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SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: We all failed Shemar


SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: We all failed Shemar

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ATTORNEY GENERAL ADRIEL BRATHWAITE had it right when he said recently that as a society we had failed 12-year-old Shemar Weekes. I dare to add that we will continue to fail Shemar and every child like him as long we continue to do nothing more than use his death as mere fodder for speculation, entertainment and finger-pointing. It is amazing that everyone suddenly has an opinion about who did what and what should have happened. 

While it would appear that neighbours and others in the community were only too glad to share tales of screams and cries coming from where the child lived, it would appear that none of them was moved enough to do anything about it. It seems that everyone who knew something (even those who did not) is now eager to give an opinion, share a tidbit and call for justice. It is pity that everyone could not have found their voices when it could have made a difference to Shemar. Shame on them! Shame on us all! 

More than anything else, it shows how far we have come from a society where we are all our brother’s keepers. Even as we lost this trait, one would have hoped that it did not extend to the children in our society. We have all become so jaded and so self-absorbed that we are now immune to the pain and hurt of others. It also shows how as individuals and communities we are failing to protect the most vulnerable, and how the system has also failed.  

Given the suggested widespread knowledge of the child’s distress, I would be interested to understand how this would not have been known in his school. I know the school environment and how news spreads among students and teachers, even across different schools.

I would be unconvinced by any suggestion that his plight was completely unknown. Where were the support systems? Or perhaps, more importantly, where are the support systems? If we take enough time away from trawling the social media and engaging in vile speculation, we would perhaps realise that this story is not just about Shemar, it is about the Shemars currently in our society.

It is about those children in our society and other vulnerable people for whom no one is standing up and who have no voice.

Despite ongoing work by agencies like UNICEF and the Child Care Board, we continue to bury our heads in the sand about the situations that our children are facing daily. Perhaps that’s not true – burying one’s head in the sand suggests that one can be unaware of the situation. Perhaps it might be better to say that when the distress of others is facing us directly in the face, we choose to blatantly ignore it. 

This is not intended to be a finger-pointing article either because the death of the little boy has also caused me to personally reflect on the extent to which I sit up and take notice of others and their circumstances. I put myself in the group of us who think that we are doing the best thing by minding our own business and getting along in the confines of our own homes. The fact that the death of Shemar has reverberated throughout the society suggests to me that this is perhaps not how we were made to relate to each other.

My fear is that we will soon forget Shemar as we move on to the next big thing that will catch our attention without doing justice to the story behind the 12-year-old’s death.

Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]