No Justice for Angels

The strong get more


While the weak ones fade


Empty pockets don’t


Ever make the grade


Mama may have


Papa may have


But God bless the child


That’s got his own


That’s got his own.

—God Bless the Child, Billie Holiday

Somebody’s child. Born out of love. Carried for nine months. Dead on the front page. Too obscene to forget. Too callous to comprehend. Somebody’s child. Reminding us that some of us are editors and can choose to put other people’s dead children on the front pages of their putrid tabloid newspaper, and some of us are mothers who weep for our dead children and some of us consumers who allow newspapers to feed our blood lust. Turn your face away. It is too much to bear. Too much to fathom that your life and your child’s life could end up being on the front page of someone’s putrid little tabloid. A day’s worth of newspaper sales. Your child’s life, all her smiles, and her discoveries, every flutter she made in your belly, every moment you marvelled at the wonder of human creation.  Something that you made. Out of love. Reduced to a headline and a front page.

Turn your face away. Wish it could be for good. It’s not the first time. They’ve done this obscene, crass and indecent injustice to somebody’s loved one. You know if it were their child, they would want to mourn in private. They would not want thousands of fingers on the face of their child. Taken in such a brutal way. Will this stop people from buying their driver’s licence? Will this stop people from the road rage? What do we do when we can’t take it anymore? Boycott? Try to ignore them out of existence? So that no other family will ever have to confront their loved one laid bare on the front page of a putrid tabloid again? So that children can have dignity in life and death too? Defenceless ones can rest in peace too? Innocent ones can maintain their innocence without the stink of those who try to capi-talise on human tragedy, whose desire for profit removes them from any connection to their humanity?

Why do they think they can do this to us? Why do they think we will take it?
Maybe we like it so. Maybe we are so inured now. So cynical about life and death that a dead baby on the front page of a putrid tabloid is no scene. Number one newspaper indeed. Good news newspaper indeed. Number one may be an enviable position if it meant that you were confronting us with our ugliness as well as our beauty. Number one may be something to aspire to if it meant that truth was not in the gore of the wound but in the exploration of the wounding and the speed of trying to find the healing. Oh it is too much to bear. It is time for us to rethink what stories we tell and how we tell them. To ask who or what is truth and what right do we have to utter it?

Because every time you think there’s nowhere else below for us to go, the bottom falls out again and we descend further into our la basse of unfeeling. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, that children couldn’t possibly be more of an abused and voiceless group, some adult is there to prove you wrong. You have to wonder if the devil is really real. If the devil busy in truth, just running about kicking Trinis in their backsides prompting them to do the most evil of acts, under the guise of truth-sharing. Who is wrong in this situation? Is it the mother for having the child in her lap out of a car seat, out of a seat belt? Is it the photographer for capturing the face of a dead child laying in the grass? The editor who thought it would make a great front page?

The child for being born in the first place? Somebody’s child, oh God. You turn away from her face. Her perfect cherub cheeks. But she stays with you. Haunting you, keeping you awake at night. There is no justice for angels who land in highway grass. There is no love for innocence in this gory time. Turn away, close your eyes. Try to forget her eyes forever closed. Like their hearts that cannot understand why this is wrong. Protect your heart from the hurt, because they think they are right and they in their putrid tabloid righteousness will do this crime again. And get away with it. Leaving us hurting, crying, grieving for innocence lost that can never be regained in the thousands of hands of their readers.

Losers all, we are

Is ah mental block
Dat hard to unlock
It hard like ah rock
an wid it yuh doh wuk
yuh go live wid illusion
Tryin to be another man
And if a man want to set
false standards for you
To follow
To he, wha yuh say?

—Blow Way, Lancelot Layne

Here’s the thing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the fellar. I can even safely say that I find his writing overbearing, condescending and other words ending in ing that I can’t be bothered to list right now.

Hell, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were in the same position he would write a sarky column listing in brilliant detail why it was a good thing that a feminist, Africanist socialist—three strikes and you’re dotish—no longer had column space in a national newspaper. But the truth is I get no joy from the news that Newsday hasn’t run Kevin Baldeosingh’s column for the past three weeks, leading to speculation that he has been fired. You attack one, you attack all. And when the neighbour house on fire, Jah know you better start wetting your own. Or so it is in my book. Perhaps I am being presumptuous to imagine that this lumpy bumpy awkward thing called the media, when you get past the big business media house petty competition nonsense, well we have each other’s backs.

Perhaps I am wrong to think that I should be blasted vex at Newsday’s limp-wristedness. Vex at how they are taking the side of the wrong people. Not vexed as much as shocked at how it’s so easy for people to defend the indefensible. But perhaps it is wrong of me to think that the Newsday people are any different from all the other scared conservative people walking around Trinidad afraid to say boo to anybody. Who would rather hold their corner and hold a safe line instead of rocking the boat. At how integrity means nothing and those who stand up in defence of the truth are the ones who does get their throats buss. Time and again. I, quite frankly, am growing bored of it. My right to speak is something that I am prepared to defend with my life. And a threat to anyone else is an indirect threat to me. But this is unfamiliar territory in this country. This is why anti-smelter protesters can be labelled as outsiders if they don’t come from the communities that are being directly affected.

There is no solidarity among any other group in this country. Perhaps I have no right to use my own column space to speak out on behalf of another columnist. We are worlds apart ideologically but I imagine that we share one commonality. And it is that we who have opinions and are arrogant enough to believe that other people want to hear them, have a right to say what we have to say, in whatever way is pleasing to us. Well as long as it doesn’t involve borrowing from other writers. Part of the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from being a writer comes from the assurance, real or imagined, that someone out there is reading what you have to say and if not identifying with it, at least feeling something. Or so you hope. It is difficult to gauge what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It is difficult to know what has an impact and what doesn’t in this nation of armchair revolutionaries where everyone can speak eloquently about what the problem is but nobody actually wants to get up and do anything about it.

It’s not just about free speech. It is about undermining investigative journalism. Intimidating other journalists who might want to put God out of their thoughts and try to expose some injustice. It is a warning to others to not step out of line. Who wins, then? Who wins when voices are silenced? Who wins when a priest can get away with lifting some copy from another writer but teenagers are on trial for buying copies of exams? Who wins when a journalist gets fired from a newspaper for daring to challenge a holy man even as children’s jhandis are under threat at Barrackpore West? We have lost track of reality.  We have lost a vital voice in our national conversation. We have lost our sense of perspective. Nobody wins. We are all losers in a race we are not yet equipped to run.