Mob mentality: The road to anarchy
Oftentimes, jungle justice results in the death or injury of innocent people.

Jamaica has seen a recent surge in mob killings, which is an alarming indication of how dangerous a simple activity as walking the streets of Jamaica has become.

The most recent of these incidents took place in Victoria Town, Manchester, where Chieftin Campbell, 62, died from injuries he sustained after he was beaten by a crowd of people on lower Manchester Road mid-afternoon on Friday, May 6.

Jungle justice is a social malady that has always been a part of the Jamaican psyche; however, the frequency at which these incidents are now taking place gives just cause for major concern, even more frightening is the laissez-fair attitude being demonstrated by our leaders towards this dangerous social phenomenon. Suffice it to say, this is a great cause for national dismay that deserves immediate attention as its consequences can become quite telling, as we’ve seen in many other countries.

This horrific incident that saw the brutal murder of an innocent law-abiding citizen is fresh on the heels of another major lynching in St Thomas that made headlines only seven months ago. After a string of abductions rocked the parish in October last year, enraged residents of Llandewey, St Thomas, killed an innocent man who they believed to be the suspect.

These incidents have all too well confirmed a vicious cycle in which the repeated paradoxical pattern is the same. In most incidents, the innocent die and the callous killers, who have condemned the innocent without sufficient evidence in the name of justice, live and walk free after committing a gruesome crime.

How much longer will we wait to tackle this issue? Isn’t it clear from the pages of history that mob mentality paves the road to anarchy? Will we sit on our hands with hushed voices and turn a blind eye as this life-threatening issue balloons out of control, until we ourselves or someone we know falls the next prey to an irrational bloodthirsty mob?

It is no secret these events have an accumulating effect, and as others watch as no consequences are meted out for participating in these gruesome acts, they, too, become emboldened to take the law in their own hands. After all, most participants in mob killings escape scot-free.

As a Pollyanna, it’s difficult to be a doomsayer, but the failure of the Government to take prompt measures to curtail this issue through enacting strong and intelligent policies, using a combination of law and education to dissuade this practice of mob killings, presents a scary outlook for the average Jamaican walking the streets. Hence, the harsh truth is: You could very well be walking home from work to prepare dinner for your son, but never make it home because you are mistaken for someone else and suddenly mobbed.

Notwithstanding, there is also the temptation to succumb to the attitude that says, “Surely such an event could not befall me,” but be warned, “Erroneous assumptions can be disastrous,” (Peter Drucker) and surely nothing could be more disastrous than losing your life on the grounds of the erroneous assumptions of others, as we’ve seen in the aforementioned cases and numerous others, or the erroneous assumptions of yourself that you are safe when you could have otherwise made personal preparations to protect yourself and operate from a mental standpoint of awareness rather than ignorance concerning mob killings. All the same, it is overwhelmingly clear we can only ignore this issue to our own peril. One thing is sure, we have to do something.

Former US President Franklin D Roosevelt made the following statement, “One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment...If it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.” This counsel is appropriately fitting to the Jamaican Government. Measures must be implemented because delay is danger. Much is at stake, and small fires that are left unchecked have the potential to get out of control.

A fire described as “going” or “out of control” is one in which parts of its perimeter are burning and have the potential to spread into unburnt areas. As a nation, we do not want this social malady spreading to unburnt areas. Jungle justice has become commonplace and, as such, the possibility of it spreading across the island increases greatly. But these recent surges provide an opportunity to create the appropriate framework to quell this dilemma before it takes root nationally.

There is within this phenomenon a cause-and-effect relation correlated to our wider social-political realities and the choice to resort to this practice when deeply investigated may be because of a variety of factors, paramount among them being the lack of public trust in the justice system to grant justice. Many citizens lack faith in the justice system to effectively investigate, indict, and punish criminals; also, the public perceives the lengthy time it takes to be bring cases to trial as a concerted effort to forfeit justice.

Politically, we have failed, and the recent surge in jungle justice across the island is further proof of this fact. Our governance structures have not held up, and because of these inefficiencies they have been unsuccessful in serving the people that they were established to govern. However, regardless of these socio-political shortcomings, this vicious practice of mob killings is wrong and should never be entertained.

A mob is not inanimate, but is made up of individuals with the faculties to love, care, and think. This fact is terrifying because to surmise that a group of humans with these capacities would willingly participate in an act devoid of logic and reason by callously murdering another human being and blatantly disregard the sanctity of life is enough proof that some Jamaicans have totally lost their minds, independency of thought, common sense, and collective conscience. Their moral bearings is completely out of sorts, thus there is a drastic need for a national reorientation in morality, ethics, and values.

We must fight this issue on the dual fronts of governmental policies and education. The Government should create the appropriate legal framework and there should be serious punitive measures for anyone involved in mob killings, and all proven offenders should be made to face the consequences of their actions which will serve to dissuade others from participating in this repulsive behaviour. Additionally, sensitisation and education must be prioritised in homes and schools, and the Church as the moral voice of the nation should assume its leading role in aiding in the reorientation of the moral sensibilities of the citizens to recognise the sanctity of life and appreciate the golden attributes of Christian virtues, such as kindness, hope, and love.

