Mark Wignall | Must we live with this violence?
For a nation traumatised by high levels of shooting crimes, the horror two Fridays ago of the shooting death of Constable Leighton Hanson was enough to convince us that violent criminality has long been intricately and rudely interwoven into our cultural legacy.
Hanson had a youthful spirit and he seemed to be somewhere in his late 30s. Daring to make attempts at foiling what could have been a robbery, he was tackled by one of the suspects, his gun snatched, and in the worst possible outcome, he was shot dead.
What do we now say to his two children? How do we navigate the duality of the reality facing us, that acceptance that our generation is culpable for this well-cultivated culture of violent criminality while trying to convince our children and grandchildren that there must be better days ahead?
Hanson and I, and his friend, Raphael, twice shared drinks at a spot in Red Hills, but I would be dishonest if I should say I remember exactly what we spoke about. What I do remember is one time, probably about three years ago, while we were in the company of another policeman connected to the Half-Way Tree Police Station.
"Mark, yuh affi gi wi a big-up, yu know. Many citizens don't have a clue as to how dangerous our work can be. Nuff a dem don't like wi."
A few days after his death, I was close to a nest of streetside vendors sipping a Guinness when I noticed that a group of young men were sharing a video on a phone. Not knowing immediately what it was, it was handed to me. Suspecting that it was a sex clip or one depicting violence, I courteously declined the view.
He pushed it forward, and for brief seconds I saw it. Then I rudely pushed away the phone. That's the sadder part of what is also being woven into our cultural fabric. A fascination at these digitally carried horrors and the ease with which we find in them entertainment value.
Unfortunately, the relatives of Constable Hanson are in the company of too many. Wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers and children who must make an impossible adjustment and learn to live without their cherished loved ones.
Professionally, Constable Hanson ought to have been assisted by his squaddie. We have long given an evil genie its freedom. Freedom to drive fear into our collective heart and make us lose hope as a nation make us question our viability as a people, as Jamaicans.
Freedom to become inured to the crudity of our lives and to accept that if the lives of most Jamaicans are to see any radical advancement in our social and economic framework, it most certainly will not occur in this lifetime.
So then, must we all die before the next generation can have a chance at peace?
That licensed firearm
The late Professor Carl Stone owned two firearms, a .45 calibre revolver and a 9mm automatic pistol. But he was not the kind of licensed holder who would be content to carry the gun without regularly updating himself on its use and being prepared for any happening.
Carl would regularly practise at the range and would even break into a run with his gun firmly held, fall to the ground, roll and fire at the target. Just like in the movies. Not many people did that.
Take Jerry (not his real name) and his gun. It was way back in the late 1980s. Jerry was a successful businessman, happily married and lived in the luxury of Kingston 6 opulence. One day he crossed a line and began to have an affair with one of his young workers who lived in the Waltham Park area.
One Saturday, Jerry and his lover left a daytime motel and, instead of giving her taxi fare as he would usually do, he drove her to her home. As he parked by her gate, his 'criss' BMW stood out like a sore thumb. Jerry was a romantic, so he kissed her just before she walked through her gate.
As he was about to re-enter the car, he observed some strange movements about four gates away. A hold-up was in progress. Jerry instinctively bent down behind his car, pulled out his automatic, and peeped over. The hold-up was still on.
Not even thinking that whenever there is a hold-up, there usually is at least one more person on the periphery acting as scout or backup. Unfortunately for Jerry, there was just such a scout and he was coming up behind him.
It's impossible now to know exactly what happened in the last few moments before his death, but it is probable that he did not even see who shot him in the back of his head. Jerry was not the sort like Carl Stone. Even though Jerry may have meant well, he was not within the confines of what could be considered his turf.
He instinctively took on a project without knowing the rules governing it.
Protect your gun side
A constable 'bredren' of mine had the unpleasant occasion to take in a pickpocket after giving chase along Windward Road. As he related it to me, he was fairly tired after the chase. "I had him firmly held in the back of his waist and as I was reaching for the cuffs. He suddenly turned, punched me in the face, and grabbed for my gun.
"I saw many things flashing before me. I used my knees to pummel him repeatedly until I was able to pry his hands from my gun. And as I got it free, I shot him."
The pickpocket took a bullet in the hip region and lived. "Listen, I just fired, and any sensible person would have done the same, because di bredda was not backing off. I wasn't aiming at any special part of him. I just wanted him to back off."
The pickpocket's relatives made a big stink out of it and my bredren was investigated while put on half-pay. He was eventually fully restored but with many lessons learned.
"To me, the first thing is get the cuffs on the suspect. Second, in all circumstances, protect your gun side. You cannot know when a situation will tumble out of control. The third is, look out for your squaddie from beginning to end. At all times."
In the 1990s, at a well-known uptown fast-food outlet, a man, a licensed firearm holder, walked through the exit just as he spied a hold-up taking place at a far end of the counter. He acted as if he did not see anything. He approached his car and left the packets of food on a seat.
He opened a slot in the dashboard and carefully removed his gun. Just as in the Waltham Park situation, he was about to play hero. As he slowly stood up, he heard a voice, 'A weh yu a go do @!@#!'
It was one of the backup gunmen. "He actually pulled the trigger and it stuck, and that's when he gave me one big lick across my face, bussing it up and causing a lot of bleeding. As he ran off, he turned, and that time he got off a shot which struck the car. I fired, but by then his confederate on a bike and the others had fled."
That man lived to tell the tale. Again, the lesson. You are not a policeman. Policing is dangerous business.
When I called my friend Raphael last Thursday, he reminded me that "Hanson live just top side me. All now mi can't believe it. Fifteen years in the service. Di whole Red Hills community, Whitehall, Constant Spring, taxi man and everybody just feel bad. Him gone too soon."