Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Orville Taylor | Clacken was no Kraken; he was a person

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It's all a myth, based on some petrified sailors and fishermen's fanciful tales of a legendary sea creature, crudely resembling the giant squid or the giant octopus. Poor Kraken, it doesn't exist, but has been slandered and libelled by Norse warriors, English poets such as Lord Tennyson, and even French science fiction writer, Jules Verne.

It has been reputed to sink ships, yank after mariners until seamen spilled off decks, and terrorise the entire seagoing world for centuries. This monster was easy to be afraid of, and understandably, easy to hate. As long as something is seen as a monster and not a wonderful creature of God or more so, another human; its life is dispensable.

The step from fabled organisms to humans being labelled as monsters has always been the perfect justification for their termination. As horrid as the activities of ISIS are, they are based on the principle of 'otherness'. That is, as long as those people are something else that we are not, it is all right to kill them because they are not like us. The lives of others are always worth less than ours.

For this reason, it has been historically easy to dehumanise other persons with labels such as 'infidel', 'savage', 'nigger', 'enemy', 'madman', 'dutty bwoy', 'gyal', 'Labarite' and 'socialis'', or other denunciatory epithets. I was an infant during the Coral Gardens Massacre, when non-human Rastafarians and a dutty Babylon were killed. On this piece of rock, there was a period when we found it expedient to devalue lives and sacrifice people's children on the altars of political expedience.

Worse, while the generals in green and orange, backed by the fist and fingers, were sanctioning the killing of the others, we also gave to our police unmitigated powers under the Suppression of Crime Act, which ran from 1974 to 1994. During this period, we learned that lives of the labelled undesirables were valueless. Not only was killing of others normative, it was supported by mores and lots of folkways.

We live in Jamaica, a place where we have killed each other in large numbers for more than four decades, and maybe we have got too comfortable with the idea of people dying or that it is acceptable that some people have less of a right to life than others. Perhaps it is that firearms are so easy to come by or that a gun is an extension of, or a substitution for, undersize or dysfunctional phalluses, but why the hell are we so trigger-happy and gun-crazy?

With the initial support from politicians, the fathers, uncles and 'elders' from the decades of political tribalism taught the bloody lessons, and as in Macbeth, "which being taught, return to plague the inventor".

Haile Clacken is dead, the only son of Lilieth and Balfour Clacken, killed by a high-powered shotgun in the hands of a security guard. Curiously, the sequence of events began in the vicinity of a police station.

Given that the matter is sub judice, there is little I will say regarding the 'facts' of the case. What is irrefutable is that this was a man in his prime, with some challenges, but full of love and loved by his family and many people in the southern parishes. Yet, it is interesting how the death of this young man, a husband and father of an eight-year-old son, and the subsequent charging of a security guard for murder, have divided commentators.

Indeed, last Wednesday on 'Hotline', the talk-show I host, a number of callers took the strange position that the guard couldn't be blamed because no one knows the intentions of the 'mad man' and he could have been contemplating all manner of evil. While it is true that no one can read into another person's mind, one should note that even if one is a psychic or reader man, one is never free to act based on another individual's intent.

It is here that there is often confusion, because the discipline of law can mislead individuals into thinking that intent is something it can measure in the mind. The mens rea, which is the adduced mental predisposition to commit an offence, is only known from one's behaviour. Therefore, inasmuch as a police officer might charge an individual with shooting 'with intent', he is simply making assumptions based on behaviours or action, not thoughts.

Thus, what law defines as intent is really 'attempt'. So, let me make it clear that believing that a person of unsound mind might have evil intentions makes no difference unless he acts in a threatening fashion.

True, I will be the first to admit that I am pained that Sister and Brother Clacken have lost their only man-child, because no parent should have to suffer the loss of offspring in any circumstances. However, there are indeed occasions when a person will run the risk of forfeiting his life, and if killed, he has no one to blame. These include the commission of a crime, especially where there is violence, or the use of a deadly weapon. In such situations, the innocent victim, good Samaritan or police officer has the right to use deadly force.

 

REALISTIC THREAT

 

A person's state of mind has nothing to do with the imminence of danger or the justification to shoot him. He has to present a realistic threat, and the threat must be sustained after the firearm holder points his weapon. Simply put, if you say, "Stop or don't approach, etc!" and he still advances, you might have no choice. Nevertheless, if he is a suspected criminal, for example, and you have effectively disarmed him, and are holding him for the police or your squaddies to come for him, you do not have the right to shoot him if he attempts to flee. Life is precious.

Still, too many unqualified persons have guns in this country. It takes a police officer more than six months of training before he can be given a firearm to use. Yet any Mister Man can do a few weeks of 'training' with no behavioural or polygraph tests and be strapped.

Maybe we need to do studies on the impact of copper and lead on the brain and nervous system of firearm users. Life is too precious, and we need higher standards for the legal gunmen than we have for the 'criminals'.

And to all who have lost loved ones to the gun, I say Haile bless!

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.