The one-year anniversary of the horrific blaze that burned through Glenfell Tower in the North Kensington section of West London is upon us — and the images of torture send the reminder of how the promising lives of citizens who dwelled modestly — disappeared under the duress of gross negligence.
The incident recalls two occasions that I’m aware of that also ended in the demise of residents who are part of the population that works hard for the pleasure of renting units in buildings that were made to fall.
Back in 1995 — a six-story building situated in Harlem at 142 West 140th Street — collapsed one morning — killing 3 people— and leaving stunned residents who survived the accident — buried in debris as they tried to avoid the gaping holes featuring apartments — blasted beyond recognition.
It wasn’t shocking to discover what renters and neighbors had already known for years — which was that the building was not only glaringly unsafe — but also in severe violation of the codes that are in place to guarantee the basic safety of those who pay to live there.
Among other things — there was “a large crack in the wall” that caused the eventual collapse — and there were also gaps between walls and floors.”
And of course those who are tasked with the responsibility of inspecting and maintaining the overall health of these structures that contain human beings — rarely ever pass the test that requires the ability to be painstakingly efficient.
City inspectors that visited the site several times — failed to note the warning signs because certain lives are expendable — and if you don’t live on the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side with zip codes that mandate doormen and concierge service — you are sadly out of luck.
I wasn’t living in New York City when that building succumbed to the symptoms of systemic abandonment — but I certainly was a New Yorker in 2014 — when two apartment buildings in East Harlem exploded — and were grazed to the ground.
I was glued to the telly as emergency workers scrambled through ground zero in an attempt to assess the aftermath of the fiery blast that killed 8 people — seriously injured 70 — and left 100 families homeless.
It’s quite possible to fathom that four years later — the lives of those displaced are still hanging in the balance.
According to city officials — the massive explosion occurred because of a gas leak — and after an investigation — the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the city and Consolidated Edison — affectionally known as “Con-Ed” — were both at fault.
The reasoning behind the accusation was based on the findings that revealed “faulty wielding of two Con Edison gas pipes was primarily responsible for the explosion.” There was also the ghastly role New York City played due to the refusal to repair “a large hole” that was visibly overtaking a sewer main — located near the fallen building.
The “hole in the sewer” was there for eight years — despite the danger it posed — which was evident in the way it “undermined the soil beneath the gas pipes — causing them to sag and crack open.”
As politics played out — a year after the disaster — with law suits and rejections — and the snippet of justice that was ushered in early 2017 — when Con Edison delivered the “largest payment for a gas safety incident in New York State history” — in the form of $153 million — those who survived the unimaginable are probably still retaining their statuses as part of the population that are regulated to the consequences of greed and corruption.
So — when fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in the early morning hours of June 14, 2017 — the world was watching as outlets provided a constant stream of graphic images and videos of what appeared to be a super-sized Armageddon.
The updates were gruesome as same-time text messages were relayed to relatives and strangers on Facebook and Twitter — with the emphatic assurance that death was just seconds away — due to the rapid spread of a fire that began on the bottom floors — before making a fiery leap to the helpless residents on the top floors.
By the time the damage was done — 72 people had perished and 223 people managed to escape the blaze.
One of the residents who didn’t make it out alive was twenty-four-year-old Khadija Saye — a burgeoning British photographer of Gambian descent — who lived on the 20th floor with her mother — Mary Ajaoi Mendy. They both died in the flames that ate up their apartment building.
Saye was young and full of life — and right at the cusp of major exposure as her series of photographs — Dwellings: In This Space we Breathe — had been chosen for exhibition by the prestigious Venice Biennale.
She was excited about it and had nothing but hope for a future that was stolen from her — all because the place she called home harbored the deadly secret that lay in the faulty “exterior cladding” — that caused the fire that began due to a “malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor” — to spread — fast and furiously.
Saye had been scheduled for a starring role in a BBC documentary that would’ve spotlighted her and other diverse artists — who were selected to
“launch the first ever Diaspora Pavilion in a Venetian palazzo during the Venice Biennale.”
The fire burned down the dreams of a highly talented and spirited soul — but thankfully her legacy remains in her quest for unique expression through love for culture and the hidden meanings of tradition.
And so — the BBC programme that was delayed — was released a few months after the tragedy — and in 2018 — Saye’s work was also featured in the re-opening of Kettle’s Yard — an art gallery based in Cambridge, England.
The painful residue of the towering inferno — is how those affected shared the history of being immigrants who moved to a country to pursue a better and more fulfilling existence. Unfortunately — there’s sometimes a major snag with the very best of intentions.
It’s a shame that the roster of names of those who either died or survived — reads like what you would find during the international day festivities at a school that uses such an occasion to celebrate the gorgeousness of diversity.
Colonialism wrecked havoc on the continent of Africa — and as a Nigerian — I can attest to that fact. We were doing fine before the British arrived to drill the pipes of a lifetime of thievery — as well as the poisonous introduction to Jesus Christ and sugar.
It’s unbearably hard to internalize the murder of Khadija Saye in her prime — as well as the other tenants who were housed in a building that suffered several safety violations — that were woefully ignored because those lives didn’t matter enough to warrant an in depth review — followed by strategized maintenance.
That’s why the horror of the Grenfell Tower Inferno is a global issue — because it sheds light into how calculations are made in reference to who deserves to live and who deserves to die.
These ambitious high-rises that aren’t built to withstand the threats of inevitable disasters are allowed to thrive under extremely dangerous circumstances — because contractors that are hired by wealthy organizations — don’t abide by the laws that protect innocent lives from dangling debris or fiery episodes.
And since those who are positioned to lose it all — including their very own lives — are stationed in housing that give upper-class snobs the chills — there’s a potent lack of motivation to fix what needs fixing — before all hell breaks loose.
It’s the standard default for industrialized nations that get their prized resources from the countries of the residents they royally fuck over.
The irony of it all is breathtaking — and drives the detrimental practice of punishing migrants who can’t live in their homeland because of a broken government that’s imprisoned by the debt owed to world leaders — who are knowingly holding former colonies hostage.
The rich will continue to rob from the poor — until drastic measures are implemented to restore independence to third world countries that are still in bondage — despite what the declarations announce.
In the meantime — the souls of Saye and those who died trying to live — are waiting to be free at last.