Michael Aiken | Who is right, the doctor or the cleric?
"Jamaica is an extraordinarily violent country," said that good gynaecologist and actor Dr Michael Abrahams in The Gleaner of Monday May 9, 2016. He was later on Power 106 close to noon, giving verbal credence to his written words.
Power 106 host Joan Williams, while interviewing Abrahams, took a moment, in her irreverent and lovable style (cross between Barbara Gloudon and Miss Kitty), to laugh at well-known and fine cleric and academic, The Reverend Gary Harriot. He had stated in an earlier interview that Jamaica was not a violent country!
So who is right, the doctor or the cleric? Who is the better analyst? The gynecologist, trained to do thorough in-depth examinations, or the clergyman, trained to do careful systematic exegesis?
If you read Abrahams' article, you may be inclined to leave Jamaica ASAP! If you listened to Harriot, you perhaps would agree that this violence debate is 'much ado about nothing'. Let's end the fight right here with a thorough, careful and systematic examination.
Round 1 to the good doctor
This Jamaica land we love has for a long time now been a violent island. Our current crime and violence figures validate that. Our historical statistics also support this opinion. Look at these statistics for just one month in our nation's distant history, 439 Jamaicans killed, as machete-wielding gang ravages town square, 354 people killed execution style, police brutally beat and arrest 600.
That's 793 persons 793 killed in just a few days; and another 600 brutalised as the Government of the time sought ways to keep the murder rate down. Jamaica is an extraordinarily violent country! Round 1 to the good doctor!
Round 2 to the fine theologian: segmented violence
The figures quoted above were taken from a segment of Jamaica's history called The Morant Bay Rebellion. This leads me to declare Round 2 to the fine theologian. For Harriot in his interview with the irreverent Joan defended his assertion by positing that Jamaica's violence is segmented and limited to certain places and people. It's not extraordinary because it's not overwhelming our island.
Even Terri Nichols, wife of Harold, one of two recently murdered missionaries in St Mary, seems to agree with the good reverend. According to a Gleaner report, Mrs Nichols said she has lived in Jamaica for 14 years and had never previously experienced any kind of violence before her husband's violent death.
She went on to say, "Whoever committed this atrocity is a couple of people out of 2.8 million" and "it would be a very big leap for people to say: 'You can't go to Jamaica because two missionaries were killed'."
Round 3 to the good doctor: Unreasonable violence
However, although Mrs Nichol's response to her husband's violent death is gracious and quite Christian, the growing body of evidence seems to validate Abraham's assertion that we are now beset, it seems, with unreasonable purposeless violence. That is what is extraordinary.
These days it appears everyone, whether doctor or cleric, peanut seller or prime minister, thief or police; whether from uptown or downtown, city or country ... all seem disposed to commit unreasonable violence; lacking any purpose or grander cause (like the Morant Bay Rebellion).
Gone are the days when there were many sides to Jamaica. There seems now to be only one side! An unreasonably violent side only! So I must agree and give Round 3 to the good doctor.
We seem to have too many persons that are capable of violence. Of the almost 1.8 million of us, 1,410,046 are under 30 years of age. Many in this cohort lack the mental and emotional skills to resolve conflict and do not respect and reverence life enough to restrain themselves from committing murder.
Consider the child killed recently at a high school in St Mary. He was the target of a verbal slur on social media and when he confronted his verbal attacker at school, instead of the matter being settled amicably, he was stabbed multiple times.
Jamaica, like ISIS, is now even exporting violence for the world to see, although inadvertently so. Consider the lover who became a fighter in the USA Soccer League recently. He and his opponent both received red cards for an altercation and as the two were exiting the field, what did Romeo Parkes do? He displayed extraordinary and unreasonable Jamaican violence by viciously kicking his opponent in the spine. An international press agency described it as "one of the most disgraceful scenes of on-field violence, in recent years".
Romeo's apologetic tweets about the incident were too late to save him from the unemployment line. His unreasonable and extraordinary violence, has transformed him from an international footballer to unemployed youth.
He will no doubt be soon deported as his work contract has been cancelled and he has been banned from playing soccer in the US for some time.
We must face this current Jamaican reality of the violent psychosocial condition of our people and the overwhelming numbers of violence producers. Why? Perhaps it may motivate us to find the solutions to fix the conditions no matter the political divide, religious differences or cost.
Round 4 to the fine theologian because we can transform it!
The ongoing debates indicate that we are thinking and talking to it. This means that although we are tolerant, we have not yet become totally desensitised and overwhelmed by the violence. Therefore, we can find solutions. Round 4, therefore, to the fine theologian.
But we must be willing to act on the solutions. Consider the words of a well-known local pastor of the present and a famous US president of the past:
"...We have tolerated much because we have consoled ourselves with the thought ... that we are a fundamentally decent, God-fearing nation ...' (Pastor Al Miller)
"Our problems are man-made; therefore, they may be solved by man .... No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.' (John F. Kennedy)
Let's therefore get to some solutions:
One solution may be to teach violence prevention and conflict resolution as part of core curriculum from early childhood through secondary and tertiary.
That may give us some long-term success. While we are at it, let's mandate that our parliamentarians, public servants and private-sector professionals attend violence-prevention and conflict-resolution classes, renewable annually.
Another solution as it pertains to gun violence is for our police to begin to do due diligence in linking the gun user to the gun provider. After which our legal and justice system should ensure that the violence perpetrator and the gun provider receive identical sentences when the perpetrator is caught.
For we all know that the average Jamaican gun user cannot afford, or access, a firearm, without help from a wealthier, more powerful person.
An early 20s male came to my home one evening and said: "Pastor, I am ready to give my life to the Lord Jesus." I knew him as a gun-toting violence producer in our community. So I replied: "Really, that's good to hear. But what's up with the new desire, and how will your gun life fit into your new thinking?"
He continued: "Pastor, my girlfriend has given me my first child. She's beautiful. I have to live life for her now. No more gun life. I want you to take my gun and give it to the police for me. Just don't tell them where you got it from."
I didn't think that was a good idea, so I said to him: "Take the gun directly to the police yourself."
He replied: "Pastor, you mad?' Dem will kill mi." So I suggested: "Take the gun to whoever you got it from." He more forcefully stated: "Him will kill me too, with this very gun."
So we worked out a compromise. I had him unload the gun and give me the bullets, which I threw down a deep hole immediately, and I escorted him to the police station.
On the way, as we were driving past a gas station, he said: "See the man who give me the gun deh." I turned to look at an upstanding businessman and stalwart supporter of one of our political parties. A man who you simply would not imagine would be involved in violence production.
Don't you think it's time to lock up those behind-the-scenes gun providers?
Another solution to transforming our extraordinarily violent nation may be the revival of our social transformation programme. It was birthed by one government administration as our Values & Attitudes Programme and furthered by another administration as the National Transformation Programme.
For any such programme to be successful, it must first be excitingly attractive as our music and athletics. Then it has to be authorised by the State and its legislature, approved by the private sector and its finances, accepted by civil society and its volunteers, led by relevant and balanced church clerics, and appropriately tied to our Vision 2030 National Development Plan for progress and prosperity.
We must act now, for our current penchant for extraordinary and unreasonable violence is affecting our socio-economic development.