September 30, 2011
Hysteria will get us nowhere

Fri, Sept 30. 2011

The death toll of the wanton murders, especially of our women, young and old alike, continues to climb.

The latest murder, of a woman of 78 years, is particularly reprehensible and has considerably heightened concern among all sections of the society.{{more}} The killings over the last few weeks have resulted in frenzied reaction throughout the society, with many calls stridently urging the resumption of capital punishment. Other reactions are quite predictable, advocating the holding of vigils, prayer meetings etc.

In relation to the call for the resumption of capital punishment, virtually outlawed as long as the Privy Council remains our final Court of Appeal, it is not surprising that this issue is being mooted in the context of the constitutional referendum of 2009. Then, governmental proponents of the proposed new Constitution, had attempted to win support for their cause by playing on the death penalty/Privy Council matter. Their argument in that regard was that if Vincentians wanted to see the resumption of capital punishment they should vote for the new Constitution which proposed the removal of the Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal and also explicitly provided for the death penalty.

The issue was not as simple as that. In the first place, it is not just the Privy Council/death penalty question that determined the outcome of the referendum two years ago. Then, as today, the majority of Vincentians were in favour of the death penalty. But there were many other ingredients in the referendum ‘pot’ which predetermined its outcome.

As for the death penalty issue, to say that if the new Constitution had been approved then hanging would have been resumed is a simplistic, and not necessarily accurate, interpretation of events. There would have been no automatic imposition of the death penalty, as the proposed Sec.29. Sub-section (4) for instance differentiated between capital murder, carrying a death sentence, and non-capital murder, without a death sentence being imposed. In addition, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the final Court under the proposed Constitution, has publicly said that it does not regard itself as a “hanging Court” and would consider mitigating circumstances.

As for the recent murders, the widespread hysteria will get us nowhere. The marches, vigils and rallies, while useful in raising awareness of the problem, do not get to the root of it. Economic, social, psychological and moral factors are all intertwined, and there is no ready-made solution.

The situation calls for careful analysis by our trained social workers and psychologists, and a willingness by us all – legislators, religious leaders, teachers, community leaders, parents, crime prevention and judicial officers, and ordinary citizens- to adopt common strategies for meeting the challenge. There is simply no shortcut.