They Cry 'Respect' - AGAIN!
"The grave's a fine and private place, but none I think, do there embrace" - or traffic drugs, for that matter. Fundamentalists obviously believe something different. A 26 year-old Australian woman, Chavelle Corby, was on Friday sentenced to 20 years in prison for smuggling 10 pounds of ganja into Bali, Indonesia.
Indonesia, like many other countries in Southeast Asia, is very hard on drug traffickers. It doesn't matter that Miss Corby (who had no previous trouble with the law) contended that the drugs found in her bag must have been put there by baggage handlers in Australia.
Most Australians believe her. The Indonesian court said she had presented no evidence to back her contention, a position rather like the US position that Iraq had presented no evidence that it had no WMDs.
Anyway, whether Miss Corby is guilty or not is beside the point. She has been found guilty and sentenced. There are some in Indonesia who think that 20 years in prison is not enough.
Anak Agung Semara Adhyana, who heads the Bali chapter of Indonesia's Anti-Narcotics Movement, said his organisation would prefer that offenders be sentenced to life [imprisonment] or put to death by firing squad. "We still call for life imprisonment or death," he said. "We think a lesson should be learned."
I thought that if dead men can tell no tales, neither could they learn. Perhaps there are ganja fields in hell and Miss Corby needs to be convinced that in the afterlife, she must keep her nose clean.
Capital punishment doesn't punish the dead, only the living. And since (as the United States has been proving with DNA evidence) guilty verdicts are often mistaken or corrupted, it is clear that many innocent people have been executed "In Error' - as the euphemists say.
The fundamentalists do not really care. Anyone executed must be guilty of some capital crime, even if not the one they have been sentenced for. God does not make mistakes.
Which is an odd position, since if God is correctly quoted as saying "Vengeance is mine" - why should he need any help ? If God is omnipotent, why does he need hangmen?
Why are we so thirsty for blood and revenge? The desire for retribution is perfectly logical in the sense that the criminal should pay for his crime. He should not get a free pass.
But how do we assess the value of one life compared to another? As I argued when the Israelis executed Adolph Eichman four decades ago, it was ridiculous to think that killing Eichman could possibly be reparation for his part in the killing of six million Jews and assorted blacks, Gypsies, homosexuals and other 'untermenschen'.
It is not simply ridiculous as a matter of scale, it is ridiculous if one believes that every person is unique and has a unique contribution to make to the world. Mr Azan's offer to become Jamaica's next hangman cannot possibly contribute to any meaningful appreciation of his relative's life, but rather demeans it.
To join the ranks of the killers is as much a defeat as is the United States' descent into torture to 'fight terrorism'. Or to have to decide between 'good' terrorists like Posada Carriles and 'bad' terrorists like Osama bin Laden, between bad murderers and good hangmen.
No man is an island, John Donne said. Every man's death diminishes me and all of us. The police and others demand at emotional gunpoint, that all the knee-jerk bleeding-heart-liberals should issue press releases when a policeman dies, just as we condemn the killing of innocent people by policemen.
No one rejoices when anyone dies, and when a policeman dies, his death diminishes all of us. We cannot take sides against anything but wickedness.
When the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica decided last week to shut down their businesses in protest against crime, it seemed to me an empty gesture. We are all sad and we all grieve at the senseless killings. But making political statements won't stop the gunmen.
We cannot eradicate crime by killing criminals. We need to prevent people becoming criminals and we need to catch and imprison those whom we can't stop in any other way.
Those who call for death sentences to be carried out in Jamaica would seem to be unaware of many facts that make their arguments less than convincing.
First, the idea of State revenge and retribution is the most potent argument for murder. If the State can kill, why then, so can I! If the State can kill in error, why then, so can I! If the police can catch only about one in three of all criminals, it means that a life of crime has a 66 per cent chance of success - better odds than opening a small business.
If we caught and tried all murderers in Jamaica, we would, at any given time, have between 20 and 30 murder trials in progress during any one week.
Clearly, this is not the case, so it seems that if we are to talk about crime reduction, we must first deal with the first principle: the greatest deterrent to wrongdoing is the probability that the wrongdoer will be caught, exposed and punished. If you don't catch me, how can you prove that crime does not pay?
We obviously have to begin to rethink our positions. First of all, let us forget about task forces and special anti-crime squads. We have more than enough information about the factors promoting delinquent behaviour. We don't need any more.
We even have the World Bank being able to predict with a high degree of accuracy, what Jamaica's murder rate will be, given certain economic data.
We know that the State is unable to deal with the economic causes of crime. Any self-respecting State, 30 years ago, could implement programmes to produce work, increase employment, rebuild communities, collect the garbage and ensure that there were beat duty policemen.
The Jamaican State has many of the same problems as those others who followed our lead in accepting the ukases of the unholy trinity - the IMF, the World Bank and USAID. Conditionality was used to give us an excuse to relax and enjoy the apparently inevitable rape.
As the OECD advised us, leaders could claim 'tied hands' in order to ignore democratic pressure. We cut off our limbs like Calcutta beggars, to induce sympathy in our benefactors. The more helpless we were, the more help we would get.
Privatisation, liberalisation and devaluation have not produced the promised fulfilment. Instead, by levelling the income tax, by taking the poor, by shutting down government enterprises or selling them, by turning skilled men and women into sidewalk peddlers, we find ourselves in a hand-to-mouth existence where, if we want to construct a social safety net, we have to borrow the money from the World Bank to be repaid by our grandchildren.
This means that in the 'ghetto' the garbage goes uncollected, the fire brigade has no trucks, water is scarce and/or unsafe, gastroenteritis, malnutrition, stunting, overcrowding, incest and HIV/AIDS are rife, gunmen provide community protection and the community goes to hell in the basket we have been given to carry water.
Ten years ago, some of us pleaded with our rulers just to read the report They Cry Respect, product of a university intervention. This short report examines several communities of poor people of different ideologies and voting preferences.
All were of the same general opinion: most people wanted peace, safety and community development, all of which were impossible because the State had abandoned them. One of the many reports on crime and violence was in fact edited by the present Minister of National Security when he was a socialist and a lecturer at the university.
The problems are well known, the prescriptions are clear and the benefits of intelligent and humane action have been spelled out, not least in World Bank publications on crime and violence in Jamaica and the effect of economic conditions on youth behaviour.
So, why don't we do what we know to be right?
Why is a private sector, which is financing criminality through extortion, not willing to look at itself and its part in the problem? Why is the Government unable or unwilling to pay the teachers as much money and respect as they do the police?
The only rational answer must be that the present situation, by and large, suits them. If it didn't, we would very soon hear about it. When I hosted the radio talk-show Disclosure on Wednesday, several of my interlocutors told me that what we need to do is simple. They believed that the State must better reflect the community which it is supposed to represent.
This meant going out to promote the healthy environments which are the essential background for peaceful development. We need clean streets, safe streets, streets without criminals, garbage and child-traps.
We need training programmes for the young men and we need more schools so that they can get better basic and advanced education and training. We need apprenticeship programmes and, above all, we need to give the people back their self-respect.
If the private sector is to have any serious claim to be the engine of growth, it needs to understand that social growth and development must complement economic development in order to enable economic development.
As President Aristide once said, if all we have is a dung heap and we want to create Paradise, then we must start with the dung heap.