Kristen Gyles | The epidemic of heartlessness
In the tangled web of murder plots, lies and deceit that have emerged from the trial of businessman ‘Beachy Stout’, who is accused of taking out a hit on his wife, it is now alleged that at least two other men were willing participants in the murder plot.
According to one Denvalyn Minott, now serving prison time for his role in the murder of Tonia McDonald, Beachy Stout hired him with a promise to pay him $3 million to kill Tonia, his wife. After having the woman brutally murdered, Minott raises the matter of payment with Beachy Stout, who tells him $3 million is hard to come by and he will have to wait.
So, ultimately, Minott exterminated the woman…for free. To complicate matters, Minott alleges that he had subcontracted the job to yet another man, who did the killing, and is yet to be paid a dime. Was it really about the money?
Another very recent case of murder-for-hire which involved the horrific murder of Toshyna Patterson and her then 10-month-old baby Sarayah Powell, shares a striking similarity with the case just mentioned. The purported hitmen say they were promised the equivalent of $500,000, of which they received a $100,000 deposit. So, they snuffed out the life of a woman and her innocent child for the cost of a laptop. Again, was it really about the money?
Many times, we argue that poverty is one of the greatest crime drivers in Jamaica. Well, it is either that a significant number of Jamaican criminals are not very smart negotiators, or money was never really a primary motivator for many of them. While poverty, or desperate times, generally, can push an individual to do uncharacteristic things, we should look into why so many seemingly ordinary Jamaicans are willing to murder someone else in cold blood for a few shillings. The murder-for-hire business doesn’t seem to be a money issue. It is a conscience issue.
Almost two years ago, the police managed to intercept the execution of a contract for three women from the west to be murdered. The police believed the contract was issued by someone living overseas, who allegedly paid $400,000 for the murders. I had to wonder if a few zeros got lost somewhere in a case of cheap telephone gone wrong, because it couldn’t be for want of $400,000 (supposedly to be shared among the seven persons who were arrested) that a right-minded person would participate in the murder of one, let alone three human beings.
Sad to say, many contract killers are ordinary people – sometimes relatives, friends and acquaintances of those who hire them. One of the men charged in the kidnapping and murder of Toshyna Patterson and her baby, we have now heard, is a cousin to the alleged criminal mastermind. Was he contacted because he was a criminal who could assist, who just happened to also be a cousin? Or did he become a criminal because he was contacted by a beloved cousin he wanted to assist?
The stereotypical profile of a Jamaican criminal – as a young, tattooed, spliff-holding, pants-sagging fellow with a gun in his back pocket– might just be what is holding us back from preventing more murders. The business of murder-for-hire is gaining more and more recruits from the ranks of ordinary Jamaicans, who are sometimes our neighbours, friends, church brothers, family members and colleagues.
The apparent escalation of the murder business in recent times is a reflection of the moral dearth we are facing and a shift in several elements of Jamaican culture. A culture which once dictated that we look out for each other and be our ‘brother’s keeper’ has morphed into one in which we keep our heads straight when crimes are committed because it’s not our business. A culture which was once characterised by partnership between the police and citizenry has morphed into one in which citizens fear the police, and many police officers want to be feared by citizens. A culture which rewarded peacemakers now glorifies hotheadedness, and whistle-blowing is often punished, both socially and systemically.
The willingness of so many to participate in contract killings should be an indication that we are becoming more and more heartless as a society. And at what point do we start focusing on getting to the root of what is fuelling the epidemic of heartlessness? We can’t prevent something we don’t know the cause of.
Psychological factors may also be playing a role in giving Jamaica its notorious reputation as a murder hotspot – not because Jamaicans suffer from psychological disorders any more than other people do, but because mental illness is given relatively little attention in Jamaica.
If a man can marry a woman, hire men to kill her, marry again, and hire men to kill her too, something is wrong with him. The hardware works, but the software has been corrupted. Is there nothing we can do to prevent at least some of the murders that are committed by corrupt software?
Some people do not think normally, do not feel normally, are totally void of empathy and get a kick out of seeing people suffer. They are plainly psychopathic. What to do with them is a conversation on its own, but at the very least we can focus more on identifying them before they are at the point of marrying, job-hunting and entering society as adults. If we can do that, we are one step closer to preventing more murders.
Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Send feedback to email@example.com