed and those who are being abused.

The Mayor of Kingston laid flowers at the Secret Gardens, a monument to commemorate children who have died under tragic or violent circumstances. Unveiled in downtown Kingston in 2008, the monument ran out of space for the inscribed names of the children commemorated there, in 2017. There are plans to expand it, but it is not clear when this will happen. The Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation posted on Facebook:

[W]hen the monument was erected, it was supposed to represent a line in the sand — drawn by us as a municipality and a society against these heinous and criminal activities that have affected our children. [T]oday we are at a point where again our consciences are being provoked because of ongoing acts of violence committed against our children.

The reality is that we need to get to the point where every child becomes our child. If every single one of us starts to see each child as our child and have a shared collective responsibility for their safety, security and protection, then there will be no need for activities such as this.

The KSAMC supports today’s ‘Day of Mourning’ which represents a collective effort to transform our society as we recognize the value of our children worthy of being celebrated, secured and protected.

Meanwhile, the prime minister reminded the public that perpetrators of any kind of child abuse must, by law, be reported:

By definition, our children are vulnerable and are unable to protect themselves and that is why, under the law, anyone who has knowledge of children being abused, groomed or otherwise in any form of danger must report it to the police.

Apart from official events and commemorations at various schools, including Braeton, responses to the National Day of Mourning were hard to quantify. Dancehall artiste D’Angel expressed her disappointment over the poor level of support.

Another Jamaican urged legal action be taken to protect children:

Others were more cynical, suggesting that one day of mourning will not make any difference unless serious change follows:

Another suggested that symbolism won’t help; action is needed:

One Instagram commentator urged a much stronger response all round, including a school boycott:

Where are the people who showed up to demand justice for this baby? NO SCHOOL SHOULD BE OPENED UNTIL THIS EVIL IS FOUND AND ARRESTED. All children should be sheltered until. @andrewholness @fayvalwilliams @horacechang TOO MUCH R…. CHATTINGS. ACTION TIME NOW. Parents across the island should withdraw their children until Justice is served. It could happen to you and yours!

Priest and social commentator Dr. Raulston Nembhard noted that a programme to address mental health in communities has been talked about, but not implemented:

Part of the cure will begin when we invest heavily in the training of mental health professionals, deploy them to communities, and give them the resources they will need to do an effective job. To robustly address this situation, we need something akin to a Marshall Plan to address mental illness in our society, remove the associated stigma, and give people the assurance that like all other sicknesses they can be helped by therapy and medication to rise above their problems.

Columnist and dub poet Michael Abrahams, who created a video on child abuse, commented on the general situation regarding crime, violence, and anti-social behaviour in Jamaica:

Much of the mess we are in can be attributed to two entities: The Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party. Since our Independence, either of these two parties has led all our Governments, and much of the chaos and mayhem we are seeing now is a result of chronic, poor, corrupt governance. Endemic corruption in all its forms, including cronyism, nepotism, accepting bribes, demanding kickbacks, and the utilisation of thuggery for political gain, are all now biting us in the ass. In other words: the chickens have come home to roost.

While Jamaica's political leaders seek to comfort, condemn, reassure, and urge citizens to help find Danielle Rowe’s killer, Abrahams pointed to the leaders themselves as among the root causes of crime and violence:

It is unrealistic to expect a society to be peaceful, orderly and disciplined when so many in leadership positions have tolerated, endorsed or even prescribed violence, broken laws themselves, and are purveyors of dishonesty and disrespectful behaviour. As we ponder our abysmal state, we cannot ignore the orange and green elephants in the room.

Orange and green are the colours of the two political parties.

Meanwhile, as the search for Danielle Rowe’s murderer continues, so does Jamaicans’ collective grief.

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