We are not safe! ...in our communities, in churchSunday, October 24, 2021
I think the good citizens — residents who killed an innocent man in Llandewey are not included — of Bath in St Thomas and surrounding communities should be given the award for person of the year for 2021. Their heroic community activism, combined with quick action from the State, last week, happily led to the safe recovery of two precious children. I think the good citizens' unified efforts have repaired some severely dented hopes here at home and in the Diaspora.
We must not allow this bright spark of hope to die.
If the citizens of Bath and surrounding communities had taken the poisonous position that “we must see and blind, hear and deaf,” or, worse, “informer fi dead,” Phylisa Prussia and Winshae Barrett would not have been found alive.
The person(s) who abducted nine-year-old Phylisa Prussia and 13-year-old Winshae Barrett were, doubtless, figuring that the peaceful rural communities from which they were snatched were going to remain quiet — for that is the usual response of far too many communities in Jamaica. Criminals love and are fuelled by silence. But, the culprit(s) got a rude-awakening: Entire communities rose in righteous anger against wrong.
'Wi more than dem'
Jamaica's population, according to 2020 World Bank figures is slightly above 2.9 million. The majority, the vast majority of Jamaicans are hard-working, honest folks. Those among us who believe they should eat bread from the sweat of other people's brow are in the minority, yet we have allowed this minority to make us cower in almost permanent fear.
I have been saying in the space for a long time that the day a critical mass decides not to be silent about criminals and their activities will be the day we really begin to collar the crime monster.
Those who are committing crimes are known. Contract murderers in Jamaica are not aliens from space. They hide, sometimes in plain sight. Those who are abducting, kidnapping, and raping do not disappear into a black hole after they commit their heinous acts. They are known; sometimes to whole communities.
Some delude themselves that silence will buy safety. They must remember that criminals have no loyalty; they eventually turn on the silent and devour them. We are being devoured, too, by the devilish deeds of those who consciously invest in the fetishising of gangsterism. This must be dealt a mortal blow, once and for all. Those who have brought and continue to force this plague upon our land must be smoked out of their dark places and exposed.
There was clearly a great deal of trust between the good citizens of Bath and surrounding communities as evidenced in reports from various sections of the media. This is hugely positive. I sincerely hope the good tidings from the safe return of these two young girls will be a positive trigger for a national renewal of 'I am my brother's keeper'. That cannot happen if a majority of Jamaicans do not trust the police or other State authorities.
Notwithstanding the existing trust deficit, I am not one of those who foolishly believes that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) are so bad that we are better off taking our chances with the criminals. Robin Hood is mere folklore that seeped into mainstream literature and, thereafter, popular culture/consciousness.
Admittedly, the JCF and the JDF are not perfect. I have fiercely criticised several of their actions in previous columns, but I have also poured high commendations on them on many occasions when I felt they earned plaudits. Those who do not recognise that the JCF and JDF are one of the few remaining barriers between us and marauding criminals/merchants of death are living in a massive bubble within a bubble. We must not delude ourselves.
There are some super predators in Jamaica who have decided to live by the proceeds of crime. Those who aid and abet them are just as dastardly. Recently, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said that some hardened criminals cannot be rehabilitated. I agree.
Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington has come out in support of Dr Chang's sentiments. A news item on Radio Jamaica, noted these and related details: “Ellington shares the view that some gangsters who are involved in organised crimes will not change, especially if the benefits are 'visible and tangible'.
“He noted that the gangsters are “running criminal businesses”, so even if they are locked away in prison for some time they are simply concerned with continuing the business as soon as they get out.
“ 'So no real effort at rehabilitation is going to change the modus operandi of such individuals. They just have to face the kind of demise that 'Dog Paw' [Christopher Linton] faced or remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives,' he reasoned.
“Ellington pointed out that gangs undermine the work of the police in communities by driving fear into residents to prevent them from cooperating with law enforcement.
“ 'They would intimidate citizens to the extent that they choose not to be seen or even to be considered to be supportive of law enforcement, and then they insert themselves as community protectors. Who are they protecting the communities from? Not the police, [but] from other criminals with whom they are in constant battle for control of market space.
“ 'So what that gang, under the leadership of Dog Paw, would have done is to create a market for criminality in the community, and to use violence and intimidation to protect that market. And they will single out residents in the communities who will be able to move freely, walk freely, just get along with their lives as if nothing is happening, but they are killing people,' he sought to explain.” ( Radio Jamaica News Online, October 15, 2021)
We have to find a way to break the back of gangsterism in this country. Some will doubtless reach for the usual social powder puffs or forms of emotional embrace. Those will not soothe or silence the ravenous monster(s) who abducted Phylisa Prussia and Winshae Barrett or those among us whose vocation is rape, robbery, murder, and other heinous acts. They are wedded to criminal mayhem. They must be hunted, captured, and put before the courts.
