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Stabroek News

Gendered justice?
published: Sunday | May 27, 2007

Orville Taylor

Tomorrow is my mother's 81st birthday, and apart from being grateful for her longevity, mental and moral clarity, I am eternally thankful that she 'tek a good man,' and, therefore, along with the late Elder Taylor, she taught me to shun hypocrisy while avoiding bias. Actually, I should not buy anything if I can't afford it.

Last week, two 'celebrity' criminals were released amid much fanfare. The first was Earl Pratt of the landmark case Pratt and Morgan v. Attorney-General of Jamaica, and the other, the notorious Mary Lynch, who, in 1992, 'bloodgeoned' her allegedly abusive husband, carving him up like a jigsaw puzzle, while her supporters argue that she was not 'cut out' to be a murderess.

Pratt and Ivan Morgan were convicted in 1979 for the 1977 murder of Junior Anthony Missick and sentenced to death. After two decades of appeals, it was determined by the British Privy Council that it was "cruel and unusual" punishment to keep them near to the place of execution and telling them, "sey feh!" Given that it was akin to torture to continue to give the convicts glimpses of death while tempting them with glimmers of hope, they could not be executed.

Never-ending story

The effect of this ruling was that if condemned men are on death row for more than five years and not executed, then the sentence cannot be a swift phrase that ends with 'break-neck' speed. Rather, it can become a paragraph or an entire never-ending story. Such delays in execution have earned the ire of Mayor 'Deadman' McKenzie, who recently opined that murderers of children ought to be given the death penalty, with swift executions.

Morgan died of natural causes in prison in 1996, while Pratt's commuted sentence continued to run until he was paroled recently. There are two critical elements here. First, he was extended an olive branch by the friends and family of Missick. This is similar to the high road taken by Justice Lennox Campbell and family last January, after their son/brother was killed.

The Campbell's forgiveness is all the more admirable because, unlike Missick's survivors, they had 30 hours, not 30 years, to act as Jesus taught us. Not even our clergy, with the exception of the Catholic church, have taken such a Christian approach to the death penalty.

The second factor is that Pratt has repeatedly expressed deep remorse and indicated a desire to use the reprieve to lead youth at risk away from the path he took. His own words: "I was not man enough to say sorry then. Only time and experience can make you a man. I'm saying sorry now," and, "In my youth, I was involved in a lot of things that ended up causing me to go to prison. So I'm saying to the youths out there involved in crime, to stop and check themselves, before it's too late."

Commendable, but another popular homicide convict was African-American, Stanley 'Tookie' Williams, who was condemned in 1981 for two 1979 incidents. For the last two decades in prison he wrote anti-gang children's books and brokered a peace treaty between the nefarious gangs, the Cripps and the Bloods. He even received a 'Call to Service Award' from President George W. Bush. Despite rejecting gang violence, expressing regret over the founding of the Cripps and his activism behind prison walls, it was not persuasive enough for 'Governminator,' Arnold Swarznegger to grant him clemency.

Tookie was executed by a little prick in December 2005. It was an injection that, Jah knows, did not 'Cure' the celebrity status of the convict. Neither did it heal the wounds of the victims nor their families. Still, we must not lose sight that lives were lost and destroyed. Therefore, any attempt to make Pratt and others like him into celebrities would make 'Missick'. Pratt's humility and proposed activism with the youth must be the way to go, because he is still a murderer, who got off on a technicality.

On the other hand, little is known about where Mary Lynch stands. She already has an unfortunate surname because 'lynching' is the torture, dismemberment and burning of blacks in the post-civil war American South. More unfortunate is that it is reputedly associated with legendary Jamaican white plantation overseer, Willie Lynch, who developed his techniques here and taught them to the Americans.

Escaped noose

What might have precipitated her parole is uncertain, but she escaped the hangman's noose because there appears to be an unwritten rule that says women are not to be hanged. Indeed, even history only mentions that there was at least one woman hanged with Sam Sharpe last week in 1832, and she remains an obscure figure. Women were among the 300-plus persons hanged in 1865 after the Morant Bay Rebellion. These women were heroes and martyrs and deserve celebrity treatment. We don't even know their names but they fought for our freedom and democracy.

Yet, we run the danger of giving the hype to an upper middle-class person, who could have taken her allegations of abuse to the police or her lawyer and be believed. This would have guaranteed her protection from her husband and at least half of their property.

Moreover, she, unlike Pratt and Morgan, was not an undereducated, marginalised youth from the inner cities who lives violence. Even so, ask any ghetto 'shotta', it takes more guts or coldness to kill someone manually. It is even more 'doghearted' to dismember, dispose and incinerate. Justice?

Speaking of which, the Chief Justice nominee is female. There is no reason to doubt her competence, but is she the most senior and suitable candidate or is it simply woman time again?

Dr. Orville Taylor is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

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