"Shoot first and then ask later." This was what former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Minister and Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer was reputed to have said as he sought to face what was purported to be a threat posed by criminal elements. It was criminal then, and is one of the white marks on the legacy of this national subhero.
Back in 1865 when Governor Edward Eyre murdered George William Gordon without due process and hanged more than 300 men and women without a proper trial, and after soldiers, acting on similar instructions, mowed down more than 400 men, women and children, it was state-sponsored murder.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force had its genesis in the aftermath of that massacre, and almost a century later to the T, the Bobo Rasta bloodbath pushed the cloth back on history with the Coral Gardens incident. Thankfully, there is a well-documented use-of-force policy today which is most often followed by the 'boys and girls in blue'. Breaching it in the fashion recommended by the late Most Honourable is not an option.
In 21st-century Jamaica, the comment by the parish councillor is so unbecoming of a mayor that I almost said, "WTF?" Mayor of Savanna-la-Mar, Bertel Moore, a generally affable man, was clearly exasperated by the ghastly homicides when he declared, "We cannot have these killings continue to happen in our parish, so I am suggesting to the police to shoot first and then ask questions later."
Not quite the character as the political star of Westmoreland, 'Mas Rajja' the Daggara, Moore should have said less - or, even better, nothing at all. It is an extremely irresponsible statement, and I wonder if he was having an extra-long suck of the infamous John Crow b—, rum that is available from the sugar estates not too far from where his senior political colleague lives.
As we struggle to create a modern society built on democracy, human rights and transparency in governance, I am more puzzled that the Government has remained silent and not chosen to distance itself from such a comment, steeped in geriatric exuberance. It is a remark that runs in the very face of the primary objective of the country: the maintenance of law and order.
The irony of Moore's outburst is that if the cops were to follow his instructions, they themselves would be subscribing to the worst form of social disorder - one in which the agents of the State operate outside of the law.
In other jurisdictions, the instructions of the mayor could be considered criminal, because it is endorsing extra-judicial executions. Indeed, given the scope of the International Criminal Court (ICC), he might have already committed an offence since he, as a representative of the State, and part of the legitimate structure that can cause organised violence to be wrought on innocent citizens, is telling the troops to break the law and commit murder.
When a 'sound bite of the week'-frustrated farmer speaks and calls for the heads of criminals and incites mob violence, it is scary enough, but understandable. However, when an elected member of government says so, it's a different matter.
If you think that it is far-fetched, let us draw a parallel with the United Kingdom. In the past decade, that nation has experienced real and present threats from criminal elements and, in particular, a minute set of Muslim extremists who are feeble-minded enough to kill innocent, law-abiding civilians, in doing what they believe is right and just.
Jamaica has been plagued by a statistically small minority of policemen and women who are corrupt and who are still influenced by a misguided misunderstanding of the 1974 Suppression of Crime Act. These cops do occasionally carry out the stereotypical 'extra-judicial' killing, because they feel that they are doing society a favour by exterminating the vermin, the 'dutty nayga', who prey on 'decent' citizens.
Therefore, like the Islamic zealots who think that they are killing in the name of Allah, they have no compunction to 'dun a bwoy' as long as they feel that he might be involved in criminal activities, even if they have no reason to believe that he is at that point committing a crime.
CASE LAW DICTATES
British common law, or case law as it more easily known, has myriad cases about the incitement of murder. More recently, in 2006, former imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque, in North London, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was found guilty of 11 counts of soliciting murder, simply because of his demagoguery and tirades as he riled up Muslims.
Now, there is no evidence that any single individual followed the diatribe of the cleric and committed any murder. The British judge acceded that: "No one can now say what damage your words may have caused. No one can say whether your audience, present or wider, acted on your words."
Similarly, given the quick and unequivocal response of the Police High Command, it is clear that the police, as an organisation, rejected Moore's exhortation to murder. Nonetheless, the fact that there is no evidence that any person followed the instructions does not exculpate the mayor from the penalty of his remarks.
Again, in the aforementioned case, the judge ruled that the former imam "created an atmosphere in which murder was perceived by some as not only a legitimate course but a moral and religious duty in pursuit of perceived justice". Need I say Moore?
Moore's comments could land him in dire straits, and he could take the Government with him as well. After all, the ICC, in Article 7, of the Rome Statute, does list murder as one of the prosecutable offences under the category 'crimes against humanity'. Locally, our own Offences Against the Person Act in Section 8 reinforces the common-law position and holds criminally responsible "whosoever shall solicit, encourage, ... or endeavour to persuade, or shall propose to any person to murder any other person."
His only reprieve has to be some diminished capacity under Article 21 of the ICC's statute where the person (a) "suffers from a mental disease or defect that destroys that person's capacity to appreciate the unlawfulness or nature of his or her conduct, or capacity to control his or her conduct to conform to the requirements of law; (b) the person is in a state of intoxication that destroys that person's capacity to appreciate the unlawfulness or nature of his or her conduct".
Thus, if the mayor is like a submarine and under waters, he can speak junk. However, given the seriousness of the comment, I say, "Drink no Moore!"
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.