Capital punishment – state sponsored murder?

Capital punishment – state sponsored murder?

Barbados Today: The local Roman Catholic Church is not about to embrace eye-for-an-eye justice as a means of tackling crime.

In fact, the head of the church here Bishop Jason Gordon dismissed capital punishment as nothing but “state-sponsored murder”, which would do little to curb the troubling crime situation here.

“All people have human dignity just by virtue of being a human and that dignity doesn’t go away when we do something really bad. So even the worse sinner within humanity still has that spark of the divine in them. Hanging is just state sponsored murder. So whether the murder is happening by an individual by passion or design or is happening by the state it is still murder. So state sponsored murder isn’t a solution for violence in a society,” Gordon said today at a news conference to announce a new board of SIGNIS Caribbean, a Catholic association for communication, made up of professionals in the communication media.

In an interview this week with Barbados TODAY, businessman Ralph Bizzy Williams advocated the biblical law of retaliation, insisting that “a life for a life” was the way to help curb rising crime.

“If you take somebody’s life, the state has the right to take you life so it is a life for a life. We can’t be messing around with people who come up and shoot somebody just bam so,” the Williams Industry chairman said.

However, the Catholic bishop, who worked with gangs in one of the most violent communities of Laventille in his native Trinidad, said capital punishment was not a deterrent to criminal behaviour.   

He also spoke of the risk of executing a convict, only to discover later through new evidence that the person was innocent.

“If one innocent person can be killed because of lack of evidence or because of a bad judicial system we should not use that as a means because it’s really not a deterrent. And the other fact is true. Rich people don’t get hang because they have very good lawyers. Poor people get hang because they have very bad lawyers or lawyers who are stretched doing too many cases and can’t give them the attention, and can’t drill down into the defense for them.

“The fact is that there is an injustice in that form of criminal punishment because there is a socio-economic factor that goes into who gets hang and who does not get hang,” Gordon said.

It was in June last year while addressing Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s luncheon that the bishop had warned that Barbados would pay a steep economic price unless the authorities and community leaders acted swiftly to eradicate the “cancer” of crime and violence linked to illegal guns on the streets.

Today, he warned that “guns bring violence, but drugs also brings a capacity to corrupt”, a suggestion that top Government and law enforcement officials ran the risk of being corrupted by the drug dealers behind “an illegal trade at least in guns in the country”.

“Once you have a drug culture that emerges, you have the capacity of corrupting officials then things start to come into the country much too easily because people turn blind eyes where people should actually be much more vigilant,” he said.

He said while the Royal Barbados Police Force had made several pleas for the tightening of border control to stem the flow of illegal guns and drugs into the country, the situation called for a lot more.

“How do we solve it? Simple. If you know somebody with an illegal gun call Crime Stoppers, if you don’t want to go to the police station that is okay . . . if you know somebody moving illegal drugs call Crime Stoppers or call the police,” said Gordon, who pointed out that by not reporting an incident residents were “contributing to a problem”.

Vicar General of the Diocese of Georgetown, Guyana John Persaud said while he was not entirely aware of the Barbados situation, given that the matter was one replicated throughout the region he believed it should be addressed by dealing with issues such as poverty and the education system.

“Those are the things I don’t feel we are significantly giving attention to. So the reduction of poverty and allowing more equity in our education system where people are exposed, those things I think need much more attention than we are giving them and I think as a result of those things we are ending up more probably prone to the areas of violence,” he reasoned.

“Many of our young people are coming out [of school] and they can’t find jobs and so they are turning to the drug pushers who they know they can make fast money with and do things. So I think that we really need to, as church, as Governments and leaders of society, come together to start addressing seriously those things that are affecting our countries that eventually produce the violence,” the Catholic Bishop said.

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