I am sitting in my study, looking through the window at a quiet cul-de-sac. Across the street is Lake Gibson. A cool wind blows from the lake, and thunder rumbles in the distance as dark clouds gather. It will rain soon. It always rains in Central Florida on summer afternoons.
The scene is not as pretty as the Jamaica I remember. I miss Jamaica’s mystically shrouded mountains and the crystal springs murmuring in my ear. But this little corner of Florida is green and very quiet. I am confident that no groups of rowdy youths will come trooping down my street this evening. It is highly unlikely that robbers will break into my home or vandalize my car. I will not be accosted when I go to the supermarket. I have no fear that I will be car-jacked as I was in Jamaica back in the 1970s.
How does this part of Florida achieve such a level of calm? And why is Jamaica in such turmoil?
The sheriff of this county is extremely harsh. I wonder whether he would survive in Jamaica. Some years ago, he rousted a couple in their seventies from their bed in predawn darkness and dragged them off to jail in handcuffs because they dared to run a “sex-toy shop” in Lakeland. He has relentlessly prosecuted every pornographic retail outlet that tried to set up shop here, citing the RICO act, which was intended for use against organized crime. At present, there are no such shops operating in this county. The operators got tired of the constant court battles and moved away.
A few months ago, a young Jamaican man came through this county, and when a deputy stopped him on the highway for some traffic infraction, he shot and killed the deputy and a police dog and then fled into the woods. The next day, dozens of law enforcement officers converged on the area. They linked arms and marched through the woods so as to leave not one square foot of ground untracked. When they came upon the gunman hiding in a burrow, they opened fire. I think they used repeater shotguns. I forget just how many times the newspaper said the suspect was shot, but I’m sure it was close to a hundred.
Horrified, civil authorities opened an investigation into the shooting. The results were released recently. The law enforcement officers were exonerated. In Florida, justice is usually tilted toward enforcers of the law.
The state legislature recently passed a law that, in effect, allows residents not only to arm themselves but also to protect themselves and their homes with deadly force. It seems that everyone is armed. A new law even allows employees to bring their guns to their workplace.
This attitude is prevalent in other states. In Texas recently, a man phoned 9-1-1 to report that burglars were breaking into a neighbor’s home and removing things. He told the police dispatcher that he was about to shoot the burglars. The dispatcher urged him to refrain from violence, but it was to no avail. The homeowner shot and killed the burglars. A jury of his peers has just found him “not guilty.”
The United States Supreme Court recently struck down a Washington DC law banning handguns. Politicians have all but abandoned their attempts to legislate gun control in America. The Second Amendment to the Constitution gives American citizens the right to bear arms, and the vast majority of Americans seem to take that right very seriously.
As a Jamaican, I find this kind of society rather fascist. The law is enforced with a kind of jackboot brutality that offends me. The newscasts often describe incidents of racial profiling and police brutality. I deplore the reliance on force and the American love affair with guns.
To me, the way to fight crime is to provide better education, jobs and social services, and I still believe that’s the way to go – in the long term.
But, in the short term, Americans could be right, after all.
The last time I was in Jamaica, guns were banned and a bright-red gun court stood in the middle of Kingston. A childhood friend of mine, Peter Whittingham, was jailed (I was told) because he possessed a single bullet – no gun, just a bullet. I don’t know whether Jamaican gun laws have been relaxed since then, but I hope so.
I have come to believe that when guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns.
George Graham is a Jamaican-born journalist and author who has worked as a reporter in the Caribbean and North America for more than half a century. He lives in Lakeland, Florida. His new book, “The Color of Ice: A Canadian Serenade,” is available at www.publishamerica.com/shopping/index.htm. His earlier books are at http://stores.lulu.com/georgeg