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Pundit fears prank robberies could conceal criminal conduct

Published:Tuesday | March 14, 2023 | 1:08 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Pranksters harassing a woman outside an ATM in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.
Pranksters harassing a woman outside an ATM in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.

Dr Dave Gosse, head of the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) at The University of the West Indies, Mona, is expressing concern that a trend of pranksters faking robberies could be used to mask criminal behaviour. In recent days, footage have...

Dr Dave Gosse, head of the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) at The University of the West Indies, Mona, is expressing concern that a trend of pranksters faking robberies could be used to mask criminal behaviour.

In recent days, footage have surfaced of a few young men engaging in such pranks outside banks in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, showing some of the victims fleeing in panic or even breaking down during the ordeal.

One of the incidents turned physical, resulting in injury to one of the pranksters. A police team quickly intervened to prevent the altercation from escalating as a machete was brought into play.

In an interview on Monday, Gosse argued that in these situations, the victims might not be able to easily say whether it is a practical joke or they are, in fact, being robbed.

He charged that these acts should not be accepted, given the island’s violent culture, adding that these encounters could become physical or deadly.

Gosse said that because some morals and values that were once honoured are no longer being upheld, these pranks could be very damaging to society.

“So we’re at a crossroads, culturally, with where we’re going as a society,” he added.

The senior lecturer said that he is hopeful that the influence of popular social media platforms and the allure of wanting to go viral will not result in youngsters maturing into “hardened criminals, having now seen some of the [potential] benefits of playing these pranks”.

In a statement on Monday, the Jamaica Constabulary Force said that it had initiated an investigation into recent incidents in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, where male pranksters staged the fake robberies.

In addition, the authorities have urged those who have been the targets of these pranks to file a report as these actions have criminal implications.

Senior Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth, head of the St Andrew Central Police Division, informed The Gleaner that no one has been arrested in connection to the pranks.

“One of them, they went to JN (bank) some time ago pretending to hold up the institution. Another one, they told a lady it was a holdup, she had to run for her life. Another one, they did it with something about his licence plate and I think he assaulted one of them,” he detailed.

Nesbeth further stated that all these incidents have “culminated in us realising that we need to put a stop to this”.

He expressed that the police are intent on bringing these matters to court after investigations are concluded, once complainants turn up.

In February 2023, THE STAR reported that YouTuber Kymani ‘iheart_Mani’ White was attacked in the Half-Way Tree area after conducting a ‘licence plate’ prank.

White was allegedly beaten, kicked, stomped on, and endured slaps to the face by rising dancehall artiste Chad Hype.

When contacted, Chad Hype said that he was unaware that White and his colleagues were pranksters.

Reports of pranks staged for social media have emerged in recent years in international media, some with serious consequences.

YouTube pranksters Alan and Alex Stokes staged two fake bank robberies in California in 2019, which led to their Uber driver, who was not involved in the prank, being held at gunpoint by police.

The twin brothers were initially each charged with two misdemeanour counts of fraudulently reporting an emergency in addition to one felony count of false imprisonment by violence, menace, or fraud. The charges carried the maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The brothers entered a guilty plea, and the court offered them a deal in which the felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanour, and a more lenient sentence of probation and 160 hours of community service. They were also ordered by the court to stop making videos that imitated criminal activity.

In February 2021, 20-year-old YouTuber Timothy Wilks was shot dead after he and a friend faked a robbery while armed with knives in Hermitage, Tennessee. No charges were filed against the shooter, who acted in self-defence.

Due to the increase in these challenges, YouTube imposed a ban in 2019 that prevented users from uploading videos of dangerous pranks and challenges to the website.