By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“They are not cockroaches. They are not monsters. They are of us. Raised for better or worse by this society which continues to enable them. Hypocrisy will not save us. We must find the courage to create change” —Verna St Rose Greaves, social worker, social activist.
Let’s join with others in praying with the family of Andrea Bharatt, who mourn the tragic loss of their loved one, and for the repose of her soul. Pray also for the multitude of other men, women and children who have lost their lives through violence over the years. There is a ground-swell of anger, fear, and frustration.
Social media is awash with comments as citizens struggle to respond to the many acts of senseless violence. AJ Lawrence says: “A woman was raped, killed and tossed like garbage. Where are the protestors? Where are the women’s groups? Where are the burning tyres and raised voices? I’m fed up!”
There is a petition calling for the resumption of hanging. Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, President of the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights wrote on social media: “I am not signing a petition for the death penalty to be given to the kidnappers and murderers of Andrea Bharatt. Here’s what I will sign:
Death penalty is not a quick fix. It takes years. Appeals and more appeals. And all the while nothing is changing.”
Verna’s comments at the beginning of this article are also worth noting. We fail to understand that by addressing the symptoms and not the root causes of crime and violence, we are just ‘spinning top in mud’. Sir Dennis Byron, former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, rightly said: “Crime flourishes when the environment is conducive to people behaving in a certain way.”
He has hit the nail on the head. One of the suspects is before the Courts on 70 serious charges. There is no swift justice in T&T, no closure for many victims of crime, no fear by perpetrators that they will be apprehended, no moral compass that has been nurtured in many of our people. Chief Justice, Ivor Archie of Trinidad and Tobago, said at the opening of the Law Term, 2010: “I am yet to see any persuasive empirical evidence that executions significantly reduce murder or crime rates generally… social scientists…suggest(s) that the certainty of conviction, and within a reasonably quick time, is a more potent factor.”
We desperately need institutions that will help us to build a just society, including the institution of the FAMILY. We will only make sense of senseless murder when we understand what is driving people to murder/commit serious crimes. Visit our prisons and speak to some of our incarcerated brothers and sisters. Yes, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to their stories and you will get a clearer picture as to why we are in this mess. While not everyone who grows up in poverty turns to crime, re-read Sir Dennis’ statement above. An analysis about the crimes committed by those in our prisons will show that there are few there, if any, who have committed white-collar crimes.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa rightly said: “There is no justice in killing in the name of justice and no godliness in exacting vengeance.” In 2018 Pope Francis revised the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Death Penalty (para 2267). This decision is linked to the Catholic Church’s belief that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. He said, “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” States have a duty to protect the common good, but CCSJ agrees with Pope Francis that they can do so without resorting to lethal means.
Let’s address the root causes of crime, spend more money on crime prevention, and strengthen our institutions.
Human rights derive from this dignity, as do human duties, like the responsibility to welcome and assist the poor, the sick, the excluded, every one of our “neighbours, near or far in space and time” (6)
Pope Francis, World Day of Peace 2021
CCSJ Social Justice