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Garth Rattray | Murderers walk among us

Published:Sunday | May 7, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I vividly recall a USA documentary featuring a meek-looking, middle-age, executive-type gentleman whose story began when he caught his wife of many years in the act with another man. He filed for divorce as the injured party, but the judge gave his wife everything in the settlement, even the dog.

He snapped and went to the courthouse with a loaded 12-gauge shotgun. He ended up murdering his ex-wife, her sister and the judge in a blind and mindless rage.

He received the maximum penalty of life without parole. He granted the interview neatly dressed, sober, greying and regretful.

Some people snap unpredictably and do horrendous things. In such cases, the perpetrator is usually law-abiding and generally a good person. But sometimes the wrong buttons get pushed and, without sufficient control mechanisms in place, the individual loses it.

However, there are several other murderer types (sociopaths) walking among us who'll kill for little or no good reason. Then there are the criminal types - some are opportunistic, but some are meticulous planners and schemers. Both are dangerous and difficult to predict.




Jamaica is known for the high per-capita crime and murder rate. Some claim that we are an aggressive people because some of our West African ancestors were so difficult to manage during the transatlantic slave-ship journey that we were deposited in Jamaica (the first stop) to rid the slavers of their aggressive stock. True or not, we know that some people are programmed for violence and, with the sort of environment that nurtures such tendencies, they end up as heartless criminals.

Yet others claim that it may have something to do with the chemicals in our surface soil. In a previous column, I explained that Dr Homero Silva, PAHO environmental health adviser, had highlighted the detailed work done by Professor Gerald Lalor, et al, showing that we have high levels of cadmium, manganese, copper, arsenic and lead, individually or combined, in several areas. Only Japan has higher cadmium levels that we do.

Jamaica is 10,099 square kilometres, of which 5,130 square kilometres are being used for agriculture. According to Dr Silva, only 159 square kilometres is safe from too much heavy metal contamination. Unfortunately, this is within an urban area not traditionally used primarily for agriculture.

High levels of heavy metals have been found in plants and animals. They bioaccumulate and are neurotoxic in elevated amounts - causing IQ reduction, learning disabilities, behavioural problems, anaemia, physical problems (even some cancers), mental problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is reportedly found in 12 per cent of our children - only Taiwan has a higher percentage. There are implications for our physical health and for the levels of violence and criminality that we experience here.

For some people, it's a combination of all the above, coupled with a society wherein their communities have been allowed to evolve their own social and moral values. These communities are occupied by the poor who have been acculturated into a mentality of dependency on handouts and/or short-term jobs from politicians or area dons.




Desperation and fear of a dismal future filled with difficulty and suffering amplify their aggression and heartless tendencies. It finally comes down to them against the rest of 'society' that they perceive as a collection of faceless, nameless, heartless, careless haves who continually exploit, marginalise and despise them and sentence them to a life of hopelessness.

That sort of personality, forged by nature and nurture, is often encouraged and strengthened by a prevailing culture of indiscipline and radical lyrics (the nasty and violent kind often heard at dances and in motor vehicles, but never on the air). The disrespect for the rights of others and, ultimately, for the lives of others explodes into the public sphere whenever gruesome and cold-blooded murders are committed.

Unfortunately, that is often the only time that 'society' pays attention and, by then, it's really too late. To reduce current, and deter future, criminality, we need to re-engineer our poor communities.

Additionally, businesses need to organise among themselves to adopt unfortunate children to ensure proper food and education. Businesses should network to secure jobs for the unemployed. We need strict discipline on our roads and zero tolerance towards corruption at all levels of society.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and