Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Orville Taylor | Homicide: a public-health problem

Published:Sunday | February 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Our culture of vindictiveness and revenge has fuelled the homicide rate in this country, because homicidal violence is an endemic pathogen, which, like cancer cells and malignant microbes, is contagious and infectious. It might not kill us all, but it is so pervasive that it can cripple the entire population.

There is a simple lesson that must be taught. All lives are precious, and nothing, absolutely nothing, should be done to devalue the life of another. This might sound like a hard sell, but there is little to be gained by teaching another generation that the lives of some people are less valuable. In the aftermath of the bloodiest year in almost a decade and 'enhanced security measures' in response to a stated emergency, there are people who are clamouring, "Bring back the hang man," because "dem bwoy ya no have no fear."

Last week, dozens of readers on social media expressed sheer disgust over the unmentionable video. Many of the same commentators had poured ice water on my column last year and my pronouncements on 'Hotline' when I dared to suggest that the homicide rate was also fuelled by abusive behaviour towards children, including sexual predation. Yet, these are the very same ones who were pleading for the right to torture, main, disembowel and dismember.


Hardly anyone seemed to get the irony here. First of all, the overwhelming majority of the persons who shared the video committed a criminal offence and would, if brought before a British, Canadian or American court, also be labelled paedophiles and registered offenders for the rest of their lives. Second, anyone who watched the video past the beginning, with any other intention than to present evidence to the authorities, is a pervert, a sicko. This includes the bloodthirsty wannabe vigilantes who want to take the law, along with that part of their anatomy which was stimulated, into their own hands.

Now, don't be mistaken. I have no sympathy for paedophiles and hold no brief for sex offenders. However, it is amazing how much like marauding chimpanzees we are. These animals, who share almost 99 per cent of our DNA, are extremely violent within their own bands and against other packs.

In our public revulsion to paedophilia and homicides, hardly anyone seems to recognise that our desire for violent retaliation upon the alleged perpetrators says something about us and nothing about them. What kind of human being can we be, to imagine gutting other Homo sapiens, castrating and force-feeding them? Something is wrong with us as adults in a God-fearing nation when you ask for inhumane treatment, even for the most dastardly of all offenders. And until we take that reality check, the circle of violence in this country will not stop.

This might be a chilling self-awakening, but large percentages of our population on our beautiful island have violence toxicity. Perhaps this is the one place where I might agree with my esteemed colleague Tony Harriott, who made one wrong utterance too many in referring to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) as toxic. Police are recruited from a toxic population with a natural proclivity to hurt and abuse others and, worse, to delight in the hurt others experience.

True, Harriott's words were harmful, and not being a psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist or social worker, he might not himself understand the level of emotional violence his words perpetrated against a set of persons who are themselves victims of this violent milieu: the plantation.

I do not support the death penalty, because human life is sacred. Indeed, while I totally endorse the use-of-force policy and the law regarding protecting oneself and the lives of others, I believe that executing another human makes me into that animal, like the murderer.

Be not fooled: Deadly force is acceptable if anyone, including a 12-year-old, points a loaded weapon at others or you. However, if he is not killed while committing the act of violence, we should never take his life, even if our statutes prescribe it.




There is a practical wisdom in the teachings of the man from Bethlehem whom they nailed up on an oversized plus sign when he suggests that instead of following the retributive Mosaic law, we should turn the other cheek. For clarification, since we are on the subject of sexual immorality, he is not alluding to cheeks located down south. Nothing in our behavioural arsenal can measure the pain another person causes us. Thus, we oftentimes go overboard in seeking and exacting revenge. This then leads to a cycle of violence which never stops.

For this reason, I agree with behavioural scientists who suggest that we must treat high homicide rates among black people, both here in Jamaica and the USA and UK, as a public-health issue.

Homicide is not only linked to the cultural and historical antecedents of slavery and post-colonial abuse. In the contemporary world, it is contagious and infectious. Homicide is a violence-transmitted infection (VTI). Like AIDS and syphilis, it is contracted either congenitally or by contact with perpetrators. Apart from the extensive research, that children who are abused are three times more likely to commit violence than their counterparts, retribution and reprisals are major factors in escalating the pattern of violence.

As bizarre as it might sound to the Christians who seek the anti-Jesus stance of state murder, sparing the lives of even the worst offenders teaches the next generation that all lives are sacred. Inasmuch as we use restitutive justice for lesser crimes today, there is a deep wisdom in applying some of its elements as we try to prevent, rather than solve, homicides today.

And by the way, while I accept that the professor wronged the JCF, let us apply some restorative justice here as well and not exacerbate the situation by the police carrying out emotional reprisals against him.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'.

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