Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Law that dies here and burns there

Women's History Month

If the fire of the law dies here and burns there, it is not operating properly. (Ghana, Burundi)

Remembering Mothers of Braeton Seven

This is for women who lose their sons in war that seems to offer poor Black men choices of prison or cemetery. This week I go to Washington DC on behalf of one mother who lost her son – killed by Jamaican police – in 2002. She wants an acknowledgment that the state did wrong, that is all.

Today is the anniversary of another day when agents of the Jamaican state took seven lives in one incident on Seal Way in Braeton. Police said they were defending themselves in a shootout. However, neighbors testified that they heard the young men begging for their lives or repeating the Lord’s Prayer in between gunshots heard between 5 and 5.45 that morning. Neighbors said the last gunshots were fired between 6.30 and 7 am. They said the police were then finishing off one of the young men discovered to be still alive. For further information please click here

Six of the seven had gunshots to the head, even though the police claimed that they were outside the house and the boys inside when the shootout took place. Later the police claimed that they managed to enter through a door that was mysteriously left open, and that they killed all the men (without sustaining any injuries) in a pitch black house. Six policemen were tried for murder and acquitted.

Many Jamaicans still believe the police account of the shootout, or else they think that the young men deserved to be killed because they were probably up to something in the early hours of the morning of March 14, 2001.

I spoke to several young men in Braeton who told me that it was only by the grace of God that they were not among those slaughtered in that house. The previous evening, the seven men were among others playing against women in a domino game (the women won), and then had gone to the house at Seal Way to “run a boat”. This refers to the communal practice of preparing a meal from what the members can contribute. Saltfish and dumplings were left on the ground after the shootings took place.

Tamayo’s mother was under medication when I visited Braeton the day after the killings. For all I know she still needs medication to come to terms with what happened to her son, named after a Cuban astronaut who was the first Black man in space. His father, a union representative, was determined to bring his son’s killers to justice.

Tamayo, about nineteen years old, had stayed away from home that night because of an argument with his dad. Apparently he stayed nearby with a relative, and from there he heard shooting and the voices of his friends. He then reportedly rode his bicycle toward the house, shouting, “People, people, you going to let the youth die just like that? Help them!” Tamayo’s dad was unable to remain in the courtroom the day the police showed “Tamayo’s bicycle in a tape of the murder scene.

His father broke down also when Tamayo’s college papers arrived shortly after his death. He was accepted to attend a Canadian university. .

Dane lived next door to Tamayo. His father was an engineer, and his mother had migrated to the US. She didn’t hear about Dane’s death for months after the incident. She was institutionalized because of mental illness and there was a question of how to break the news to her.

Like Tamayo, Dane was staying away that night because of a confrontation with his father. He was about twenty years old, attended trade training school, and hoped to be an engineer like his father.

Lancebert’s parents had migrated to the US. He would already have followed them, but for a bureaucratic slip-up. About nineteen years old, he had attended a prominent high school. At the time of his death, he lived with his aunt and grandmother.

Andre was a tradesman who lived with his mother and was in close touch with his father. He spent eight months in jail accused of possession of a firearm. No evidence was ever brought to court – no gun, no witness – and a judge ultimately threw out the case.
On the night of the incident, Andre stopped at the Seal Way house after visiting a girlfriend. Apparently had his toothbrush in his hand when he was killed – three gunshots to the head. .

Curtis attended school and was also the caretaker of the death house. He was allowed to live there till the owners, who had migrated, decided whether they wanted to sell or rent. His father had been murdered when he was a child, and his mother had gone to the US. For ten years she had hoped to be able to regularize her status and send for her son. Because she was undocumented, she was not able to return to Jamaica to attend her son’s funeral.

Reagon, fifteen years old, was the youngest of the boys. Both parents lived overseas, and older siblings cared for him while his mother arranged for him to join her in the UK.

According to reports, he tried to explain to the police that he lived nearby and wanted to return home. He received twelve shots, and was reportedly killed on the pathway outside the house.

Chris’s mother died when he was two years old, and his grandmothers, aunts, and an uncle raised him. He had therefore lived in several homes during his seventeen years. A prominent high school acquired him because of his skills as an athlete, and then let him go because he couldn’t read and write well enough to keep up his grades. He was the one the police sought on that night, for the murder of a policeman. Forensic evidence showed that a policeman’s M16 blew out Chris’s brains while he was kneeling on the floor.

As recently as two weeks ago, an attorney tried to justify the murders of these seven young men. She said one of them (unnamed) had raped the daughter of one of her employees. Even with her training, she didn’t seem to believe that young man was entitled to due process – presumption of innocence till proved guilty in a court of law. For further comment on operation of the law in Jamaica, please click here

Due process. Keep the young men alive if they are held unarmed and post no threat to anyone’s life. The mothers who feel the unending belly pain of loss of their sons ask no more from the state.


Hilaire Sobers said...

Nine years later, and Jamaicans like that attorney still don't get it...

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Even this attorney, with 40 years' experience, seems to fall back on the position that some are deserving and some are not. We seem a long way from recognising that injustice for one is injustice for all. But the struggle continues....


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at