Tue | Nov 29, 2022

Ronald Thwaites | What is normal?

Published:Monday | September 26, 2022 | 12:06 AM
An unidentified family member comforting Sue-Ann Ebanks (right), sister of Sasha-Gaye Ebanks, who was shot and killed in Spring Village, Old Harbour, on Sunday afternoon, September 19.
An unidentified family member comforting Sue-Ann Ebanks (right), sister of Sasha-Gaye Ebanks, who was shot and killed in Spring Village, Old Harbour, on Sunday afternoon, September 19.

Mr Bailey, the policeman is right. The bold, murderous multiple killing at Spring Village is “not normal” and must never be normalised in Jamaican culture, no matter how much scar tissue we have developed from the wounds of badman, big-man, state-...

Mr Bailey, the policeman is right. The bold, murderous multiple killing at Spring Village is “not normal” and must never be normalised in Jamaican culture, no matter how much scar tissue we have developed from the wounds of badman, big-man, state-sponsored or ‘leggo-beast’ crime and violence.

There has to be the strongest reaction, way beyond the Firearms Act and the so-called enhanced security measures. What has become normal is the superficiality of our thinking about the origins of criminal behaviour in this society. We persuade ourselves to believe that increasing hordes of black youth are just naturally evil, and so mandatory sentences, “shoot to kill”, extrajudicial preventive detention and the like will cure the cancers of crime, national unease and turnoff. Just get rid of them, permanently if possible, we propose.

Who said it recently? “No Sankey no sing so.”

Haven’t we learned anything from our own history in the 1970s? The Gun Court, the Suppression of Crime Act and the succession of ‘eradication squads’ were supposed to stanch murder and other crimes. Don’t we remember? Did the mandatory 18-month sentence for ganja possession reduce its prevalence? Do we even ask what the lessons from those failures are?

Here’s what we have made normal: atrocious living conditions for the black and poor majority, thus weak families; plus, the encouragement of capricious sex as a prime exercise of personal liberation. Then, a massively unequal and purposely inadequate charade of education and the scornful exclusion of moral learning.

Add to those a compelling ethic of win at all costs and get money anyway you can. Check the banks, the imported schoolboy footballers and the gambling culture. The gauche divorce of wealth from effort and labour is worst of all.

AVOIDABLE AND CORRECTABLE

My contention is that these ‘normal’ features of our post-Independence period, which play into violence and crime, are avoidable and correctable in our time and within our resources.

But not when most people react that ‘no better no deh’ and give in to frustration and hopelessness. Or when they are anaesthetised or bribed into believing that, without radical change, ‘better must come’ or, more delusionally, that ‘prosperity’ is at hand when experience tells us otherwise.

Very little of the good we seek, and ought to achieve, can happen without the fundamental reform of our institutions of governance, education and personal behaviour which the present structures of our political economy cannot engineer. We are stuck in a rut of our own adoption.

The plight of members of parliament (MPs) as they lamented during the state of constituency soliloquys last week, proves my point. “This process does not move the dial in any way shape or form,” cried Mikael Phillips, echoed by several Labourites. “It doesn’t put any of us in a better position to represent our people who expect more from us,” he concluded to applause. The reference was to the inadequacy of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF): much maligned, but a lifesaver in the absence of a respectable social security system to which we all contribute inflation-proof amounts.

We had better believe these representatives. The futility of political representation was on show last week. To get anything done for your people, you have to curry favour with a minister, a moneyman or a public servant. Hear another desperate MP seeking a favour, insisting that what he sought is affordable, if only “our genius finance minister ‘shuffles’ around the Budget figures. Poor fellow! I wonder if he realises his own folly? Poor Nigel, look what deh pon your head.

“Is so it set,” is the dull riposte of many to their own dim prospects; their anger at the corruption encountered for simple transactions – clearing a barrel, getting a driver’s licence, arranging bail, and more.

UNABLE TO CONTINUE

The late, great Ralph Brown once told me that by 1972, even though his party formed the government, he felt unable to continue representing his constituency because there was so much legitimate need that he could not hope to fill. He regretted that despite earnest effort and some successes, he would be leaving the people who had reposed so much faith in the political process, and in his ability to deliver for them, in much the same condition that he had found them.

His feeling was well-grounded, but it is very dangerous to the overall polity. Institutions of State first show small cracks of decay, which, if not corrected, lead to atrophy or collapse. The MPs deserve our understanding. The CDF can’t stretch, ministers and ministries are constrained, so many parliamentarians hide from their people. Didn’t we hear that from North East St Ann last week?

You can try to express yourselves in the House, but if you ask questions or move motions, they will likely never be taken. When he was a sympathetic House Leader, Karl Samuda was honest to tell me that my items on the Order Paper would never be taken. Why? Never mind about Budget queries. Forget the committees. Nothing changes. So why be there? Normal tings dat, Ronnie.

What we have normalised is tolerating idleness and corruption – even in government and the police force. We consider normal a practice of justice which is so dilatory that it normalises vigilantes and embeds ‘advantage-taking’. Figure how long it has taken for security guards, despite support in Parliament, to gain legal recognition that they are employees, not contract workers.

We suck up the contention that nothing can be done about the scandal of substandard pay for valuable work (MPs, teachers, police, nurses, et al). We put up with increasing official arrogance, brutality, muzzled churches and civic organisations.

So let’s get the obstacles to peace and order, which we make ‘normal’, straight and do something about them. What a different approach to crime-fighting, political representation and nation-building that would be!

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.