Minister Andrew Holness has vowed that his Administration, using the security forces and the full extent of the law, will go after the criminals who he says are terrorising the nation.
Addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday, during which he announced that a state of emergency had been declared for St James, Holness also indicated a change in his stance against capital punishment as he declared that every effort will be made to tackle the “terrorists”.
“My own view on the penalty for murder has evolved. I was never a supporter of the death penalty, but the more I study this matter and begin to understand the minds of the criminals, [they have] no soul…they have no heart, they need to be removed from among us. But I am not here to get into a debate about the jurisprudence on this matter. But within the limits of that jurisprudence I believe the highest, highest penalty possible should be applied as currently the penalties now are not a deterrent,” said Holness.
“Now is the time for the nation to speak in one clear voice to the soulless, heartless criminals amongst us. We are going to remove you from our community. Let us get the toughest measures in place,” the prime minister added.
Earlier in the media briefing Holness repeated his condemnation of the fatal shooting of seven-year-old Justin Perry, nine-year-old Nahcoliva Smith and 26-year-old Tevin Hayle in a taxi in Salt Spring, St James, on Monday as he charged that actions such as that were equal to terrorism. A third child in the vehicle and the driver were lucky to escape the hail of bullets fired from a high-powered rifle by a gunman.
According to Holness, the Government is determined to get the criminals involved in these deadly attacks.
“We also give assurance to the people of Jamaica that we will not wilt, we will not resile in the face of terror,” declared Holness while underscoring his call for a united front against crime.
“This country needs to stop sending mixed signals to criminals. They are not going to return any grace you give them. They are not reasonable people, they are terrorists and they must be treated as such,” he said as he pointed to the Salt Spring attack which the police believe was targeted at Hayle, who was on the police radar in connection with a recent double murder in the area.
“It was clearly the intent to send a chilling signal [that] no matter where you are, who you are, or whether you are in public, or whether innocent people are around we are going to kill you, and they will use any means to do it.
“They don’t respect your human rights, they don’t respect your dignity and they have no concern, none whatsoever, for your safety and security. If we have not yet realised that, in the pursuit of their limited and narrow objectives, they are also pursuing the destruction of our State,” said Holness as he argued that an act of terror such as this is not acceptable in a free and democratic society.
The prime minister pointed out that the profile of murders in Jamaica has changed in the last year, but said the security forces have also changed and have become more adept at their jobs.
He said this has allowed them to solve numerous, and sometimes complex crimes, providing evidence that stands up in court.
“There is no question that on any grading scheme our security forces have improved, significantly and that is why you are seeing the containment and the gradual reduction…in murders,” said Holness as he pointed out that in the recent instances of their criminal acts the “terrorists” are killing more people with a spate of double, triple or quadruple murders.
Holness told the media briefing that there could be a number of factors fuelling this increase in multiple murders and this would need to be studied.
“But it could also be that there is intelligence directing the barbarity, and we must never overlook that, that there is organised violence in our community, gang members whose sole existence is to create mayhem and chaos, and that…is the definition of terrorism.
“We are going to respond, not with vengeance, not with the dispensing our dignity as a people to maintain our laws and to show the criminals that we don’t act like criminals, but to use the law with blunt force on them,” declared Holness.