The last thing that my mother said to me this morning was to be extra careful and not write anything controversial. Across the country, citizens are making similar plans, choosing caution over courage. It’s not just the shocking murder of Dana Seetahal, and speculation about her assassination’s connection to her activities as a lawyer. It’s the widespread, desperate sense that there is no protection for anyone, anywhere.
Such overwhelming feeling of powerlessness has been devouring us over the last decade. Many choose silence, hide in our homes and hope against all odds for our family’s safety. That hasn’t helped, as any family who has been attacked at gunpoint by their gate or in their already-barricaded house already knows. As any witness who has refused to testify for fear for her or his life already knows. As any woman who has watched her rapist freely liming in the corner bar already knows. As anyone who reads the newspapers already knows. Yet, absorbing the shock of this powerful woman’s death, we still seek consolation in fictions of retreat.
I’ve tried to resist, as many do, to frequent beautiful, empty coastlines or culturally-rich pan yards or ‘high-risk’ communities as part of work and community participation, or simply to live fully and without fear. And, anyway, retreat to where? Mothers and children are often least safe in their own homes. Young women face real danger just traveling in taxis to or from their workplace. The public space of streets is never free from threat.
We must continue to claim a right to public safety and space for every activity of our lives, from leisure to work to civic engagement. Speak out in every way we can and do. Choose to change our society rather than closet ourselves. Play a role, however minor, in controversial acts of challenging the status quo, political and economic elite power, and state corruption and institutional failure. This is hard to ask of anyone, but we already lose when we are reduced to anxiously living locked indoors. Beyond our vote, we also have to demand better from the state, actual accountability from politicians, police, courts and prisons. We are terrified because criminality occurs without consequences, and with state officials’ collusion. This is the crisis, let’s be clear.
Navigating both an unsettling disbelief and the distracting patterns of normal life, I’ve been wondering what Dana Seetahal’s death really means. Have we now crossed a line or is she just the latest headline? Will the fact that one of the powerful in the society was gunned down make those in her ranks push more effectively for long-identified, systemic state reforms? Should her death make us all more afraid and, if so, afraid of what? Should we really speak out less or, more than ever, do we continue to define the terms on which the nation must be ours? Does her execution strike at the nation’s heart because the social impact of murders is immeasurably cumulative or are we especially stricken at the loss of someone whose lifelong contribution affected so many, or both? Every death counts, yes, but her’s adds hard questions without quick answers.
I understand my mother’s advice, but what is the point of being here? What is it to be responsible? What does it mean to refuse the idea that this place is too far gone, that it is too late? What greater losses and injustices are at stake? What remains possible, beyond despair?
I write with the heavy emotions and questions that increasingly map our experience of this country’s landscape. Refusing retreat is the only step ahead.