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Killing the nation's future


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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The heartless killing of 17-year-old Mickolle Moulton on August 6, 2017, while she slept in her bed, touched the raw emotion in Jamaicans at home and abroad. We have grown almost immune to the killings, which unfortunately have become a feature of daily life on this otherwise idyllic island. But the murder of Mickolle was different. It's as if, along with the killing of the body, the future and hope of the country had been dealt a fatal blow.

In a real sense that is what happened. With the unnecessary death of every youth, but more so the death of a female in her adolescent years, a part of Jamaica dies. In my reading I came across an estimate that it requires approximately US$1.75 trillion to eradicate extreme poverty from the world, but empowering women and girls could add US$12 trillion to global gross domestic product in five years. Charles Malik is quoted as saying the following: “The fastest way to change society is to mobilise the women of the world.”

In Jamaica, the contribution of women, more than men, keeps the nation housed, clothed, in good health, and our sons and daughters rising from obscurity to perform admirably on the world stage. Had Mickolle lived to fulfil her ambition of going to university, she would be numbered among women who typically constitute up to 70 per cent of their graduating classes at the tertiary level in Jamaica.

If that is startling, consider the following: In the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report, which compares countries on the basis of the prevalence of nascent and early start-up entrepreneurs in the populace, Jamaican women have ranked as high as in the top five. Now do we understand? Killing our men at a rate exceeding 1,000 per year slows our progress as a nation. The increasing trend with girls and women falling victim to the murderous scourge will bring what little progress there is to a dead halt.

In a brilliantly researched and written piece, entitled 'Who is dying violently in Jamaica' published in the April 11, 2017 edition of The Gleaner, The University of the West Indies anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle looked at the issue of gender and age of homicide victims in Jamaica. According to Gayle, for the period 2011 to 2015, 5,053 males and 592 females were killed in Jamaica. Over the period, 11 per cent of the victims were females. The homicide rate in Jamaica far outstrips the world and European averages, but the number of females killed as a percentage of the total murders in Jamaica is much lower than the world average of 18 per cent and the European average of 27 per cent.

Nevertheless, there is reason for alarm when one considers that not long ago, for a female to be murdered in Jamaica was a rarity. When I was a boy, and even now in some communities, to talk disrespectfully about somebody's mother or sister could result in a fight. It is also worrying that the majority of females being killed in Jamaica, according to Gayle, are in the 14-year-old and below age cohort.

I have a suspicion that in communities such as the one where Mickolle lived, which have seen a sharp reduction in gang-related killings and an equally sharp increase in domestic killings, there has been an increase in the number of female victims as a percentage of the total number of homicides. Dr Gayle may wish to extend his research to prove or disprove this theory.

There's a name for that...

This brings me to a related phenomenon of how we outwardly express grief in the immediate aftermath of a murder. A letter writer was scathing in his criticism of the behaviour of women from Mickolle's community in front of the television cameras. As he saw it, the women defended everything other than the honour of the dead girl and her mother. The letter writer's choice of words was unnecessarily degrading, but the observations made by himself and others need some explaining.

Psychologists use the term Stockholm syndrome to describe the tendency of victims of crime, from women in abusive relationships to residents of criminal controlled communities, to harbour and defend the offenders even when offered a chance of freedom by rescuers. A by-product of Stockholm syndrome is the tendency for residents of volatile communities to use blame as a coping mechanism.

Invariably we hear people who are at risk to suffering a similar fate blaming the victim's lifestyle, actions by the victim's family, or some other circumstantial factor. It allows one to find comfort in the face of adversity by thinking, “I am not like that or I am not involved in those things, so this couldn't happen to me.” This reaction, which is rooted in a feeling of vulnerability, is not only evident among residents living in the reputed killing fields, but increasingly among the general populace riddled by fear as crime extends its tentacles to every nook and cranny of Jamaica, land we love.

There are many facets to crime and violence; some visible and some psychological. People living in highly toxic environments, where death could knock at the door at any time, pay a price in terms of their mental state caused by the absence of a sense of security and well-being. The stress of such an existence could destroy us as sure as the bullet destroys life if we do not find a solution.




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