Is Hanging a Solution to Our Crime Problem?

- Advertisement -

Lesroy W. Williams Observer Reporter
Crime is on the rise in the Caribbean. Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana have been known to be three of the English-speaking Caribbean countries with a proclivity to crime including kidnappings and heinous murders. But that is not totally true anymore. There is a crime wave sweeping the entire Caribbean, and countries once acclaimed for their peace and tranquility have been shattered by the proliferation of guns, gangs, drug trafficking and all their sinister implications. In the face of this “catastrophe of crime,” Caribbean governments are faced with the gargantuan task of eradicating the criminal elements that threaten the very livelihood of their countries, especially given the fact that most Caribbean countries rely heavily on tourism to sustain their economies. The Caribbean has always been seen as an ideal trans-shipment point for drugs and guns to and from South America and North America. Most Caribbean countries have porous borders and this poses a security risk as drugs and guns can easily come ashore. With a lack of capital to pump into constant surveillance of our borders and a paucity of crime fighting resources, Caribbean governments are overwhelmed with the task of national and regional security and often look for help from developed countries. With the deadly mix of drugs, gangs and guns and the mercilessness of those caught up in that trade with committing murders and other horrible crimes, there is a hanging fever sweeping across the Caribbean. Most Caribbean governments are eager to hang convicted murderers saying that it is a deterrent to crime. Most Caribbean people agree. But I think Caribbean governments are engaging in an act of self-delusion. Feeling impotent in the face of the threat of crime to their already small and vulnerable economies, Caribbean Heads are fighting to keep hanging on the law books despite opposition from human rights groups and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England.” But is hanging really a deterrent to crime? Is it really addressing the root causes of crime? Is it playing on the emotions of a fearful society? Is it being used as an attempt to show seriousness in fighting crime in the face of short-sightedness with respect to a crime-fighting and eradication plan? Or is it being used to gain political mileage? St. Kitts and Nevis has recorded an unprecedented 23 murders for 2008. If all the shootings for this year alone were fatal, we could have easily had over 50 murders. Nonetheless, there is a serious concern about national security in the country. A government’s fundamental responsibility and duty is to make sure its citizens are safe and protected. Her Majesty’s Prison on St. Kitts, which was built in 1840, was intended to accommodate only 60 inmates.” The number of prisoners is now 209. This is four times the number it was built to accommodate and enough to draw the condemnation of human rights groups. In the face of mounting crime including gun and drug-related murders, the St. Kitts-Nevis Government said that it will soldier on with capital punishment as a deterrent to the blood-letting in the country. While my emotions say yes, my intellect says no. I am in no way a cold-hearted person. I feel deeply, and sympathize with the families of murder victims and understand the tremendous pain that they feel in losing a loved one in an atrocious way. But I fail to see how capital punishment is a deterrent to crime. When crimes are committed, the perpetrators are not thinking of consequences because they are so enraged, so in the heat of passion. It is only afterwards that most realize what they have done; some are apologetic, others are not. If one had to do a survey, one would find that most Kittitians and Nevisians are supportive of the dead penalty, understandably so. Our emotions cry out for revenge, our hearts cry out for justice. But does the death penalty really bring about the closure of a family’s hurt and pain? Does it really bring about healing in one’s heart? I have always asked myself, how can an act of state violence curb violence? How can an act of brutality banish brutality from among us? On December 19, Charles Elroy LaPlace was hanged by the state in accordance with the laws of the Constitution of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, for the murder of his wife, Diana LaPlace, in 2004. I understand that it was a real gruesome act of unimaginable proportions. Ten years before the hanging of Mr. LaPlace, David Wilson was hanged. At birth he was thrown into a latrine and in 1998, he died at the gallows. He was poor and didn’t have the means to have proper legal representation from all indications. His hanging, just like Mr. LaPlace’s, was meant to be a deterrent to crime. Yet 10 years later, the country has seen an escalation in crime with a record breaking murder rate and a proliferation of gangs and guns. In the last five years, the social and moral fabric of the country has deteriorated to levels never known before. How has David Wilson’s execution by the state 10 years ago served as a deterrent to crime? Where is the proof of this deterrence? Two days after the hanging of Mr. LaPlace, gunmen went on the rampage in St. Kitts and Nevis, injuring three men. These men luckily escaped to see another Christmas. Why didn’t Mr. LaPlace’s hanging just two days before deter them from carrying out those brazen and reckless acts? The country is in waiting for a national plan to deal with crime coming out of a national consultation on crime held at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort on December 12. This plan is expected to target the virus, the pathogen that has led to the deadly disease of crime and look for ways to root it out. In making a statement in Parliament on LaPlace’s execution, the Prime Minister said that “There are challenges and we will not show any mercy in areas where there is no need to show mercy.” This statement tells me that there is not a correct understanding of the term mercy. The very nature of mercy is that it is for the undeserving. If it is for the deserving, then it is not called mercy. This is what I have learnt from my religious upbringing. Many of our societal institutions are in crisis. The family has broken down; the school system needs to be revised to inculcate good values once again; even the Church to which many once looked for moral guidance has failed its people in myriad of ways in scandals including sex and greed; the police need to up their policing; and the government needs to be more proactive in its fight against crime.” It is no wonder that we are where we are when our institutions have failed to be the vanguards of law and order. But there is hope if we can rally together now to change what is and make it into what should be. Society must be protected against the perpetrators of heinous criminals. Those who are a danger to society should be locked away. They should never be released to the public. But is hanging a solution to our crime problem? Mr. Prime Minister, I do not think so. We need a more comprehensive and far-sighted plan of action to fight crime.

- Advertisement -