Thursday, November 08, 2007
Hanging and the conscience vote
The Jamaica labour Party promised that should they form the next
government, they would resume hanging. The intoxication of politicking
might have added glibness to their speeches, but, now that they're in
power, they want to fulfil that undertaking. Capital punishment is still
on our books but the previous government was unable to execute anyone
because, simply put, the Privy Council (our final appellate authority) has
placed time limits on executions and specificities regarding a mandatory
death penalty. Additionally, there is international pressure for us to
place a moratorium on executions.
In preparation for bipartisan agreement on the removal of obstacles to
issuing minister of State in the Ministry of National Security, Senator
Arthur Williams, death warrants (hanging people), while on a recent tour
of the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, reportedly said that
Parliament will be asked to vote by conscience (and not by collective
responsibility) on the resumption of hanging.
All that sounds simple and straightforward in theory, but I wonder if
there can be a genuine conscience vote on such a contentious and vexed,
politically charged topic in our current atmosphere of escalating
atrocious multiple murders. Can Members of Parliament representing a
nation of frightened, angry and frustrated people vote their conscience?
Or, will they feel pressured and vote based on popular anecdotal
(unscientific) opinions, the need to assuage anxieties and political
Many people sanction legal and illegal state killings. Generally,
extrajudicial killings are not random occurrences; they are driven by fear
and our flawed legal system. Scared citizens surreptitiously inform on
their suspected tormentor(s) - gunmen and/or terrorists. Desperate people
are, therefore, willing to employ illegal means to get rid of suspected
criminals. So, we can fully expect that most will endorse the resumption
Not really effective
Those clamouring for the death penalty are sick and tired of murders,
worried for their own safety or closely associated with murder victims.
However, according to worldwide studies and experiences, executing
convicted murderers has not proven effective in reducing murder rates.
Interestingly, in the United States of America, (in 2006), the average
murder rate among 'death penalty' states was 5.3 per 100,000 population;
but for 'non-death penalty' states it was only 2.9 per 100,000 population.
Our Members of Parliament must ask themselves several soul-searching
questions before that conscience vote. Is our judicial system so perfect
as to ensure that innocents will not be hanged? Will everyone accused of
murder receive equal legal representation, or will those that can afford
high-powered defence teams have a better chance of acquittal? When we look
at the end of our rope, will we not typically see a deprived young man
from the inner city who has been given an expensive firearm by someone
that will always remain free to inculcate more victims?
Before they vote their conscience, they must ask if our country has done
enough to rescue our underprivileged, marginalised young men from the
clutches of the greedy, power-hungry individuals that have made victims of
us all. Many of our anti-social youngsters have little respect for their
lives and for the lives of others because their circumstances have
sentenced them to a life of violence, ignorance and frustration. How can
we, therefore, teach respect for life by taking it?
A supposedly Christian country such as ours should never consider killing
anyone. And, to clarify a point raised by Observer columnist Anthony Gomes
(May 9, 2007) the (1992) Roman Catholic Catechism - under item 2266 -
condoned capital punishment (as a means of state self-defence), the 1997
definitive edition delegitimised it.
(source: Jamaica Gleaner)
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