There is a flurry of coverage available now regarding reports that the JLP-formed GOJ (Government of Jamaica) is considering a program of preventative detention. This is a proposal that has been pushed by Sunday Gleaner columnist Don Robotham for some time, when he was not too busy deriding the capacity of those he regards as “lumpen” to participate in the Jamaican political process. Simultaneously there is a great clamor to revive hanging in Jamaica. “Wi need the death penalty,” its proponents say, “dem a gwaan too bad now”.
I realize that people who are poorly prepared to discuss this situation on merit will resort to dismissing me as someone sitting in a relatively calm America who wishes to lecture Jamaicans about how to solve the crime problem. When coupled with the almost reflexive rejection that some Jamaicans-ayard seem to have of suggestions from Jamaicans-abroad recently, it is an easy and ready gimmick to dismiss the truth of any observer’s comments. The sad news for Jamaicans-ayard is that the situation is not improved by ignoring the truth, regardless of the source of the truth. The gunshots will still continue to fly over and into our heads until we confront the real problems and not the symptoms.
So let us begin with some truths.
There is a clamor to revive the legally sanctioned death penalty in Jamaica. But regardless of the success of this movement, there is and has always been a death penalty in Jamaica. Claudius Massop knew this, he found out there is and has always been a death penalty in Jamaica. Renato Adams knows this, he is sworn to silence. The truth is that ALL Jamaicans know this, even when we wring our hands and speak of ‘extra-judicial’ killings. Only hanging is prohibited in Jamaica, and has been since the UK Privy Court rendered its decision. The firing-squad therefore remains the contemporary method of capital punishment in Jamaica.
As some of us abroad and a-yard clamor for the resumption of hanging, we never ask why the firing-squad is failing us now. But it would be useful to examine the reasons the firing-squad has failed us since these are precisely the reasons why hanging failed us before and will fail us again. The reason is simple – in Jamaica we don’t merely try and convict criminals. We try and convict poor people and the poorly-conected. In too many cases, they have been caught red-handed — being poor! That’s it. The extent of classism in Jamaica is as egregious and entrenched as racism in the American South from the 1860’s to 1960’s. We treat poor people in Jamaica like black people in the American South used to be treated.
There are rich and powerful people in Jamaica who are murderers and rapists. We have no shortage of politicans who are easily implicated in murders, conspiracies to commit murder, bribery, extortion, and racketeering. There are no prosecutions because they are neither poor nor poorly connected.
We are governed in large part by majority-holding silent partners in drug-dealing and gun-running enterprises. There are no prosecutions because they are neither poor nor poorly connected.
Danhai Williams is indicted and charged with fanfare. Danhai Williams is let go for lack of evidence. No prosecutor is fired in the wake of this. A so it go. Kern Spencer is charged with a crime, Kern Spencer continues to sit in Parliament. I will be neither surprised nor indignant when the witnesses we have been told labored on the light-bulb project suddenly get visas and become unavailable for testimony. I will be neither surprised nor indignant when Kern Spencer is let off-the-hook. A so it go. This is the Jamaican way.
Kern Spencer must be free to vote in Parliament, Danhai Williams and Renato Adams must be free to run their respective security companies. A so it go.
Those of us who live elsewhere are surprised to learn that a ongle so it caan go. But the people most insistent that we can’t do anything about the so-called white collar elements of Jamaican criminality are also the most insistent that we need to shoot poor people. These students of the Shoot Poor People School of Crime Fighting are adamant that it is poor people who are the drivers of crime in Jamaica. Yet crime in Jamaica at any level would not be possible without the collusion of the police apparatus and political directorate. Before I am beat up for making that statement, let me point out that PM Golding says it:
“Anybody who gets up and comes to this or any other podium and seeks to deny that politics has not made its own contribution to the crime that we are having, that somebody is not being honest,” Golding told hundreds of delegates attending the diaspora conference.”
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, June 17, 2008
Granted a never dat ‘im did a sey pon the BBC, but I’ll take it. Quite frankly I fail to understand why the PM has not used the current high crime as a political expedient to force his independent-ombudsman legislation through Parliament by now. So the lecturers at the Shoot Poor People School of Crime Fighting are now embarking on a more polished initiative; the Lock-Up-Poor-People-Without-Charges Graduate Institute. Like the suspended official death penalty of hanging, and the active unofficial firing-squad this is also a system that will be applied by a judicial apparatus steeped in classism, racism and abuse. Police, with the approval of upper-caste judges, will lock up poor people without charges for the crime of being poor and poorly-connected.
As Vernon Daley points out in this week’s column we have done this before using the Suppression of Crime Act. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
The most convincing argument I can make for why I know the policy of preventative detention of criminals will not be evenly implemented is that the advocates of an evenly applied preventative detention policy would have to make a back-up plan for the lack of a quorum in Parliament after such a program began.
We can complete a thousand crime-plans and a hundred strategic reviews of the police force. Only a justice system and police apparatus that can no longer victimize poor people can pull Jamaica out of the morass it is currently in. We need to stop the gimmicks, nonsense, and short-cuts and begin to prosecute all criminals big and small. That is the only solution, short-term and long-term!
Peter Tosh spoke about equal rights and justice. Given how closely classism in Jamaican is related to pigment and racial identity we can say it another way.
Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior, is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned. EVERYWHERE IS … WAR [CRIME, and VIOLENCE]!