Those who attack State personnel, so as to endanger their lives and/or the lives of other law-abiding citizens, cannot be pampered and petted. It is time to embrace the reality that 'we are more than dem'.
There are related realities which we also need to embrace. The bizarre incidents at Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries in St James, last week, that resulted in the deaths of two congregants, were preceded by long shadows.
Recall this Jamaica Observer banner headline on January 23, 2018: 'Security forces discover devil worshipping 'altars' — Montague'.
The eye-opening piece said, among other things: “Security Minister Robert Montague told Parliament today that in the Government's crime-fighting efforts over the past couple months a number of 'altars' to facilitate devil worshipping have been discovered by the security forces in sections of the island.
“ 'Some people are playing with things they know nothing about and open gates they cannot close. Sir, the trend is disturbing and must be stopped.'
“Montague said that the discovery of devil worshipping altars is a most dangerous trend and the clergy is also disturbed by the occurrence.'
“He added that the savagery, the brutality, and horrific nature of some crimes point to sacrifices to these evil forces.”
There are some among us who are calculatingly abusing our varied and historical disposition to certain superstitious beliefs in order to advance their personal and fanatical religious agendas.
Michael Garfield Smith, popularly called M G Smith, was a renowned Jamaican social anthropologist and poet. His research in Jamaican, Caribbean, and African labour issues, social structures, and education in the Caribbean, particularly since political independence, is lauded and cited globally. Professor Smith also did considerable research in the areas of African and West Indian religious practices and superstitious beliefs.
Smith posited the view that some of these superstitious beliefs were not without their 'limitations' — my word. I emphasise, some are busy capitalising on these limitations to advance their devious, devilish titivations.
Consider this: “Dr Kevin O Smith's Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries raked in close to $1 million per week from offerings, consultations, and spiritual encounters.” ( The Gleaner, October 19, 2021)
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure where Kevin Smith got the lion's share of his financing. He got it from predominately poor people, notwithstanding political connections which have come to light. It is the poor and uneducated who are the pawns of what M G Smith described in his research as our “magico-religious political culture”.
Ignorance, poor infrastructure, poverty, and an incapacity or dwarfed ability to reason critically are extremely toxic mixes, but not to pastors for profit.
It is not a coincidence that Jamaica is 'credited' for having the most churches per square mile compared to the rest of countries in the world.
I suspect some are going to become agitated and introduce a red herring here; namely, that I am attacking the church, Christianity, and/or even religion. I am doing no such thing. Long ago, I said in this space that I am an unapologetic believer in God. Unlike some, however, I don't see a scintilla of disconnection between my fervent belief in God and the necessity for critical reasoning.
It is not a pleasant admission, but the truth is one can no longer automatically assume that one is safe in the precincts of a church or in the company of some church leaders. For those who think this is an exaggeration, you had better wake up and smell the coffee.
Recall this worrying headline: 'Church screens Sunday school teachers — New policy to fight child sex abuse' ( Jamaica Observer, May 27, 2012).
The news items gave these and other details: “The wave of reports of childhood sexual abuse by persons entrusted with their care has prompted church leaders to implement a screening policy for Sunday school teachers and others employed to supervise children.”
The horrific incident at Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries, in St James, last Sunday, did cast very long shadows. Consider this too: “Distressing, deplorable, dastardly, ungodly, and unconscionable are just a few of the adjectives Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) President Reverend Newton Dixon used to describe reports of pastors charged with sexual abuse of children in recent weeks.
“ 'I don't know if we have enough adjectives to describe this sad and disturbing situation. It is sad because the perpetrators of these acts are supposed to be individuals in society who people should be looking up to. Instead of being protectors and providers of care we have pastors who are now predators,' Rev Dixon said yesterday.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 16, 2021).
In June, after I had witnessed an awful incident while standing at the entrance to the Papine Market, in St Andrew, I wrote in my The Agenda piece: “Lewdness, rudeness, and crassness are pervasive. Those who are above the fray are often labelled as freaks, prudes, old-timers, killjoys, and prigs. Social decline is metastasising in this country. At the same time, many of our institutions which long ago had been established as counterbalancing forces are riveted in a state of flux and confusion. If we do not intercept and beat back this social decline, very soon, sooner than many think, we shall have a country oozing disillusionment of the kind described in T S Eliot's poem The Waste Land.”
It should be obvious to those who don't suffer with convenient blindness and voluntary amnesia that the social infrastructure of our country, over many years, has been severely damaged. It now exudes a Victorian reek.
There is a foul, mean spiritedness and grotesque obsession with unenlightened self-interest which seems to have penetrated even the deepest recesses of daily life. The rotten seeds which were sown over many decades are now producing the unpleasant fruits. Many of our primary institutions, which should be the backbone of the society, are gasping for life.
Happily, despite the pandemic, our economy is doing far better compared to previous years. I fear, though, that this will not matter eventually if our landslide social decline is not halted.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.