An attraction to death
Many of Jamaica's youth are easily recruited by gangs and seduced into a life of crime.

Jamaica's murder tally has surpassed the 1,000 mark and 2021 still has more than 2 weeks to go. The bloodletting and the wanton loss of life continues to weigh us down and, as there seems to be no solution, we look to the heavens and wonder, “Dear God, when will it all end?”

Life is no longer cherished or precious as the perpetrators of these crimes are fearless and unabashed when they decide who should live or die. The presence of law enforcement officers no longer serves as a deterrent as the gunmen are encouraged to engage the officers in a gun battle whenever and wherever possible.

According to Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, as at year end 2019 there were close to 400 criminal organisations operating in the country, and these gangs have created spawns that groom successors for top-tier positions in the organisations. So attractive is the picture painted by these gangs that they have almost no difficulty in recruiting new members. The young, vulnerable, and unattached youth are easily available, and I dare say that some parents are unbothered by the affiliations of their offsprings as they believe that gangs are 'defenders' of the community. Gangsters are feared, revered, and protected by associates, family members, and the community, even with the knowledge that they themselves may be targeted at some point by the opponent.

The senselessness of some of these killing is mind-boggling because when you finally hear the reason for its genesis, it's utter nonsense. Others came about because friends became enemies and bitter and consuming is the feud that spreads to friends, associates, and relatives locally and even overseas. In the words of a song by the late Edwin Starr: “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. It ain't nothing but a heartbreaker. Friend only to the undertaker. Oh war, it's an enemy to all mankind – induction then destruction. Who wants to die?”

Given the proliferation of gangs in this country, one cannot help but believe that if the question: Who wants to die? were to be asked, there would be a resounding “me” bellowed in response as death is openly embraced.

It gets even eerier as there is a dancehall video clip on YouTube in which the selector echoed words that explicitly spoke to his preference of embracing a 25 years to life prison term over a nine-to-five job. This event was heavily supported by young men between the approximate ages of 17 years old to mid-thirties and, of course, the drink of choice was Hennessy.

As if that was not enough, there is a gang in one of the troubled communities of St James called Fully Dunce, which is also the title of a popular song of a now-deceased dancehall DJ, Kyle “Rebel Sixx” George, who was reported to have been affiliated with the controversial 6ix crew.

Many also believe that prison is a place of rehabilitation, but what percentage of convicted felons actually return to society rehabilitated? According to a New York Times article by James Gilligan, “Two-thirds of prisoners reoffend within three years of leaving prison, often with a more serious and violent offence.” However, in Jamaica the reincarceration rate stood at 30 per cent in 2018, according to then Commissioner of Corrections Ina Hunter.

A custodial prison sentence is seemingly no longer viewed as punishment by the offenders. This is evidently proven by the leaked videos on social media of numerous prison parties in which some of these offenders boast that their crimes were committed in broad daylight. This breach is facilitated by the prison warders who turn a blind eye to allow contraband, such as cellphones, to enter the prisons. These cellphones are not just used to keep in touch with friends and family, but also to order killings as dons continue their rule from behind bars by giving instructions to loyalists on the outside. Even those who commit offences and are given bail have not been deterred by the pending case or having to report to the police as a condition of bail. They proceed to commit more crimes without remorse or fear – an attraction to death.

Over the years, the average age of the prison population has got younger and the mindset of this generation is way different. The things they glorify, admire, and desire are tethered to the bling lifestyle and the means to achieve these is lacking, resulting in an attraction to scamming, contract killings, and robberies to get what they want.

Once again, I hear the shouts for more social programmes. While I do believe that such interventions may reach some of our unattached youth and prevent them from becoming a statistic, I am less of a believer that social interventions are useful in converting hardened or practising criminals who are now responsible for the mayhem we are experiencing. The fact that this lifestyle is a steady path to the cemetery does not spur the sinner to repent because the attraction to death is stronger than the desire to change.

Maybe, if sentences were really accompanied by hard labour and lashes, this would inject some second thoughts into the minds of would-be criminals but, again, this may be short-lived. These delinquents are not scared of a prison sentence because they are only deprived of freedom, which they have come to accept.

The prime minister has drawn the ire of some after stating his personal position on illegal guns: “Anyone found with an illegal gun should start with the death penalty” and be only able to bargain down the severity of their sentences through the provision of useful information on the sourcing and sources of the illegal arms.

It is my strong opinion that something drastic will have to be done to curb the spiralling murder rate. Our comfort zone and peace will have to be disturbed a little bit in order to apprehend these heartless criminals, who have no respect for the life of others as theirs is of no value.

This has been a hard-fought war for all of us. How do we dissuade, counter, or change the minds of our young men who are attracted to death?

Jamaica's murder rate has surpassed the 1,000 mark.
Sandra Currie


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