- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

Jamaica: Punishable by Death

Categories: Caribbean, Jamaica, Citizen Media, Development, Digital Activism, History, Human Rights, Ideas, International Relations, Law, Media & Journalism, Politics, Religion

As a country struggling [1] with spiraling rates [2] of violent crime [3], Jamaica [4] has voted [5] to re-introduce [6] the death penalty [7], despite appeals [8] from [9] Amnesty International [10] and Archbishop Desmond Tutu [11]. The atmosphere on the island nation is tense, with the prevailing attitude appearing to be, in the words of blogger Kadene Porter [12], “Blood fi blood and fyah fi fyah.” Porter, a regular contributor to Abeng News Magazine [13], believes that religious fervour is clouding the real issue:

Over the past two weeks my mailbox has been cluttered with emails denouncing me outright for opposing the death penalty and also for being pro-choice.

Most of all, I have been taken to task by some fervent self-professed Christians, just as mean-spirited as they were before their second birth, who have told me in no uncertain terms, that for all my ramblings about the causes of crime, governmental neglect of the citizens and the making of savages, for all the talk about a lack of leadership, the absence of any clear vision for the country, corruption gone crazy and people breeding like rabbits, I had omitted to name the single most important causative factor in the disturbing descent into madness.

Demons. The country is overrun by demons. Evil spirits are the cause, they say, of the ‘dog-hearted’ killers roaming the streets and striking terror in the hearts of women and children. Men too. ‘Spiritual wickedness in high places’ is tormenting the souls of the people – you know the source is diabolic, they write, when a young high school girl is accidentally shot dead by her own father, and the gunmen didn’t even have to fire a shot.

Despite the deluge of emails trying to set her straight, she maintains that crime in Jamaica has reached the levels it has because of human – not supernatural – influence:

A rash of ex-government officials have been strident in their calls for criminals to be hanged. ‘Hang'em high!’ they cry. It is a mark of enduring shame that some of these shouting from the gallery were either powerless to stem crime when they had the power, or actually produced the blueprints for Jamaica’s torrid affair with guns and murder.

The dots are there, staring us straight in the face, and sometimes it seems as if the inability to see and connect them results from some strange virus that has taken over the nation. Demons again.

Porter is not the only one who thinks so. She goes on to quote [12] Jamaica Observer [14] columnist Betty Ann Blaine [15]:

I admit that in some ‘closer to perfect’ societies (countries like Denmark, Sweden, Holland, etc) where family life, education, justice and equal opportunities are guaranteed for all their citizens, there may be an argument for capital punishment if any of their people fall out of line. But in a country like Jamaica where just about everything is wrong from top to bottom, and where the entire social and economic fabric is in ruins and is compromised, including law enforcement and the justice system, I'm hard pressed to understand how hanging can be so nonchalantly advanced.

…then puts in her own two cents’ worth:


I say aye, but BAB forgot to mention that in countries like Denmark, Sweden and Holland, people don't hurl Old Testament bible verses around for a pastime, and many of the churches in these countries are museums. Nation building is serious business and approached with serious consideration and employing strategies with long-term effects.

Not so for us. We sit in silence for years in a society bordering on chaos, and watch while the stage is being set for mayhem, daring naysayers to criticize, and as soon as events reach critical mass, when pot start fi bwile, that's when we begin yelling and shrieking for change, and Old Testament justice is expected to right the wrongs of decades of neglect and mismanagement, those demons that still possess us.

Those shouting ‘heng dem’ couldn’t care less that the justice system is flawed, the constabulary corrupt, and that only the little man will face the hangman's noose, guilty or not. The blood lust, once a feature of the ‘criminal’ appetite, has now taken on national proportions as even those who profess new birth and tout Christian love have recanted to quench their thirst.

But there are others who sit firmly on the other side of the fence when it comes to capital punishment. A Fe Me Page Dis Iyah [16] examines what the vote to re-introduce the death penalty actually means:

The Jamaica people are very tired of all the violence in the country. People understood that years ago that justice was swift and fear of death was what kept many of the “bad man” in check.

The issue will now move to the floor of the Senate, where a debate is not necessary, since there is no need to change the law, but is to be included since it was a recommendation of the Joint Select Committee which reviewed the Charter of Rights.

Still, she admits she found it “interesting” that Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson-Miller [17] was absent for the vote. (Simpson-Miller was sometimes criticized for letting her religious beliefs interfere with national politics when she was Prime Minister [18]). Life, Unscripted, on the Rock [19] links to an editorial cartoon from the Jamaica Observer [20] that addresses what many Jamaicans view as Simpson-Miller's ducking of the issue.

In another post [21], Iriegal explains why she supports the death penalty, saying she “had to think about this for a long time”:

I was raised in Jamaica in era where the death penalty was very common. I was also though raised in a time when there was never this level of violence.

There have been widespread calls in recent months for executions, even by members of the clergy, after the beheading of a young girl and the discovery of an 11-year-old boy's dismembered body in a trash bag.

Further statistics show 66 women were raped in October, while 27 children were victims of carnal abuse. There was also 260 reported robberies, 251 cases of carnal abuse and 34 cases of larceny.

Now if enforcing the death penalty for some of the more serious crimes will stop what is going on in Jamaica, then yes, I am for it.

Iriegal and Kadene Porter seem to agree that the scourge of crime and its effects on Jamaican society have been ignored for way too long – where they part company is on the most effective way to deal with the problem. Iriegal [21] says:

We have ignored this problem for so long and let the ‘badman’, ‘rude boys’ run this country and control our government. The people need to (and they are) stand up, stand up for justice and what is right. They need to put the ‘Fear’ they have behind them.

Jamaica is more than a place that has gorgeous beaches, sunsets, mountains…it is a place where people are living, and trying to maintain a life.

Porter [12] suggests:

Perhaps the demons that possess us are those of selfishness, ignorance, meanspiritedness and vengeance.

As said countless times, the solution is staring us in the face, right there in Betty Ann Blaine’s observations, but we lack the resolve to apply it.