Going to hell in a handcart?Friday, March 05, 2021
The current scenario unfolding in Jamaica is akin to the country embroiled in civil war. There is no major uprising against the State yet, but this nation continues to lose hundreds of lives to violence every year. But it is not only physical violence that is overwhelming us, it is the constant war of words that oftentimes is not accompanied by any attempt at meaningful, constructive dialogue.
We no longer talk with each other; we yap at each other, or talk down to one another. The Jamaican habit of “tracing” is as perennial as a ganja spliff “pon di corner”. In the streets, in public passenger vehicles (legal or illegal), in the churches, in schools, in Parliament, in the markets, in communities, just about everywhere in this so-called God-blessed country, teeth and tongue meet with tremendous frequency as verbal clashes become the order of the day, and sometimes lead to physical violence.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are intrinsically a violent nation. Some learned folks have maintained that this quality of violence is to be found in our DNA as a result of the slavery experience. Others blame poverty and the economy, while some insist that it is the breakdown in family life. And, not to be left out are our politicians, whom many blame for just about everything that ails this 58-year-old nation.
A drive through any part of Jamaica will reveal that there is a church every square mile or so. Interestingly, interspersed among these temples of God, or sometimes even beside or in front of them, is a rum bar. So, while some Jamaicans get high on the Holy Spirit, others imbibe the spirits in a bid to drown their sorrows and woes? What a country!
Pastors spew hell and damnation from their pulpits, while many of them live a life of luxury, eschewing all the virtues that characterised the ministry of Jesus Christ when he was on Earth. One would think that, with so many houses of worship, this would be a peaceful, law-abiding nation with a spirit of tolerance and love. No way! After all, how many pastors actually practice what they preach?
In recent years, it is not only the startling murder statistics that continue to be highlighted in the media, but the kind of killings and who they are committed against. Pregnant mothers, very young children, the elderly, and the innocent are slaughtered almost daily with wild abandon. Juxtapose this scenario with the many extrajudicial killings reportedly carried out by the police force and the army and we have to admit that Jamaica is slowly but surely going to hell in a handcart!
What makes this situation even more frightening is the fact that there are so many negatives affecting any well-intentioned attempts to deal with this scourge of Jamaicans' inhumanity to Jamaicans. To begin with, one cannot recall any minister of national security in living memory who has not ended up in never-never land as a result of his seeming inability to fight crime effectively, not to mention commissioners of police. Perhaps that is why former Minister of National Security Peter Bunting tearfully sought divine intervention, while another with that troublesome portfolio, Robert Montague, reportedly threatened to utilise the services of his “obeahman uncle”.
Secondly, for decades successive governments of this country have pussyfooted on the issue of capital punishment. In my view, some of these heinous crimes, such as beheading, killing innocent infants and the elderly, or the wanton slaying of police officers, should attract the death penalty. And I make no apology for saying so.
There is no deterrent right now to make a potential murderer think twice before committing such a dastardly act. Those who abhor the death penalty maintain that the greatest deterrent to committing such a crime is the high possibility of being caught, tried, and sentenced. One look at the clear-up rate in murders would make any sane person weep. Indeed, the majority of homicides in this country go unpunished, primarily due to police ineptitude or indifference, lack of credible witnesses (most people are terrified because of the “informa fi dead” culture), and a clogged-up court system which sees many cases being stretched out over a long period of time.
Meanwhile, one of the most pathetic recurrences is the issuing of press releases every time a brutal murder is committed with public officials spewing the usual diatribe about being shocked and hoping that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Fat chance! Unless the victim comes from a certain socio-economic background, or is a high-profile individual, then it is likely to become a hopeless case.
As well-known black poet Langston Hughes has opined: “That justice is a blind goddess is a thing to which we blacks are wise/ Her blindfold hides two festering sores which once perhaps were eyes.”
It is no secret that the average black, poor citizen of Jamaica does not feel that there are any equal rights and justice for him or her. That is why citizens are increasingly taking the law into their own hands. Farmers lose their produce or livestock without any redress, schools are vandalised and burglarised, churches are desecrated and emptied mainly of electronic equipment, not to mention the many unreported cases of robbery, rape and extortion. This country is in a state of “chronic” when it comes to personal safety.
The bottom line is that we are yet to find the right answers to this multi-faceted problem. Blaming the minister or any particular Government will not blow it away. Crime is everybody's concern, but it is fair to say that one of the chief responsibilities of any Government must be the safety and well-being of its citizens. The buck must therefore stop at Jamaica House: Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose credibility has received a serious battering because of his earlier promise of citizens being able to sleep with their windows and doors open under a Jamaica Labour Party Government, needs to step up and introduce bold initiatives devoid of public relations gimmickry.
As long as crime fighting in this country is politicised and used as a means of partisan grandstanding or one-upmanship then not much, in real terms, will be achieved. If there is one aspect of national life that needs a consensual approach then it must be crime fighting. Both the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) must find common ground and call a spade a spade. The criminals would be moved by fear, and all well-thinking citizens would wholeheartedly welcome it.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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