See Profiles or Blog Stories

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Truth. Justice. Healing.

By Ron Bateman

A small 2 x 2 poster caught my eye as I was leaving the Museum of Free Derry. After two hours visiting with the Museum’s Outreach & Education Coordinator, John Kelly, I nearly missed the simple, elegant little poster next to the door. A broken circle set on a stained red background. An empty shell casing centered above the words “Truth, Justice, Healing”. The poster instantly brought John’s story into focus.

John Kelly
There is a solemn approachability to John Kelly. In our short time together, he seldom smiled, but his voice and demeanor were always calm and peaceful. He spoke warmly of his younger brother, Michael, who was only seventeen on January 30, 1972. Six years his junior, Michael was studying to repair sewing machines on that Bloody Sunday.

Without pause, in a voice that has spoken the story countless times in the past four decades, John begins: “The thing about Michael is he was never at a march before. I spoke to him just before the march and just warned him to be careful and if anything happened to just go home. He just never got the opportunity. He was standing outside…behind a barricade on Rossville Street. In a crowd of about 30-40 people when a soldier fired a shot into the crowd and Michael was the unlucky one. Could have been any one of the 30-40 people.”

The randomness doesn’t seem to bother John; the senselessness does. If the bullet hadn’t found Michael, it would’ve found another. He was only yards away, crouching behind cover when he saw his brother, shot in the stomach, being brought out of a flat in Abbey Park. He rode with his brother in the ambulance to the hospital. The doctor pronounced Michael dead upon arrival. When his father arrived just before six p.m., he relayed the terrible news. “I still remember him sliding down the wall, crying.” 

John’s work with the Bloody Sunday Trust began as a Family Liaison Officer in 1997. He acted as a conduit for the families and the outside world as they pushed to get the truth out about the events of that day and the subsequent cover-up. In 2004, he moved into the position he now holds at the museum. 

John’s voice swells with pride when he speaks of the day in June 2010 when the Saville Report was released and his brother and the others killed that day were exonerated. Gathered with other family members inside Guild Hall, waiting for nearly 5 hours for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement, they could barely contain themselves. “It’s been a long journey. It took us 38 ½ years to get the full declaration of innocence for our people. During the campaign we had three demands: one was the declaration of innocence for our people, the second was the repudiation of Widgery…and the third one was the prosecution of the soldiers.”

Pointing to a picture of his brother, Michael
John took time to show me around the museum, pointing to a blood-soaked infant’s outfit used to treat his brother’s wound that afternoon. I struggled to catch my breath as he showed me a picture of his little brother, dying. He points to the subtleties in pictures – like the barely visible time on the clock tower – that could only be gained through years of intense study. Afterwards, we went outside so he could orient me to Rossville Street. Only a few dozen steps from the front door of the museum, he pointed first to an innocuous light post mere feet from where we were standing where his brother was shot while standing behind a rubble barricade. Then, he pointed to a small parapet wall half a block away, adjacent to the Peace mural, where a British soldier fired the shot that killed Michael. It’s a tragic juxtaposition.
Michael was shot near the lamp post centered in picture

John’s is a story that isn’t finished, though. Like that broken circle on the poster, he and the family members that remain (and remember) feel that justice has yet to be seen. His work in the Museum of Free Derry and the Saville Report have provided both truth and healing, but justice remains elusive. He believes that, “the healing process for me is a constant process whereby I am able to talk about it every day and relay the story of what happened through my work. I think it boils down to the satisfaction of knowing that when people come in here they walk away with the true story.”

John pointing to Michael's picture
However, he is quick to state that, “A lot of people are still suffering here and they need closure. They need truth and justice.” One cannot help but wonder: If the civilians were innocent, how could the soldiers not be guilty?

Before leaving John took time to show me something I hadn’t seen in the poster – the blurry faces of the 14 civilians killed that afternoon. Hidden in the gold band, broken and interrupted by the shell casing, is each lost life.  He reminded me that, "This was never about vengeance.  This was about truth and justice, about the fact that 14 innocent people were murdered and the British Government covered it up.  Over the years we were castigated; we were ignored."

John’s journey for justice continues.
Bloody Sunday Memorial

No comments:

Post a Comment