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Mark Wignall | Why many Jamaicans still support hanging

Published:Sunday | July 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM
This October 1990 photo shows Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara. The last six members of the cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. The first seven, including Asahara, were hanged about three weeks ago.

Recently in Japan, 13 members of a doomsday cult were hanged for a sarin (nerve agent gas) attack on the subway in the 1990s.

A number of factors are worthy of consideration within the Jamaican context. First is, with a population of more than 127 million people, homicides by the gun in Japan are a rarity, usually in low double digits, while in Jamaica, with just under three million people, it would be considered something of a success worthy of celebration if our gun deaths ever dipped below a thousand in any year.

Second, Japan is highly developed, with an unemployment rate of below three per cent. Additional factors are that Jamaica's unemployment rate dipped from 10.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2017 to 9.6 per cent in first quarter 2018, but not captured in those statistics is the high level of underemployment and wage disparities.

It is not unusual for the general manager to be earning J$10 million plus perks per annum while a very bright and highly effective supervisor takes home under $600,000 per year.

In the recent hangings in Japan, most of the cult members were university graduates specialising in highly complex medical and applied science fields. But even if the cult had targeted as members very bright and accomplished people, overall in Japan, the person one would talk to on the subway if one is fluent in Japanese is in almost every instance a university graduate.

In Japan, about 75 per cent of robberies and 96 per cent of homicides are solved by the police. In Jamaica, those numbers are in reverse, with many of our people not even bothering to waste their time reporting robberies. Even including violent crimes of passion, the typical person in Jamaica accused and convicted of murder has never passed an exam, but he knows that he has at least a six-in-10 chance of escaping detection.

In Japan, there is no colonial master of a long-past era breathing down its back and constantly reminding it that hanging is cruel and inhumane, and that loan packages have unwritten caveats attached. In Jamaica, most of the key economic policies and those hinging on security and justice tend to be decided by those bigger, more powerful than us and who, less than 60 years ago, told us how high to jump.

Apart from the most rabidly political tribalist, most Jamaicans are, at the very least, satisfied with the more than 60 per cent fall-off in murders in St James under the special security operation that has been in place for the last few months.

"Dem gwine haffi pull di zones and di state a emergency because dem ting cost nuff money," stated a police constable to me recently. "Policing is still taking place in every corner of Jamaica, but wi still under pressure and nuff a wi just barely going through di motions. This is a job that even though yu alive at the end of di day, when you reach home, yu feel like yu mind and yu body dead," he said.


Police want hanging restored


As the constable explained it to me, "The majority of our citizens only read about these young guys say we hold. We get to see them upfront and close. Nuff a dem laugh and act as if a joke ting all after dem kill five and wound six. Once di court convict them, as far as me is concerned, dem fi hang."

"So, how many of your colleagues share this view?" I asked.

"Don't take my word for it," he said. "Do your research and I bet you that 'bout 90 per cent in favour of the resumption of hanging."

He was correct. Even though my sample was small by any standards, 10 policemen I spoke with at one rural station, one station in a tourist resort town, and a large station in the Kingston Metropolitan Area only had two pointing out to me that hanging, as a deterrent to murder, does not work.

One sergeant said, "You have some lawyers that once yu employ dem, yu certain to go a prison. Those are no good and are just hustling to mek a money. The criminals that I come across use the brand-name lawyers and they know the tactics to get these dangerous killers back on the streets."

"So where do these killers find the money from?" I asked.

"Yu asking the wrong

person," he said.

A few decades back, it was always an indicator that wherever the police force went in its views, so did the rest of the nation. That was quite useful in politics but, our legislators seem to be of the view that life sentences instead of hanging is settled law.

Hanging convicted murderers is not a priority among Jamaicans, and it would not be picked up in any opinion poll unless the question is directly posed. The big concern at this time is jobs, youth unemployment and idleness, crime and poor roads.

"We need a strong prime minister who can talk to the international community and convince them that our problems in Jamaica are unique to us," said a retired senior policeman during a telephone conversation I had with him last Thursday. "Please do not call my name, but I believe that with all of the paperwork that I have read on hanging and murder deterrence, if it is resumed in Jamaica, it would have a marked impact, a steep decrease in the murder rate."


Jamaican products in resorts


Only if one were economically adventurous could one define bottled water as a product of the soil. I say that because I personally observed last weekend the WATA bottled water exclusively utilised in one of the largest hotels in Ocho Rios. Congrats to Wisynco.

There has been much talk about our hotel buyers utilising much more of the country's agricultural products in our resorts, locally owned or operated by the Mexicans or Spanish.

I have been inside many of the all-inclusives, which are essentially packaged palaces of paradise. It is always difficult to determine if the lettuce in one's hamburger is Jamaican-produced, but the huge size of the onion slices is a dead giveaway that it originates from overseas. Or, does it?

Last Monday, I stopped for the second time at a place in Colegate in St Ann, and for the second time saw at a roadside stall some of the biggest onions I had ever seen. All the people around me told me that they were produced in St Ann.

It is much easier for a 20-room EP hotel in, say, Negril that charges $7,000 per night to purchase local sweet peppers and pork to locally source its small restaurant than for a large all-inclusive charging $72,000 per couple per night to provide beef tenderloin on tap.

One of the problems among our local farmers has always been reliability of supply, especially as drought conditions can seriously derail his best efforts. What this automatically does is centralise the supply with the buyer for the large hotel doing most of the purchasing from one large entity whose duty it is to maintain the quality and quantity, even if it means switching from farm to farm.

In addition, it is usually the larger farms that can install wells and have guaranteed irrigation. No such luck for the smaller farmers who need to re-engage themselves with the word 'cooperative'.

They may not individually be able to supply a buyer with all of the cauliflower and cabbage he needs but, banded together, they are stronger, especially if sufficient rainfall makes the cooperation that much more effective.

Last Monday afternoon as I drove from Ocho Rios to Moneague, there was blinding rain a few miles outside of Moneague. I was of the impression that the drought was about to lift. No such luck.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and