The recent heinous murder of 20-year-old Khanice Jackson has elicited the now normal response from Jamaican society. It started with the alert that she was missing, the police and security ministry promising (and this time delivering) a quick investigation, and the media scrum around the grieving family once it was discovered that their kin had been found.
Also coming from this milieu was a statement by a politician, a sentiment which has always had traction but has not been used for a while — the resumption of hanging, specifically for these perpetrators.
Now, I am not here to debate whether the death penalty works or not, that is a discussion which can be had on another day, and quite frankly it is an issue which we all should be debating within our schools. Rather, my interest in the comment comes from the fact that this is yet again an unthinking response — a response not thought out and borne of emotion and is therefore useless in a conversation of this magnitude. The comment was all the more irritating because the Member of Parliament (MP) who made it went on to make excellent points about the need to re-socialise Jamaican men, especially in how we deal with women.
My frustration with the death penalty argument isn’t that I don’t think it couldn’t work. Psychology, after all, shows us that a good portion of humanity operates based off fear (the fear of societal retribution etc). The frustration, instead, comes from the fact that this MP knows, just as I do, or should know, that the people found guilty of crimes that are punishable by death won’t be executed because our laws do not allow it. He knows, just as I know, that the Privy Council, which is our final appellate court, has ruled that people held on death row for more than five years must not be executed as that constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment. He also knows, or should know, that this point is what has held up our executions because it takes five years for the cases to reach the Privy Council.
Now, it is all well and good calling for the murderer’s execution, but in order to do it we either have to greatly reduce the time it takes for these cases to reach the Privy Council (look at the Kartel matter) and even then, we run the risk of the Privy Council striking out executions all together. On the other hand, we could abandon the Privy Council and join the appellate jurisdiction of Caribbean Court of Justice or even form our own final appeal court to deal with these things. None of this was mentioned by the MP, no route to how we will resume executions, simply a grand kneejerk utterance of hang the SOBs.
We all can get behind that — this is what the crowd in MoBay were doing to the man who shot a woman in the chest with a speargun — but without a plan of how executions will legally resume then we are as helpless as that crowd. Our conscience gnaws at us if we don’t act, and we run the risk of criminal investigation if we act on what morality states we should not do.
This statement reflects our political class in a nutshell — reactive, unable or unwilling to bring forward a plan to back up the reactive utterance/idea and quite frankly always playing to basest sections of our brains, hoping that we will not remember that a huge chunk of the country wants executions to resume and that the only people who can see it done are the politicians who call for it.
We could change the scenario and the script would largely remain unchanged; tenement yard burns down, a dozen people are homeless, and the reaction is to build a shack in quick time, lament squalid living conditions and the fact that National Housing Trust does not build cheap houses (hoping we forget that it can mandate these things), and then do nothing as more tenements spring up in the various constituencies.
A good soundbite, looking like you are doing something, and the expression of what I am willing to admit may very well be real sympathy is all these politicians do and they need to be called out on it. Even the excellent suggestions such as the need to re-socialise our men is not followed up with concrete plans of how this will be done. It is just another thing which is brought out and thrown to the people via the media to give the impression that this very real and urgent issue is being dealt with.
Will we ever be given proposals which are backed up by thought and concrete plans? Will the onus constantly be put on the people to deal with what is essentially a State issue, or will the politicians, after consultation with the people, implement the changes and plans which they have been calling for and which politician after politician declares to be in favour of? Will we stop hearing politicians lamenting the poor housing conditions and actually rollout a true national housing plan which incorporates all parishes? Will we see an end to the condemning of femicide and calling for women to become more paranoid and finally deal with the underlying reasons behind femicide? Will the love and pitying of the poor end and will they become, after planning and consulting, owners of society living with the equity of the land?
We say we do not want 9-day wonders, one reason that everything remains a 9-day wonder is that there is no planning, simply hoping for a solution to drop from the sky ready-made. It does not work that way unfortunately. Everyone knows the answers to the questions, yet no progress is made because no plans are made. No plans are made because no one organises. No one organises because everyone knows the answers, and as such we are sure that as night follows day the correct actions will be implemented.
Again, it does not work that way. Everyone does not know the right answers, and more often than not, their salary depends on them not knowing the right answers let alone bringing up the uncomfortably correct questions.
Back to the execution statement, if people are truly for it then they must lobby their MPs to leave the Privy Council and join the CCJ or form a new court. There is no other choice. It is obvious that the MPs will not be moved on the subject without some force, and if you really want it, organise and go for it and that goes for all the issues. How we socialise men really got your goat, do not leave it to the MPs who will only give sweet talk. Present them with your groups’ work, suggestions, and findings. Housing not adequate enough for you? form groups and submit proposals to the Government to show how housing can be provided and pressure them till a positive response is forthcoming.
If these things are not done, then we will end up here again — another murdered woman, another call for executions and nothing done. We will end up with another burnt out family, condemnation of living conditions and more squatter residencies popping up. Do not leave it to the politician who is trained to be reactive, and in the end does nothing. Do not leave it to others who also ‘know the truth’. Provide them with the truth and facts to back it up or we will continue in this land of 9-day wonders.