The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – The Tipping Point
“Government’s first duty and highest obligation is public safety” -. Arnold Schwarzenegger
“In the days when hyenas of hate suckle the babes of men, and jackals of hypocrisy pimp their mothers’ broken hearts, may children not look to demons of ignorance for hope.” ― Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams
According to the literature, a tipping point is reached where the addition of a single element to a delicately balanced object causes the whole thing to tip or topple over. It is recounted that the expression, as used originally, referred to that point at which white families would eventually leave a neighbourhood because too many black families had moved in.
I thought of this phenomenon during the last week when I learnt of the assassination of a young man at, of all places, the usually crowded Sheraton Mall. While, with all respect to the relatives and friends of the deceased, the murder itself was not out of the ordinary, given the numerous such events of recent times involving identical gun violence, the sheer recklessness of the deed on that occasion and, moreover, its significant negative implications for the general public physical and psychiatric safety marks it as a tipping point for our treatment of this scourge.
On this basis, that murder becomes more than a mere statistic as the nineteenth such for the year. It also causes to tip or to topple over the entire public assumption that this criminal gunplay has nothing whatsoever to do with the ordinary citizen and is restricted to certain locales only such as the environs of the City, New Orleans, the Pine and Silver Hill, to name a few. The sheer recklessness for the public safety, including that of some of its more vulnerable members, denies the validity of any such belief.
Further, the egregiousness of the act’s impact upon public safety approximates the revulsion felt at the commission of hate crimes in other jurisdictions that have sought to punish these by penalties far more severe than for identical offences with no such element.
It is not at all my argument that this incident in itself does not add anything statistically to the incidence of illicit gun crime that currently plagues us. In fact, I am saying that it does more. That we may be firmly on the way to becoming another Trinidad & Tobago or Jamaica seems to be already a fait accompli, and any attempt to try to halt that descent now would be akin to attempting to close the stable door after the horse has long bolted through it.
Of course, this is not to say that we should not do anything at all. The social compact between the citizens and the state stipulates that the primary consideration for the civic agreement to be governed is the assurance by government of their public safety. And we have certainly tried. From prayers to the Almighty, to warnings, to invocations of demon possession among the perpetrators, to changes of Ministerial portfolios, to pleading with, cajoling, and warning the perpetrators. None of these seems to meet with success and the incidents have continued unabated. Not that immediate success would have been a reasonable expectation in the circumstances, given the nature of the activity with its undercurrent of retribution that, taken to its logical conclusion, will lead to many more killings. Still, one would not have anticipated a seeming exponential increase in these murderous incidents.
Indeed, it appears that while the death penalty, an ever-ready populist solution for this form of misconduct, might now be in forced official abeyance as a punishment for murder, it nevertheless appears to exist and to be utilized among a certain sector of society as a remedy for far less serious offences and without any need for due process either.
In similar vein, the disclosure in another section of the press yesterday that the suspected gunman was on bail for an identical charge seems unnecessarily provocative. A magistrate or judge cannot presume the likelihood that an individual on bail would commit a similar offence in the absence of some at least prima facie evidence to that effect, and there is currently no provision in force that would automatically deny bail to an individual charged with a gun offence. It bears remarking, however, that the Honourable Attorney General has promised some reform in this area.
Earlier this week, a chat group of which I am an occasional member, suggested that we might have been too lax in treating instances of social anomie over the years and that we are now simply reaping the whirlwind of our neglect. This may be as valid a diagnosis of the problem as any offered so far; certainly, a state of affairs that is allowed to fester without condign treatment may eventuate into something far more harmful and thus far more difficult to control. Might it be that our apparent inability to curb other patently lawless activity has now, even if not linearly, led to this whirlwind of lawlessness that has little regard for the lives of others and of those who are in sufficient proximity to them? There are other diagnoses, I feel sure.