What of a campaign to build empathy?
Residents of Victoria Town, Manchester on Saturday blocked sections of the main road in their community to protest Friday’s mob killing of a man in Mandeville.

WORDS can’t describe the sense of sorrow, shame and disgrace, flowing from the mob killing of 62-year-old Mr Chiefton Campbell in Mandeville, central Jamaica, on Friday.

Available evidence suggests that Mr Campbell simply resembled someone else and was in the wrong place at the wrong time as he went about his personal business.

He was rescued by a police foot-patrol team who called for transportation and took him to hospital in handcuffs, after he was set up on, beaten, and stripped half-naked by people who accused him of being a thief. Mr Campbell’s accusers jeered him mercilessly as he neared death, pleading for water.

His angry, grieving neighbours, friends, and relatives in remote Victoria Town, south-eastern Manchester, just above the border with Clarendon, say Mr Campbell was no thief. Instead, he was a “decent”, law-abiding, well-respected community man who served on the board of management for the local school and was about to marry his sweetheart of many years.

We feel the pain of his fiancée, who spoke on radio of people in the country she has always “loved” lacking the “empathy” to even respect life.

She made the obvious point that even if Mr Campbell had committed a crime, the responsibility of those in any civilised, caring society should have been to subdue and hand him over to the police. Deliberate physical abuse should never have arisen.

Sadly, the barbarism which led to Mr Campbell’s death is long-standing in human behaviour. It is by no means confined to Jamaica, though, if anything, it appears to be getting worse here. That’s perhaps largely a response to the high level of acquisitive and violent crime here, a perception that justice moves too slowly, and also the chronic, bitter resentment deep in the psyche of some. The last, we believe, is the devilish by-product of our history of slavery and exploitation; and the persistent, brutish, dehumanising state of everyday existence for far too many.

We recall last October, 43-year-old Mr Levi Chambers who, while walking in Llandeway, St Thomas, was mistaken for alleged child abductor Mr Davian Bryan. Mr Chambers was mobbed and stabbed to death.

Coincidentally, in this week’s Sunday Observer Mr Bryan’s mother tells us she lives in fear because of threats from people angered by the alleged crimes of her son — now in custody.

The deaths of Messrs Campbell and Chambers — victims of the unreasoning, mindless mob mentality described on radio by psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj as “diffused responsibility” — remind people that such could easily happen to anyone.

We shudder at the impersonal, collective cruelty of social media as people with digital devices record and disseminate with no thought to saving life.

So how are reasoning, responsible Jamaicans to respond? To begin with, people should never be allowed to forget what happened to Messrs Campbell and Chambers.

What about a sustained publicity/education campaign named for them? We dream of an all-embracing project targeting not just mob violence but all violence; a campaign striving to nurture empathy, love, respect, peace. It could be an essential element of the anti-crime fight.

Good neighbours, community leaders, formal and informal media, preachers, teachers, politicians, business leaders, trade unionists, et al, could lead the way in reminding everyone that regardless of circumstances, every life is precious.

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