Thursday, December 5, 2013
Dionne Jackson Miller
- Steve Hemmings, a civil servant from Montego Bay is grieving deeply for his brother, a grief made more palpable by the manner in which he died.
Hemmings’ brother, 20-year-old Michael Rose, was set upon by an angry mob and stabbed and beaten to death earlier this month after being accused of being one of three men who held up and robbed a taxi driver in the community – the latest example of vigilante justice in this country.
With the protective instinct of an older brother, Hemmings insists that Rose could not have been guilty of armed robbery. “I don’t believe what they say mi brother do,” he says. “A my brother, and mi nuh know him as no thief. Me believe a murder dem murder mi brother.”
Guilty or innocent, Rose was a victim of vigilante justice, handed down by a community determined to protect its own.
The police are investigating, but successful prosecution of these cases is not the norm. Critics say the security forces simply look the other way under the guise of investigating, a charge strongly denied by Deputy Superintendent of Police in charge of the Police Information Centre Anthony J. Forbes.
“We pursue every crime,” he maintains. “However, we find (mob killings) more difficult because the community consolidates its position, and if they were all a part of it and consider it ‘justice’, they won’t want to associate with anything opposing that position.”
When entire communities refuse to cooperate with the police, the difficulty in securing evidence or finding eyewitnesses means that such crimes often go unresolved.
Statistics bear out the problems the police have in solving these cases. In 1995 there were 20 cases of mob killings. In three of those cases the perpetrators were brought to justice. In 1996, of 21 killings, two were solved – meaning arrests were made – while in 1997 there were two cases solved out of 16 murders.
In 1998, 16 persons died at the hands of mobs, and the police managed to make arrests in five of those cases. Rose was the sixth person killed by mobs this year, and only one of those cases has so far been solved.
Analysts cite a variety of factors which contribute to mob killings. Political and social commentator Paul Ashley describes the issue as complex. “It has to do with frustration levels, the psyche of a people….” he says.
According to Ashley, mob killings are symptomatic of frustration with the justice system, including lack of faith in the effectiveness and integrity of the police, disappointment with the slow pace of the court system and its inherent inefficiencies and “a defence which takes advantage of sloppy police work”.
Apart from the deficiencies of the justice system, the current economic and social difficulties affecting Jamaica have bred an angry society, according to psychologist Dr. Ruth Doorbar.
“People in Jamaica, especially in the urban areas, are just fed up,” she says. “They’ve lost their jobs, they have no income, they’re hungry and just plain angry and it’s like a bomb with a very short fuse. All you need is a little incident, and the bomb goes off, and even people who didn’t care about the incident (see it) as just another example of things going wrong in Jamaica.”
Spokesman on Justice for the opposition National Democratic Movement Wentworth Charles is concerned at what appears to be a tacit acceptance of vigilante justice by many in Jamaica.
“A number of persons in the society have become very low in their tolerance level for the high levels of violence that we are experiencing in the country,” he says. “They are very concerned about the administration of justice, and they have started to take the law into their hands. They are being judge, juror and executioner. We’re supposed to be running a civilised society and it is of extreme concern, because you cannot undermine the rule of law by engaging in those activities.”
But Jamaicans like Ann Stephens, although generally opposed to mob violence, contend that there are situations in which it is understandable or even warranted. A recent case in which a man believed to be mentally disturbed killed his long-time live-in lover in a particularly gruesome manner, by biting her in the neck and knifing her from neck to pelvis, she says is one such example.
“Him deserve fi dead (to die). Him fi go prison pon fi wi (on our) tax money?” she asks rhetorically. “No, him deserve fi dead.”
Charles believes that no less than a total resocialisation of community and family life is needed to stem the tide of vigilante justice. “We have decades of a history of this level of anarchy and violence at the community level,” he says. “I think we’ll have to look at the educational process, because that is where you have social change instituted from.”
Until that social change is instituted, however, family members like Steve Hemmings are left alone with their grief, calling for help. “The government must look into it,” he says. ” If you hold somebody, take him to the police, you don’t have to mob him and kill him, find out where he comes from first, find out (his) name, you can’t just mob people and kill dem so.”