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Halt the flood of condemnation

Howard Gregory

Sunday, September 30, 2012    

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EVENTS over the past few weeks in the area of criminal activities and mob violence have left many in the society reeling in a sense of shock, disbelief, despair and hopelessness. It is the kind of context which leads persons to search for any kind of straw which seems to offer a glimmer of hope for coping with the situation.

One such straw is to be found in a call for statements of condemnation from every possible source, as if the outpouring of such utterances will have some palliative effect on the situation. So, in the grip of the crimes of recent weeks there is a call for condemnation from every conceivable source including those charged with the investigation and prosecution of those who commit these crimes.

The churches are not exempt from this process and those of us who occupy positions of leadership within the life of the Church are somehow expected to offer a kind of daily commentary of the criminal and anti-social activities of the day as evidence of our faithfulness to our vocation and social responsibility.

This is certainly not to excuse the Church and her leadership from her social responsibility and divine mission to speak to issues of the day. Indeed, the Jamaica Council of Churches issues such statements on a regular basis, although these are sometimes not carried by the media, and even then we cannot keep abreast of the negative developments in the society, and in addition, the church's primary platform is the pulpit, and those who want to hear and know what the church has to say must avail themselves of that opportunity also.

The crimes of recent weeks, whether of the nature of the shooting of pregnant women by police and civilians, the rape of women and children, the carnal abuse of children within the household, or the witch-hunt for persons who are supposedly of a homosexual orientation with the consequent taking of life and the destruction of property, did not begin yesterday. These are things that have been in the making for a long time, and I daresay will continue and take on more vicious dimensions, if all we have to offer is a chorus of public statements. It is time we act as a people, demanding action from those in positions of authority and responsibility, while accepting our responsibility and culpability as citizens in what is happening in our society.

I view most of these developments from the perspective of the dynamics which prevail in situation of abuse in relationships. Abuse usually begins with a seemingly simple act of a slap of the victim on the wrist or some form of emotional outburst expressing anger.

Ignored or excused, it then moves to a slap in the face, more severe blows to the body, and then to activities that can lead to serious bodily injury or death. It is of the nature of the behaviour of the abuser that he can so intimidate his victim by threats and the inducement of fear, that the person remains silent. It is only action to stop the abuse that will make a difference as verbal exchanges will only bring promises of never abusing again, followed by expressions of physical affection, leading to that dynamic captured in the pop song of yesteryear "break up to make up, that's all we do".

In relation to the shooting incident of the pregnant woman and her sister in Yallahs, we have known for a long time the situation of the stress under which police officers function in this society, but it is easier to simply criticise what they do in the exercise of their duties than to take corrective action. And, there is no question that they must be held accountable for their actions.

Nevertheless, anyone who is alert to what is happening in our society, in terms of discipline and the response to all symbols of authority, know what it is like to attempt to correct school children on the road when they are misbehaving or to speak to an adult who decides not to join a line. As symbols of authority in a society of growing indiscipline they are our convenient targets of aggression. To be at the receiving end of aggression does not make for friendly relationships and exemplary professionalism, neither does constant exposure to crime scenes and their victims soften the heart.

The most creative outcome of the Yallahs situation has been the public announcements concerning the improved provisions for the emotional, social and spiritual support for the men and women of the Force, alongside the arrest of the perpetrator.

We know already that the children of middle class families are not joining the Force and we must wonder whether or not the attitudes displayed to the police are not reflective, not primarily from any behaviour emanating from them, but from our social attitudes to the "police bway" who should not be speaking to us, but should be out there "catching criminal".

The violence which is being directed against women is something which we all need to face. It is extolled by a pop culture which depicts women as objects for physical sexual activity and available for masculine exploits while existing in a state of dependence and submission. And it seems that this is a spiralling trend as women continue to excel in the society. This is precisely the kind of lyrics to which pedestrians on the road are subjected, coming from motor cars with their windows down and their stereos blasting.

Or, dare I speak about what is played in public vehicles transporting children and women who enjoy the lyrics. When will we as a society declare that there will be no peace for owners of drivers of these vehicles who play such music, and when will the men and women of this society say to artists that we have no patience or appetite for such denigration of our women. When also will our legislators enforce regulations that reduce the channels for dissemination of such trash.

The Child Care and Protection Act 2004 is a progressive piece of legislation which offers protection from abuse for our children. Nevertheless, there are still many adults who see this as intrusion into their lives and who would opt for ignoring some of its provisions. It is one thing for the Act to encourage persons to make a report if they have any reasonable suspicion that a child is being, has been, or is likely to be abused, and for there to be consequences for imprisonment or fine if individuals fail to comply, but how do we get beyond the culture of complicity and silence which prevails in homes and in communities surrounding the phenomenon?

We must use every available forum to educate individuals and communities about the importance of this Act. I have certainly been undertaking such a function and am aware of churches using their congregational settings as a place for this kind of thrust, although more needs to be done. And those who simply want to issue statements concerning cases which come to public attention must throw their weight behind educational and consciousness raising programmes, rather than merely increasing the deluge of words falling on the society.

Increasingly, where mob violence manifests itself, as we have seen it in recent days, we are bombarded with arguments that justify such activities in light of the failures of our system of justice and the long delays in bringing cases to trial. There is no question that there are failures of the system, but what is the way forward? More mob killings and rationalisation of the same?

We must demand action as people of this society, regardless of who is offended. We must begin with ourselves as citizens and stop this silly game of demanding justice from the Courts while refusing to do jury duty. We must haul persons before the Court who fail to turn up for jury duty. We must take action against doctors who have developed a reputation for writing letters claiming exception for patients on medical grounds who can be seen going about their regular round of work while in receipt of such concocted excuses.

We must also put in place better systems of control which prevent files from going missing while in the custody of the Police or the Court. We must put a stop to the legal manipulations which allow a case against a police officer to take 10 years to come to trial. We must also face the fact that we cannot have persons who have been charged with serious crimes which have led to the death of persons, to be given bail on the same basis as persons who have committed petty crimes, with the evidence we have of those persons leaving custody only to intimidate or eliminate witnesses.

Experience has also been teaching us that we need to take cognizance of the way in which technology can be used to frustrate the course of justice. We know how prisoners who acquire cellphones by illegal means can continue to carry out their criminal activity while behind bars.

We must then wake up to the way in which technology in the hands of jurors or persons in the courtroom can be left on, and be used to transmit the deliberations of the court and the evidence of witnesses to frustrate or to perpetuate further criminal activity. Jurors may need to be sequestered and have their cellphones confiscated during the time they are involved in a hearing in order to protect the integrity of the process of trial by jury.

We must take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the Courts and the legal personnel spend more time in session. The legal fraternity must also look at the way in which they facilitate or hinder the process of justice in the present exception situation, including a re-examination of the hours of business of the Courts. The argument of exceptionalism among professionals requiring a 10:00 am beginning to their day in court is not convincing. Likewise, we can stop pretending that our situation, in relation to criminal activities, is of a normal nature and take such steps as are in evidence in other societies to treat our situation as an exceptional one, so that justice can be effected with greater dispatch.

The mass media can stand alert for the next outrageous criminal activity within our fast degenerating social situation to hear the flood of condemnation which may be forthcoming from individuals and institutions, or we can decide that statements of condemnation change very little, and so move on to act responsibly as individuals and as a community to take positive action, however small, to alleviate or to correct the evils of which we have long been aware.

Certainly the pages of our history are now filled with nine-day wonders.

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