By Peter Espeut
What are the vigilantes doing that the police are not doing? Last Friday, a car struck down four persons along the Old Harbour Road and didn't stop. A crowd gave chase. The mob caught Michael Melbourne, a 41-year-old teacher of Old Harbour High School. They dragged him out of his vehicle and stabbed him to death. They felt they had a guilty man, and they were going to try, convict and sentence him themselves.
On September 20, two boys, Alex Brown, 10, and Javani Brown, seven, were found naked and dead in the Martha Brae in Trelawny with their abandoned clothes nearby. A rumour went around that they were sodomised, killed, and their bodies dumped in the river. Days later, an enraged mob decided that the killer must be a young homosexual man, and they descended on the house where he lived with his stepfather's family.
The young man was not at home, but they firebombed the house anyway, laid hold of the stepfather (Donovan Hazley, a 43-year-old street cleaner), and chopped him to death. They would have killed the entire household, but they escaped, all except Hazley's daughter, who was trying to help her father. They caught her and maimed her.
In this case, they knew they did not have 'Quaco', the man they sought; but they had his 'shut', and they were going to try, convict and sentence his 'shut' themselves.
Subsequently, a post-mortem examination of the two boys found that they died by drowning, and although their bodies showed sign of pre-death injuries, it was unclear whether these resulted from thrashing about in the river or were inflicted by someone.
In civilised societies, people are brought to justice with cool heads according to law, with all the facts weighed. This system is designed so that only guilty parties are convicted, and the punishment awarded must fit the crime.
At times like these, we have to be honest and regretfully admit that our country, Jamaica, is not a civilised society. Too many of us Jamaicans are emotionally immature, cannot control ourselves, and 'if we itch, we must scratch'. It is the same emotional immaturity and lack of self-control that drive our men to rape and to sexually abuse children.
Vigilante spirit among Police
And what sort of example are we given by agents of the State? The reason Jamaica has one of the highest rates of police killings in the world is because of the same vigilante spirit that has caused the deaths of Michael Melbourne and Donovan Hazley. Many of our policemen - similarly emotionally immature - cannot control themselves, and when they are in the presence of someone they believe to be guilty, they choose to try, convict and sentence him themselves.
It is reported in yesterday's Gleaner that the Rev Karl Johnson, general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union, referring to the recent vigilante killings, asks, "Could it be that there is a sense in which some of us, including our law-enforcement agents, are silent supporters of some of these acts, hence, are not as repulsed by them or as anxious to prosecute the guilty ones as we should?"
Rev Johnson wants to know why the police seem reluctant to prosecute members of vigilante mobs, and wonders if the police are "silent supporters" of "the mob justice, the community penalty"?
I would like to put it to Rev Johnson that one of the reasons the police are reluctant to prosecute mob killers is obvious: that mob killers and the police use the same tactics and operate from the same philosophy; and that should vigilante killers begin to be brought to book, they, the police, are afraid they would be next!
Both the police and vigilante mobs have little confidence in our court system to deliver justice. Too many guilty people hire smart QCs and get off on technicalities. Police killings and mob killings do not contribute to clogging the courts, and do not put stress on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to make rulings and prosecute cases.
Fifty years of political Independence has not been long enough to build confidence in Jamaicans - even in the State itself - to let the law take its course.
Moment of history
Politicians do not like politics to be called a dirty business, but they don't mind doing it themselves when it suits them. What is the People's National Party saying when it argues in court that charges made against it are to be dismissed because they are "politically motivated"? Politics must be a horribly bad thing!
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.