Orville Taylor | An eye for an eye again
Over the past 10 days I have attended the funeral of Chieftin Campbell, a man murdered by a mob in Mandeville, and the graduation ceremony at Beulah All Age, the institution which three of the murdered children from Cocoa Piece in Clarendon attend(ed). Six innocent humans savagely killed by persons who believed that for whatever reason, the victims were not worthy of life, stimulating a bloodlust.
As I grieved with Campbell’s relatives, friends and community members, a politician waxed eloquent and fervently, calling for Mosaic law, and the retributive killing of killers. Of course, the imagery of the devil-inspired murderer, slaughtering a mother and her four children, was used to evoke the strongest of emotions and a desire to see the perpetrator feel the pain of death and suffering. Trust me, I understand the feeling, because revenge is deeply ingrained in our mammalian psyche. Even today, years later, the murder and shootings of a number of my friends and relatives, including one in front of my very eyes in broad daylight, still stir a primordial anger.
The vengeful spirit is alive and well; but it will not bring my friends and relative back. An ‘eye for an eye’ leaves the whole world blind. Some 33 years ago, as I stood some metres away from my best friend’s grave, his five-year-old son, now mine, tugged my trouser leg and implored, “Uncle Orville, don’t let them kill you too; you hear!” Through the flood of tears that obscured my vision, I bit my lips and promised. Yes, my anger was palpable, but something in my mind kept echoing, “who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword!” I am uncertain if I have forgiven the killer, but I do not and never wanted him dead.
What is ironic about the politician who advocated the death penalty as we readied to lay Campbell to rest was that what was lost in the message was that the sounds from the mob were similar, because the posse seemed to truly believe that they were beating a criminal. And this criminal did not even deserve a trial. They were horribly wrong, and nothing, including the execution of the killer(s), will return him to us.
Too many Jamaicans have been killed over the past few decades with an average of around 1,300 per year since 2000. Somebody has clearly told a set of young men between the ages of 17 and 24 that human lives of ‘others’ do not matter. I remember the messages that their fathers and grandfathers heard. It is a short journey from, ‘labourite or socialist’ fi dead, to ‘b..y man’ fi dead to ‘dem bwoy deh’ fi dead.
Ask the psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and social workers, especially those who have studied or read the research on those who kill other humans. Killers typically do not believe that the lives of the victims matter, but most disturbingly, the most dangerous ones are those who consider their own lives not being worth much or who have no prospect or desire for a long life. Let me say it plainly for the death penalty advocates. Young men who are raised and live in an environment where their lives do not matter are great candidates to become murderers.
RESTRICTION ON FREEDOMS
Saudi Arabia, China and a number of other rich countries have and still use the death penalty. And yes, their homicide rates are 0.7 cases per 100,000 and 0.5 cases per 100,000, respectively. However, one would hardly think that any Jamaican, who advocates the death penalty, would wish to have the restrictions on freedoms that we take for granted in the Americas. Japan a democracy, with lots of other cultural variables, has an impressive rate of 0.26 per 100,000. For the record, the laws relating to freedom of expression and defamation in countries like Jamaica and the United States (US) do not protect individuals in Japan, even if they are telling the truth.
Among countries with Western style democracies and freedoms like ours and the US, Canada with 1.95 per 100,000 and Finland 1.6 cases per 100,000 are signal examples. However, in the US, it is around 4.9 per 100,000. More instructive is that a Times study demonstrated that in the American states where the death penalty is in force, the murder rate is 48 to 101 per cent higher than those where it doesn’t exist. Internationally, a 10-year study using 11 countries: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Poland, Serbia, South Africa and Ukraine revealed an overall decline in homicide rates after capital punishment was abolished.
In some democracies, advocacy of the death penalty or a government pushing for it pays political dividends. More than 70 per cent of American Republicans favour it.
In the face of the apparent inability of our Jamaican leaders to stem the blood flow, the death penalty appeals to the basic instincts and the hysteria. However, that is all that it does.
For the record, important variables are the certainty of being caught and the likelihood of a conviction. Let’s work on that side while we use good social science and address the antecedents and causal factors.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.