There is a most perplexing question that many individuals are asking, which is relevant to this social malady, and that is: How can individuals who are otherwise decent law-abiding citizens totally lose all rationality and participate in a mob killing? The answer is to be found in the psychological concept of mob mentality.

Mob mentality is also called herd or hive mentality and refers to the inclination of some humans to be a part of a large group, often neglecting their individual feelings in the process and adopting the behaviour and actions of the people around them. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, mob mentality is defined as “a large and disorderly crowd of people, especially one bent on riotous or destructive action”.

Psychologists and anthropological experts explain that being part of a group can cause a person to lose their self-awareness or experience deindividuation in which they become less likely to follow normal social restrictions and more likely to lose their individual identities. This can lead to the destruction of a person’s natural inhibitions, causing them to perform an activity they would never normally do; their individual values and principles have been replaced by those of the group.

Psychologist Dr Wendy James further explains this concept by sharing that, one dog may bark at you, but it’s more likely that a pack will attack you. We are not exempt from that behaviour because we are human and not canine. As evidenced by dogs operating in a pack environment, human society is based on group dynamics. As humans, we have instinctual responses that are exacerbated by group influences.

In similar vein, three psychological theories have been established to address crowd behaviour. The first is the Contagion Theory, which proposes that crowds exert a hypnotic influence on their members that results in irrational and emotionally charged behaviour, often referred to as crowd frenzy. The second is the Convergence Theory that argues the behaviour of a crowd is not an emergent property of the crowd, but is a result of like-minded individuals coming together. Consequently, if there is violence, it is not because the crowd encouraged violence, but rather people wanted to be violent and came together in a crowd. The third is the Emergent-Norm Theory that combines the aforementioned two, arguing that a combination of liked-minded individuals, anonymity, and shared emotions lead to crowd behaviour.

This is a very serious scientific evaluation as it suggests that anyone could potentially be influenced by this seductive and toxic mentality. It is therefore important for us to be very cognisant at all times of the choices we are making, especially in conflict-related incidents, lest we fall victims to this vicious mentality.

Summa cum laude English graduate from Suffolk University Kate Brush offers the following advice to avoid getting pulled into a mob mentality. First, she says it is important to take time to think through responses and actions before making them. It’s best not to engage when feeling stressed, pressured, or disconnected. Secondly, always be sure to research before forming an opinion and be open to new information that emerges. This will help individuals form their own thoughts and ideas rather than copying those of their peers. Third, find comfort in being unique and develop the courage to stand out from the crowd. These are very simple and practical measures that everyone can easily put into practice to avoid the catastrophic mindset of mob mentality.

Millions of Americans watched in utter amazement on January 6, 2021 as an unprecedented event unfolded before their very eyes. For the first time in the history of the USA, the world watched as an angry mob invaded the US Capitol, smashing windows and crushing a police officer in a door while cultic chants rang out: “Hang Mike Pence.”

The mob, a massive horde of 2,000 to 2,500 supporters of US President Donald Trump, swooped down on the Capitol Building in a well-coordinated attack, sending shock waves through Washington as the military was summoned to respond. Their zealous mission was a bold attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes that would officially formalise President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Following the aftermath of this shocking event, according to a review by The Atlantic, “The 193 suspects charged in the attack don’t fit the typical profile of far-right-extremists. Two-thirds were 35 or older and more than 90 per cent were employed, including as CEOs, business owners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and accountants. Prior research on extremists reveals a strikingly different pattern, with most of them younger (under age 35), a quarter of them unemployed and unlikely to be white-collar workers.” The review concluded that there were clear indications that the rioters were mostly regular citizens consumed by a “mob mentality”.

This event that created a global stir is strong proof that mob mentality paves the way to societal anarchy, and if Capitol Hill was not exempted from this lawless behaviour, then surely George William Gordon House is not exempted either and, as such, our political leaders should learn crucial lessons from this event and take action against mob mentality in the form of the recent surges in jungle justice that we’ve been seeing locally rather than resting in hubris.

This is especially important within the current local context that has been simmering with several protests, strikes, and chaotic upswings of displeasure by workers. We should be extremely careful that we do not allow these events to go unchecked as the dangers to societal order that this psychological phenomenon holds is obvious. Anything that compels people to do things in a group setting that they would never do on their own is akin to a ticking time bomb that must be checked before it blows.

Protests and strikes are important in any democratic society, but mob mentality that leads to jungle justice and other lawless, irrational behaviour that threatens the civility of society should not be allowed to flourish. We cannot allow our nation to sink into the dark mires of incivility and chaos in which anything is accepted and allowed. If the Government does not respond intelligently, the next mob insurrection may very well swarm down at 81 Duke Street, Kingston.

Unless this practice is addressed, no one in Jamaica will be safe because an irrational mob will be the trinity of our destruction, serving as judge, jury, and the executioner, all at the same time.

Fredoy St Aubyn Morgan is a theology graduate of the Northern Caribbean University. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or staubyn200@gmail.com.

Chieftin Campbell
George William Gordon House
Government must enact legislation to dissuade the practice of mob killings.
FREDOY ST AUBYN MORGAN

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