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Raffique Shah


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Labour Day 2005 Photos

Hang them high? More come, more come

June 26, 2005
By Raffique Shah

MAYBE I should begin this column by expressing my deep admiration for Independent Senator Angela Cropper, who, having more reasons than most in the society to call for mass executions of Death Row prisoners, has held firm her lofty principles against capital punishment. Angela lost the three people closest to her (and that after losing an only son otherwise)-her husband, her mother and her sister-at the hands of barbaric murderers. I imagine if she had been present at the time, and she'd had the means to so do, she might have blown the savages to bits. But she was not there, and after the fact all she could do was mourn her loss, maintain her dignity and humaneness, and most of all her principled position against the State executing killers.

It's not an easy position for anyone to adopt or admit to at a time when so much blood is being shed, when crimes and criminals are becoming more brutal with every bullet-ridden body. The masses want an eye for an eye, the Law of Moses, implemented post-haste. If the public and the politicians had their way, and were it not for the intervention of the Privy Council, we would by now see hangings in Woodford Square, most likely on Fridays (after Jumma, please), with huge crowds present for the gruesome spectacle. Reminds those of us who studied the French Revolution of how French women weaved as heads were sliced at the nearby Place de la Concorde.

The politicians know this only too well. Prime Minister Patrick Manning's remarks about "prisoners on Death Row shaking in their boots" are what I would expect coming from people on the street, not the nation's leader. But politicians always pander to the popular will, which, at this point, is baying for more blood to add to that which already flows like rivers down the hillsides of Laventille, Morvant, Belmont, and now Diego Martin and Carenage. How well I recall Basdeo Panday, when he was PM, saying that while he did not believe in capital punishment, he was duty bound to carry it out, having taken an oath to so do. Power came before principles in his case, and he went on to set the dubious record of executing nine murderers over a weekend.

Whenever politicians cannot deal with a problem, they always seek the easy, preferably populist, way out. This government has proved itself incapable of reining-in runaway crime.

I don't know that any other government will have fared better since what we are reaping today is what we, as a people, have sown over many decades. Our own children and grandchildren have come to haunt us in the most horrible manner.

Simply put, the authorities can go ahead and hang every convicted killer on Death Row (and let their attorneys sue or ask questions afterwards), but that will not stop the mayhem and murder that wreak havoc in the society. What Manning, and all those who are baying for blood, seem not to understand, is that if all killers are hanged in one bloody orgy, Death Row will be refilled in short time with more mindless killers. As Black Stalin sang years ago: more come, more come.

This is not to say that people like Angela and I, and thousands others who hold a principled position on capital punishment, want killers to go unpunished. Because of my personal experience in "dem boys' jail", I have long argued that the punishment I would mete out to such killers will be worse than simply hanging them. In fact, many of them would beg to be executed, and some may even take their own lives. For first degree murder, I would make the killers labour for life (and I mean life literally, not 10 or 20 years).

The jail will become a major producer of concrete blocks, pre-fabricated houses, and similar labour-intensive products. No machinery will be used .just criminal-labour. These products can be sold on the open market, off-setting some of the costs taxpayers meet to keep these louts there.

They will work from sun-up to sun-down. They will be paid minimum wages. One-third will go to the victim's family, one-third to the killers' dependents, and one-third set aside to feed him (or her) while in jail and bury him when he finally expires. Or we may choose to give the victims' families two-thirds and leave none for the beasts. That is punishment "fadder". Not this bull, living in relative comfort in cells, having full security around them (which we outside don't enjoy), and then being quickly allowed to depart this life even as other citizens are made to suffer from afflictions for years before they die.

I lived for a few months next to the gallows when I was in prison. I shall give readers a peep into that netherworld in my next column.