Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Michael Abrahams | Jamaica IS an extraordinarily violent country

Published:Monday | May 9, 2016 | 5:19 AMMichael Abrahams
Slain missionaries Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols

Following the murder of two American missionaries in St Mary, CNN news anchor Ashleigh Banfield said that Jamaica “is an extraordinarily violent country with a remarkable murder rate”.

After hearing the remark, many Jamaicans went ballistic, taking to social and traditional media to express their outrage.

I was genuinely perplexed by the reactions because, having lived here for most of my life, I know that Jamaica IS an extraordinarily violent country with a remarkable murder rate. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘extraordinarily’ means ‘to a remarkable degree; extremely’, which would apply to the levels of violence in our society.

Japan, an atheistic country with a population of 126 million, is the 11th most populous country in the world. In 2015, there were 933 murders there. In Jamaica, with a population of 2.8 million, there were 1,192 murders that year. Japan’s population is 45 times bigger than ours, but we kill more people. Japan’s murder rate (murders per 100,000 people) is less than 1. Ours is more than 40.

Chicago has been dubbed ‘America's mass shooting capital’, after the documentation of 18 occasions in 2015 in which four or more people were shot in a single incident. Chicago is also America’s third most populous city, with a population roughly the same as Jamaica’s, but in 2015, 468 murders were committed there, fewer than half those slaughtered in our country.

There are 195 countries in the world, and Jamaica’s murder rate is consistently in the global top 10. We are now ranked seventh. In 2005, we were number one, with 1,674 murders, giving a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people. The number of persons killed in Jamaica is comparable with those slain in a country at civil war. During the Iraq war, more people were being killed in Jamaica than members of the coalition forces fighting in that conflict.

IN PHOTO: Dr Michael Abrahams

Violence is so widespread in Jamaica that most Jamaicans have known persons who were murdered or who were victims of severe violence. I am no exception.

A good friend of mine was walking with his nine-year-old son to his godfather’s house on the morning of Good Friday a few years ago, on the same road as Vale Royal (the official residence of the prime minister of Jamaica), and was challenged by two thugs, one of whom shot him several times at close range, in front of his child. He succumbed to his injuries.

A patient of mine left her husband and went abroad, and on her return, he arranged for her to be doused with acid. She died.

Another patient of mine presented herself for her first antenatal visit and did not return. She was reported missing, and her charred body was found in bushes near the Port Royal main road.

IN PHOTO: The police process a crime scene on Heywood Street, Kingston

Then there are persons who did not succumb to their injuries, but whose lives have been changed forever. I know two persons who were shot and became paralysed, and another who was raped and shot in the back, and carries around a bullet lodged next to her spine, and another who was shot in the face at point-blank range while in his car at a traffic light.

Gang-rape victims? Yes, I know some too, as well as persons who have been stabbed, slashed and chopped. As for perpetrators, I am acquainted with some of those as well, including someone who chopped a man to death, a man who shot and killed his girlfriend’s ex, and a man who fatally shot his own child.

Particularly distressing is the killing of our children, which has become commonplace. The situation is so grim that less than eight years after it was established, the Secret Gardens monument in downtown Kingston is running out of space to record the names of Jamaica's children killed under violent circumstances. Six hundred and sixty-four names are inscribed on the monument, and there is space for only 20 more.

Violence attributed to members of the security forces also makes a valuable contribution. Just two days prior to writing this article, on the same day a policeman was sentenced for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, another was taken into custody in connection with the brutal slaying of a female colleague who was shot six times.

IN PHOTO: Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson

What do our leaders have to say about crime in Jamaica? Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson described the situation as "a national challenge of unprecedented proportions". A frustrated former minister of national security, Peter Bunting, stated that we needed “divine intervention” to deal with the problem, while his successor, Robert Montague, is contemplating the resumption of hanging to quell the bloodletting.

The Jamaica Umbrella Groups of Churches also recently issued a statement claiming that “the darkness of evil has again overshadowed the country”. 

Violence affects us so much that some of us do not watch the news, because we find it to be too distressing, and some hotels deliberately do not sell local newspapers, fearing that some of the stories about crime may scare our visitors. The fact is that we have been bombarded with so much violence for so long that many of us have become desensitised and do not realise how bad things really are in our country. 

Still not convinced that we are an extraordinarily violent country? Check out these lyrics from ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ by Damian Marley:

“Out in the streets, they call it murder …

... Di thugs dem wi do weh them got to

And won't think twice to shot you

Don't make them spot you

Unless you carry guns a lot, too

A bare tough thing come at you …

… Welcome to Jamdown

Poor people a dead at random

Political violence, can't done …

… And that's why a nuff little youth have up some fat 'matic

With the extra magazine inna them back pocket

And a bleach a night-time inna some black jacket

All who no lock Glocks, them a lock rocket

Them will full you up a current like a shock socket.”

Welcome to Jamrock.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.