Editorial | Lambert Brown’s shameful doubling down
Lambert Brown got it profoundly wrong. For it was not only where he made his remarks that was inappropriate – and egregiously so – but the remarks themselves. Which he made worse by doubling down on them. Just as disconcerting is the failure of Mr Brown’s party, whose leadership often pronounces on the sacrosanctity of the rule of law, to condemn the senator’s crude assault on that ideal.
The guiding principle, of which, to our surprise, Mr Brown seems to be ignorant, is that he cannot divorce his private persona from his public responsibilities such as when he sits in the Upper House as a representative of the People’s National Party (PNP). Or, to paraphrase a former prime minister, there is no shedding of his skin when Mr Brown leaves a sitting of the Senate. Jamaicans do not parse his public pronouncements, especially when they have implications for public policy or the potential to affect people’s attitudes and/or behaviour, to determine whether they should be ascribed to the senator, the trade unionist, the talk show host, or private citizen Lambert Brown. People’s analysis is for logic and substance.
In the circumstance, it is not surprising that most well-thinking Jamaicans were offended and outraged when during a recent intervention in the Senate on the current burning topic of violence against women, Lambert Brown openly endorsed “jungle justice” against perpetrators.
“If somebody violates my daughter, or my sisters, or my wife, or when my mother was alive, my mother, if I have to walk to the ‘William’ (gallows), I would walk proudly, knowing that the honour of my family was held high and restored,” he said. “So I don’t need a lawyer once the jungle justice, in the absence of the rule of law, kicks in.” It is a position, Mr Brown said, that he has held for “many, many” years.
Nothing in those remarks, however, is redeemed by the senator’s skimpy allusion to the primacy of the rule of law. For from the perch he commands as a lawmaker and public figure, Mr Brown essentially endorsed, and promoted, a behaviour that is far too common in Jamaica: of people taking the law into their own hands, usually on the presumption that the official system is unlikely to afford them justice. This attitude contributes to, and reinforces, the cycle of reprisals that is part of Jamaica’s culture of criminal violence, which, annually, produces more than 1,300 homicides.
Neither can Mr Brown claim succour or understanding by pointing to his supposed willingness to put himself on the line in the defence of the honour and dignity of women and their right to be free of violence by men. What he, in fact, attempted was the expropriation of the legitimate grievances, and victimhood, of women who suffer gender-based violence so as to assert a crude, archaic Old Testament notion of justice, which has no place in 21st-century society.
But worse, in the face of a pushback, Mr Brown has persisted with his rude advocacy. His only concession to his critics was that the sentiments were his “personal views”.
He told the Senate last week: “I urge no one else to act on those views. Neither do I urge such personal views as public policy ... . However, on reflection, I accept that the Senate was not the place to expound such a view. My comment was made in the wrong forum. I, therefore, withdraw it from this forum.”
HOLDING HIS GROUND
A clearer and appropriate reading of Mr Brown’s statement is that he is holding his ground. He had nothing to apologise for and wouldn’t do so. It mattered naught if he had influenced others to embrace jungle justice for whatever wrong, indignity, or slight they perceived themselves to have suffered.
The question in the circumstances is, why stop at violence against women when Jamaicans suffer many forms of victimisations daily for which the country’s law-enforcement system too often fails to deliver justice?
Rather than encouraging people to reprisals, Mr Brown would better serve Jamaica by offering sensible ideas for fixing its law-enforcement and justice systems.
Moreover, acquiescence to Mr Brown’s jungle justice fixes nothing. Instead, it is the final surrender of order and decency to decay. Put another way, it represents a crumbling of the foundations of democracy of which the legislature, including, in Jamaica’s case, the Senate, is a critical part. Indeed, jungle justice, and the promotion thereof, is antithetical to the institutions of democracy and membership thereof. Lambert Brown cannot have it both ways – make laws in the Senate and go outside to promote their flouting.
Mr Brown should recognise that. So, too, should his party leader, Mark Golding, whose silence is worrying and untenable. At the very least, Mr Golding, should let Jamaicans know where his party stands on Mr Brown’s statements.