SOME religious leaders are calling on the Government to firmly enforce capital punishment as the past year was stained by crime and bloodshed, with a total of 1,439 murders recorded up to December 30.
The clergymen have come out swinging early in the new year, advocating “a life for a life” with the view that the death penalty would drive fear into criminals and drastically reduce crime.
However, some of their peers have criticised them.
Bishop Rohan Edwards Sr, who leads a congregation of 1,200 with five churches across Jamaica, told the Jamaica Observer that if it's the only way to deflate the crime numbers and dismantle the current culture of crime, then capital punishment should be back on the table.
“If it takes capital punishment to deal with these hardened criminals, let's deal with it. Let's get rid of these men or women who constantly make havoc in this nation, killing innocent people, killing our business people; and the sad thing is, when you put them in jail, jail doesn't change them. They come back out worse,” he said.
“I'm a man who believes in the Bible and how God structured the earth. The earth has been structured in a format that leaders must be held responsible. Lawlessness has become the order of this nation and the leaders must be held responsible for what is taking place in the nation. Whatever the measure that needs to be taken to halt crime in this country, it must be taken. Jamaica cannot continue to move the way we are with the current way of dealing with crime in this country,” Edwards continued.
Popular clergyman Reverend Al Miller agreed, arguing that capital punishment has its place and right as a tool to drive fear in criminals.
“Men must fear. But more importantly than fear, it's a principle of justice and therefore, the only thing that equates for life is life. As far as I'm concerned, the word says if a man takes another man's life wickedly, not accidentally, the only compensation is life. If you do less than that you are devaluing life, and life represents God,” Miller told the Sunday Observer.
“The word of God is timeless. When God speaks He is not guessing to fit a time, so we have to bear that in mind and therefore, the fact is that men must fear the law. They must fear consequences of action. Where there are no consequences to action, people will live careless and irresponsible and selfish. There are many who say that for crime, fear is not a deterrent. It is a ridiculous argument because how does any don run a place? Fear. What is it that's ruling the world now? Why is everybody with mask all around? Fear. So, it is a ridiculous argument to say that fear is not a deterrent,” the senior pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle in St Andrew added.
The last person executed in Jamaica was Nathan Foster, who was convicted of murder. He was hanged in 1988.
Parliament had placed a moratorium on the death penalty until it was lifted 21 years later. However, there have been no executions since.
In December 2008, then state minister for national security Senator Arthur Williams said “murderers wantonly take the lives of innocent persons” and he believed that some crimes are so egregious and an affront to humanity that “the only adequate response is the death penalty”.
Edwards agreed, stressing that criminals shouldn't go unpunished after uprooting lives and plunging the country into despair.
“Why would you allow these men and women, who are so vicious, to be killing off innocent people who do them no wrong? Why should these gangsters continue to thrive on the blood of the innocent in this country? They are so wicked! They must be dealt with harshly, and whatever means it takes to deal with them harshly, the Government must employ these means. They are the leaders, and they must be held responsible,” he charged.
But former prison chaplain Reverend Herro Blair Jr told the Sunday Observer that from his experience, people who want to commit crimes will not be deterred by thoughts of the death penalty.
“My initial thought would be that I'd love to see the re-introduction but as a former prison chaplain of three prisons and interacting with prisoners, I've never heard them give the assumption that the death penalty would be something that would stop them from committing crime — neither is even the thought of imprisonment. So before we even start looking at the thought of the death penalty, we need to look at the enforcement of law and the ability to catch the criminals,” he said.
Blair Jr, a former national director of Jamaica Youth for Christ (JYC), added: “If a man can just walk into a gas station and shoot people, and walk into Half-Way-Tree and shoot people, it's not about whether he's going to face the death penalty, it's about whether he feels he can be caught.”
The Most Reverend Howard Gregory, Anglican archbishop of the West Indies and bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, backed Blair.
“That's an Old Testament view of 'If you take a life, you lose your life.' It makes no sense to think that if they [criminals] know that they are going to die, they won't do it. There is no proof of that and I think the society ought not to go there. It's a way of responding emotionally. There are definitely horrible situations, and you wonder if it's animals doing those things, but you can't play the same game with them,” Gregory told the Sunday Observer.
Bishop Grace Ade-Gold, founder and head of Arise Shine Apostolic and Deliverance Ministries, reasoned: “The reintroduction of the death penalty could drive fear into criminals and reduce the high numbers of crime and violence as seen in 2021. However, it will not deal with the root cause of the problem. The nation needs cleansing. The hands of criminals are deep in blood sacrifice.
“Apart from Jamaica, there are some nations that have used the death penalty, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, USA, just to mention a few, in the 70s and 80s. This has not solved the problem of crime and violence in those nations. Abduction, rape, human sacrifice, et cetera is the order of the day as they still struggle to quench the dart and fiery dart of the enemy. God help us!”
Edwards, unwavering, contended that if criminals continue their rampage, they must face “harsh punishment”. He said this stance isn't unfamiliar to God.
“God dealt with His own people, the Israelites, harshly because they would not listen to Him. There are several times that He threw them into the hands of their own enemy and said 'You will go into servitude, you'll become a slave to the Babylonians,' a slave to several other nations around them. That's because of how they behaved. If these men and women continue to do the same, there must be harsh penalties.”
Miller said that the punishment for crime also ought to be swift and exact.
“You cannot put a man in jail for three years and he committed murder. That is absolutely ridiculous. The wisdom of God's word is clear that where there is justice, the word of God says others will fear. And if not swift, you're going to give room for corruption and it will be ineffective,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“If justice takes five years, 10 years, before punishment, it has no relevance. It cannot work. No system can work like that. Dealing with crime and violence in a society is not rocket science; it is a fundamental principle that must be observed and put in place. It has to be sure and swift, and the punishment must fit the crime. If it's murder, life for life.”
However, Miller's sole concern with the death penalty in “a society like this” is the issue of corruption.
“You have to have that balance. You need to be able to guarantee equity and justice,” he advised.
“Innocent persons can end up suffering, so my caveat would be to do everything to minimise the chances of the innocent suffering. And right now we are too corrupt; things can be planted, as we have seen, on the poor. We plant guns on them, we make up stories, and then that has no consequences either. There must be strong consequences when police and those who observe the law violate the law. That's a wicked crime,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Blair Jr shared a similar sentiment.
“I've dealt with several inmates that I know, without doubt, were not guilty. I have also dealt with some who were guilty with explanation, but the law said they had to be found guilty. With that in mind, I cannot, for the life of me, fully support people being placed in that position of the death penalty.”