Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Mark Wignall | Ridding our lives of murderous irredeemables

Published:Sunday | November 29, 2020 | 12:08 AM

Not long after Omar Davies was handed the peachy sweetness of the safe People’s National Party (PNP) seat of South St Andrew in 1993 so that he could be named minister of finance, he had a wake-up call about violence, criminality, and gunmen.

He said that there were some young men in his constituency who were irredeemable. The implication in that word speaks volumes. Someone deemed criminally irredeemable is a clear and present danger to his community and the society at large. He must either be locked away until he is visited by redemption, or some other means must be applied to rid society of his presence.

To be fair to Davies, by 2005 he was calling on the nation to institute programmes to give ‘young men on the fringes’ a second chance because they had the potential to do serious damage to the economy. Davies’s basic thesis was one generally accepted by most in the society. If a young man operates on the fringes and the gun is his best friend, given the opportunity to become a productive citizen, he would get rid of the gun and put aside all badness.

Most Jamaicans were shocked, saddened, and angry at the triple killing in Tryall Heights in St Catherine last Sunday where a grandmother in her 80s and her two young grandchildren were killed execution style. The younger grandchild was six years old.

Is there really a cohort of young men in this or any society that second, third, and fourth chances will never change them from operating on the far fringes of the communities where they live.

In the 1990s, a man who lived in a well-known troubled community off the Red Hills Road told me of two young men who he knew were cousins to each other. They were about 14 and had grown up surrounded by fathers and uncles who were career criminals.

The narrow street on which they lived had a particular political flavour, and one got the sense that the heavily armed young men living there used the notional political attachment to build on their reputation of being a haven for fearless, armed desperadoes.

Anyway, back to the cousins. One got himself a .22 revolver, and passing by a few men playing dominoes, he fired at them, wounding one. The youngster ran away, and he was unidentified. The next day, the shooting was reported in a certain tabloid.

The cousin who could read showed it to the other. That cousin got hold of an uncle’s .45, and two days later, he shot into a crowd of shoppers at a small shop. Two people were injured. Over the next six months, both boys were into a competition to see which one could get the better headline.

“We had to pull them back,” said the man. “Wi know di place have nuff gun, but they were out of control. Wi trick dem to meet us at a spot. Wi do it quietly with knives and wi carry whey dem body and bury dem whey nuhbody will ever find dem.”

Twenty years says Professor Tony Harriott

Last Wednesday, while I was hosting a talk show programme, I interviewed Professor Anthony Harriott, director of the University of the West Indies, Institute of Criminal Justice and Security.

I was trying to get a better understanding of the makeup of the young, ferocious criminal who would execute an old woman and two children. The professor told me that 10 years ago, he estimated that it would take Jamaica 30 years to rid itself of that type of criminal mindset. Ten years on, it was his view that we are still on target.

With all the various factors in place - government policy and will, police reform, effective policing, community and social support, etc, he believes that it will take us another 20 years to see the changes.

To be fair to him, he stressed that it was more a possibility than a likelihood. People at street level were quite predictable and their suggestions towards seeing a great healing of the nation included public executions and taking one’s children to see them. One lady suggested to me that the murderers, if and when caught by the police, should be handed over to ‘the people’ so that ‘true justice’ could be applied.

It is quite obvious that hit jobs have become a lucrative business in Jamaica. Many of us are also painfully aware that if the target makes himself scarce, his family will become the secondary target.

Killing the crocodile in the egg

Samora Machel was a radical African freedom fighter and leader of Mozambique at a time in the 1970s. When the PNP’s Michael Manley was at his own radical shift to the far left and was openly embracing people like Fidel Castro, Gaddaffi, and that crowd ideologically opposed to American-type imperialism he invited Machel to address a PNP conference. Machel suggested as way to deal with oppressive imperialism was to “kill the crocodile in the egg”.

If we were allowed to think of crocodiles as dangerous to humans and having no use to the environment, we could see the usefulness of that argument.

The mothers of those young men who cruelly wiped away the lives of that grandmother and her two grandchildren probably considered themselves blessed when they had those babies who grew up become heartless killers.

I say heartless because whenever a don for an area is giving out the type of work that involves ‘kill anything that move’, he knows who to call on. He knows the heartless crew that grew up in brutality and at 13 or 14 fell in love with applying brutality to anyone, especially the powerless and the innocent.

Let us assume that Professor Harriott is right and that by 2040, Jamaica will be somewhat free of such heartless criminals. What are we to do now and in the next 10 years? Wait it out?

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.