Though the nation has been quiet on this matter for some time, many Jamaicans are again calling for hanging to resume. This as crime grips the national consciousness making so many wish for the perpetrators to be removed permanently from society.
Some weeks ago there was a news report in which a relative slaughtered his cousin and her four young children. We were all severely traumatised. Our Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn indicated her office's intent to seek the death penalty when the matter goes to court.
The overwhelming global trend is to abolish the death penalty. Some, however, continue to give reasons for executions to continue.
There is a fallacy that if we make punishments harsher and crueller it will cause would-be murderers to think twice before committing crimes. This usually comes from those who are hurting and in grief.
But since Canada stopped executing convicts the murder rate has dropped by 44 per cent. We, however, stopped executions and murders have increased.
In cases in which the death penalty is in place for non-violent offences, offenders are deprived of the opportunity to reform. Globally, many on death row have acknowledged their crimes and reformed. Indeed, properly conceived and implemented criminal justice systems have had great success without the threat of death.
There are many recorded cases of innocent people who have been executed. In the US, some 170 people have been exonerated after serving time on death row when technological advancements, like DNA, proved them innocent.
In 1873 William Jackson Marion bought some horses from his friend, John Cameron, in Beatrice, Nebraska. Shortly after that Cameron went missing. Later, a body with gunshot wounds, in clothes similar to what Cameron had been wearing, was located. Marion was tracked down, tried, convicted, and hanged. Four years later, Cameron reappeared alive and well. He had been in Mexico hiding from a woman who told him she was bearing his child.
The problem seems to be that violence and murder instil fear and insecurity in a community, making life impossible to proceed normally. Therefore, retribution is on the minds of many who ask for the death penalty. Hence the call: "Him fi 'ang! Him fi 'ang!"
Some say all guilty people deserve to be punished. Others say the guilty deserve to be punished in proportion to the severity of their crime. This is the argument offered by my friend — a lawyer, no less — when he gave me the biblical "eye for an eye" response. This makes one wonder how would the penalty for a guilty rapist be determined.
Since a man of the cloth quoted the same line to me, may I take this opportunity to tell these men that they completely misunderstand that Old Testament phrase in Leviticus? The true meaning of "an eye for an eye" is that only the guilty should be punished and they should be punished neither too leniently nor too severely.
Our prime minister visited the family which lost five members at once in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon. He promised to "put a stop" to such crimes. Respectfully, Prime Minister, that is arrant nonsense. These are the kind of promises that cause simple-minded folk to take you at your word and then condemn you for deceiving them when the killings do not stop.
As well, the police should stop making promises to "put an end to violent crime", simply because this is impossible to achieve without a radical shift in how we respond to human behaviour. Our violence problem is not a police problem. Similarly, neither the prime minister nor the police force can look into the hearts and minds of men and determine why, what, where, and when certain acts will take place.
Part of the problem was a long time in the making. Family life has been deteriorating for decades. Most of the unions now are just loveless, transactional arrangements. Children are, in many cases, an unwanted intrusion in the lives of women who lack resources and support. The children see and feel this and are troubled by it. Abuse and neglect breed monsters. Angry, vengeful demons.
When people drive around in cars spraying bullets indiscriminately and killing fellow men at wakes, funerals, dances, or domino tables, there is a lazy, thoughtless response from the police. It is either reported as gang violence or reprisals. But what kind of person kills indiscriminately? Just anybody? I cannot imagine myself doing these things to another person because my family member was killed. Could it be because I grew up with a mother and a father and had prayers every morning?
As part of the long-term strategy to reduce violent crime, has any administration attempted to have these perpetrators tested to determine psychopathy? There is an allegedly leaked video in circulation. The man being questioned is reportedly the accused in the killing of the five relatives. He is said to have confessed to the crime, but seemed unremorseful and antisocial. Maybe readers could Google the characteristics of a psychopath.
The consensus from scientists is; "To the best of our knowledge, there is no cure for psychopathy (a serious personality disorder characterised by antisocial behaviour, untruthfulness, irresponsibility, and lack of remorse or empathy)... No pill can instil empathy, no vaccine can prevent murder in cold blood, and no amount of talk therapy can change an uncaring mind. For all intents and purposes, psychopaths are lost to the normal social world."
Dr Kent Kiehl is a psychologist at the University of Mexico. He is one of the foremost experts on psychopathy. His research revealed that psychopaths had reduced grey matter in the paralimbic system of the brain. This confirmed his suspicions that psychopaths have fundamentally different brains from the rest of us. In his book, The Psychopath Whisperer, he shares his greatest regret, "It was my lab that discovered a new disorder, but we didn't have a cure."
Biological and environmental factors play a role in developing psychopathy and sociopathy. But it is generally agreed that psychopathy is chiefly a genetic and inherited condition, notably related to underdeveloped parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control.
Governments lack the power, the mandate, and the competence to guarantee its people that good will be proportionally rewarded, and that evil will be proportionally punished. Governments cannot be blamed for being imperfect human institutions and not an instrument of divine retribution.
May I suggest that, rather than making wild and baseless promises to reduce murders in short order, the Government educate the population about why we are here and how we got here? Tell them about the long journey back to normal, civilised behaviour and the role each of us must play.
I would like to see relevant government agencies more engaged in research. For example, why is there reduced grey matter in the brain of some of our children? Does this have anything to do with women smoking and drinking during pregnancy? Do they understand that these powerful toxic substances are damaging the developing brain? Should pregnant women found drinking and smoking be prosecuted? Are babies being tested for foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)? Do these killers fall in this category? What are corrective measures possible?
In the meantime, these monsters are among us, making our lives a living hell. There is no cure for them. Science says so. The choice, therefore, is ours — execution or free board, lodging, and health services for the rest of their lives?
Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.