When our children die at our own hands
At six years old, Johann King was still approaching the bloom of childhood. In his idealized world of nonage, the world was full of promise. The sun was brighter, the stars shinier, the days lighter. So much to dream. So much time to achieve.
Like every child, Johann would have expected his home, his community, his country, to be there for him, to comfort him, to provide safety and solace. He could live without a care in the world, secure in his juvenile conviction that all would be well.
On Monday, June 29, Johann’s future came to a bitter, bruising and brutal end as he died a sad and painful death. We still don’t know who or what killed Johann and we are not about to speculate – after all, we’re journalists and it’s not our job to speculate. However, the police have told us that his death was unnatural, the circumstances unusual. And a shocked, saddened and sorrowful country wonders how could this happen?
In an interview with Barbados TODAY last evening, Johann’s grandmother, Margaret Gill, blamed the Barbados Child Care Board for his death.
“All I saying, and I would say it a thousand times, I blame the Child Care Board. I would die saying that I blame the Child Care Board,” Gill said.
You might wish to dismiss the allegation as the rants of an angry, grieving grandmother seeking answers she cannot have, and looking for someone, anyone, to blame for the passing of someone who died so young.
But the photographs that have been circulating on social media tell a chilling and troubling story. The swollen eyes, the broken finger, the unexplained injuries don’t lie. And if Gill is to be believed, the Child Care Board knew something was wrong and did nothing about it.
“He come to school in April with he fingers [broken] [and] the school call[ed] the Child Care Board.”
While lamenting that nothing was done by the authorities to help her grandson, she said he had also “come to school with a bloodshot in the eye”, and again the Child Care Board was informed but to no avail.
“From the time the child eye was swollen, why didn’t they take the child or even if they give him to me, and put him somewhere where you know it would be safe. He come back again with more injuries and you send he back, which means you don’t care,” said an outraged Gill,
While we will not point fingers, his death and the suicide of 12-year-old Shemar Weekes of Fryers Well, Checker Hall, St Lucy in May, speak volumes.
How did we miss the signs that all was not well with Shemar? Why did we not act when the evidence suggested that the young Johann must have been in trouble? What were the Child Care Board’s reasons for not acting after the first report? The second? The third? How many more are in a similar position? How many more must die?
Clearly, the processes put in place to protect the welfare of children like Shemar and Johann, have not worked. The very system that ought to have protected these gentle and fragile souls, failed them badly. No, miserably, deplorably, tragically.
What we have seen in the cases of the two young boys is the collapse of our social structure and the erosion of social responsibility. We have seen a system that ignored the warning signs and the sirens blaring in our ears, screaming that our children, the flowers of our country, need attention and help.
It is too late now to save Shemar and Johann but let the death rattle emitting from their throats sound a warning that we must act to prevent more such incidents.
We must not let them die in vain. Our homes, our families, our communities, our country, must save our children, must keep them alive in order to keep their dreams alive. We cannot tolerate abuse of anyone, and we most certainly cannot tolerate abuse of our children. And words won’t cut it. We need concrete action.
Those familiar with Catholicism will be aware of the Penitential Act recited during church service.
“I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” it reads.
The deaths of Shemar Weekes and Johann King ought to prompt our institutions to reflect on what they failed to do to stop the abuse and prevent their deaths. Our failure to act is our most grievous fault.