A Jamaican judge sentenced four convicted murderers to life in prison, with hard labour, and no less than 25 years before parole would be considered. Publicly, some people, including relatives of the convicted men, wept and were openly distressed. Publicly, some people hailed this as a victory for law and order and shed no tears for putting behind bars persons whom the legal system had determined were murderers. No one but the convicts and some other persons who so far have not been named know what really took place. One of the convicts, Adidja Palmer, maintains that he is innocent. If he is, he will hope that his lawyer’s promise to appeal the judgement and the sentence bring him a result that vindicates his claim. If he is not innocent, then he will have to deal with his own conscience. We wont know how that process will work out, because all of the trial transcripts need to be obtained by the defence attorneys and examined before they can submit their appeal. That could take many months. In the meantime, the men will continue to spend time at ‘her majesty’s pleasure’.
I have not sought the opinion of many people about the case, the verdicts or the sentences. However, I have heard many opinions about them, as I have gone about my business. I have not heard one voice raised in support of the convicted men. Now, that may just be a reflection of who I know, and where I go–that I cannot deny. But, given that these opinions were heard in a range of random movements, it makes me think that they are not very unrepresentative. “Lock him up and throw away the key!” was a view expressed by a taxi driver I overheard as I listened to the verdict on my car radio, and was in traffic. I wont go into a list of views, but most were of this sort. Someone had done a bad thing, been caught, been found guilty, and so much now spend time in jail: “You did the crime, now spend the time.” I have not been to Portmore for many years, and it may be that the views there are very different.
Not surprisingly, the media has had a few persons arguing that the case was a test of the country and its judicial system. Well, every court case is just that. I guess what they mean is that the system we have did not seem to really work, and now we needed to see that it could function as it was meant to. That seems to have happened. We have heard, since the trial ended, that a juror tried to ‘pervert the course of justice’ by offering a bribe to the jury foreperson. Again, a court case is running to determine if that allegation is accepted. We also heard from the police a litany of attempts to pervert the course of justice by persons associated with the accused, so of which are also soon to be the subject of court cases. The wheels keep turning, and nets may soon be tightening around people who thought that they would be able to continue their lives moving freely amongst the rest of us, but may find themselves behind bars.
I often say to my young daughter “People will go to extraordinary lengths to defend the indefensible.” My training as an economist leads me to explain to her that if you follow the money trail you will often get to the root of many things that appear to make little sense. Greed and power, often have money as part of their core motivation, and that lead humans to do what often seems very risky, very selfish, very dishonest, very cruel, and more. So, I think that this case will show that point very clearly. If someone wanted to, they could make a ‘forensic’ analysis of the money trail and find that it leads to many people who will never have to face a court and they will be persons from all walks of life, who would not ordinarily be close associates. In other words, there is likely to be a web of connections, with money (or things bought) as the glue that binds them together. When I hear “crime pay”, I always ask myself “Who has been paid?”
When I worked analysing the finances of countries, it was always the case that the ‘money trail’ did not lie. What is so good about money is that it leaves traces that people cannot erase and many cannot see or know. Facts are facts, and with careful investigation, you can find out facts that people do not want you to know. It also requires you to ask some discomforting questions, to which the direct answers are often lies.
The other fascinating aspect of human social life is that people are very bad at keeping secret things that are very important to them. Whether it’s vanity or some other weakness, people want someone to know, and often feel that part of the burden of carrying the ‘secret’ is lessened.
Something else I learned during my working life was to ask questions of disconnected people who had some common ground. In my case, I would not get all the answers about what the government had spent from the ministry of finance. But, if I spoke to the central bank, commercial banks, enterprises and corporations, and looked at their accounts, I would often find the pieces of the answer. Example. “Mr. Minister. Your country had a war with a neighbour, yet I see little sign in the budget that you spent money on arms and ammunition.” I would then hear about how this and that had helped and that little money was needed, blah-blah. So, I spoke to the central bank governor and lo and behold I would find transactions for government that were not reflected in the government accounts. The payer was sending payments to someone on behalf of the government. The banks would sometimes give similar evidence. Then, I would talk to persons whom were known to be big business persons, and often the main source of things the government needed. Wow! “You shipped how many armoured vehicles into the country?” A few questions of the Customs and shipping companies and the picture started to be very clear. “So, Mr. Minister, it seems that your country imported X armoured cars, Y guns, Z bullets, none of which appear in the government’s accounts.” Then would come the pleas for understanding and tales of how the President was insistent, and how the country could not be allowed to just stand by and be overrun, etc. None of which is untrue and all of which is understandable. But, Mr. Minister thought that if he tried to hide the facts he knew, somehow the problems they created would disappear. Wrong! What was always so painful about such exercises was that I really cared two hoots about the armoured trucks. I had a hole in my analysis that I wanted to fill and I knew that either someone was hiding something or a lot of disparate pieces of information showed something that was not there, which is unlikely. Once I filled my numerical gap, then I could figure out how to help the Minister get out of the financial hole he said he was not in.
So, I will wait to see the little dribs and drabs of evidence that come together with a little probing.
The cynical part of me wonders how many people were beneficiaries of crimes and are concerned that their little livelihoods are now about to go under. Of course, they may have no real allegiances and may just be ready to find some other, similar source. That’s especially true for people who have little to sell in terms of skills. It’s unfortunate for Jamaica that it has such a poor record of creating jobs. People want to eat, and see their lives improve and if regular work doesn’t provide the means, then no rocket scientist need be called to help figure out what options people may seek. That’s right, they do not all go to street corners to sell bananas and cigarettes.
Another development that interests me, and also intrigues me a bit, is the intellectual support that some forms of misbehaviour get, and how people ‘buy into the hype’. Some of that is not really meant to be ‘justification’, but it turns out to be that way. I wont get into the specific arguments put forward by some social scientists about the cultural merits of some musicians. My point is just that any validation is something that builds and even better if the validation comes from people who are not ‘the masses’. Whether those validators move their positions slowly or quickly as instances occur to put in question their views is often a fascinating exercise–often slow, often a little painful to watch.
But, let’s get something clear: ‘Vybz Kartel’ did not exist as a person; ‘he’ was or is a persona. Just like Clark Kent is real and Bruce Wayne is real but have characters associated with their real selfs, Palmer had a nom de plume for his artistic ventures. He was also known as ‘Worl’ boss’ and ‘Teacha’. The law tried Palmer and he will be the person doing time. Vybz Karkel can jet off, or sail off, into the horizon never to be seen again. Conflate them, if you want, but don’t confuse them as being one and the same, or as both being real. That’s where lots of mental gymnastic problems lie. The courts had it clear and so will all of those close to the person and the persona.
I have many thoughts about what the just-ended case may mean for Jamaica. But, I want to point my finger at two persons who should be looked at very carefully for what they did in the past and what they continue to do, without seeming requests for favour. They are Clovis Brown and Las May. Both are talented cartoonists–one for each of the major Jamaican papers. They have been very sharp observers and gleaners of public opinion and readily share those in their biting caricatures and text. Call it satire, if you wish. But, they are often not far from where many views seem to be. I will just leave a sample of the many cartoons that they have drawn related to the case. In all cases, look very carefully at the images because the first glance may not reveal the many messages that are there to be seen and interpreted.