- Barbados as a Paradise
- Crime Prevention
- Human Rights
- Barbados as a ‘Developing Country’
- Alternatives to the Mandatory Death Penalty
- The Death Penalty as a Contentious Issue
The theme of Barbados as a paradise supported both arguments for and against the death penalty. Within this theme, articles concentrated on the desirability of Barbados as a place to live, and the shock that the island could become a place of high levels of violent crime. Some of these articles also harked back to an earlier time, while others were fearful of the impact crime rates would have on tourism.
The problem of violent crime framed much discussion on the death penalty. There was a huge outpouring of debate following one particularly high-profile crime, but more generally crime framed much discussion, and the death penalty was suggested as a solution by some.
Related to the problem of violent crime, deterrence was invoked in a number of articles. However, many articles that referenced this were critical of the enduring myth that hangings would be an effective solution to violent crime. There was, however, also a view that society should reserve the right to execute persons regardless of deterrence, and an argument that hangings satisfied another purpose of justice, namely, retribution.
There were other voices that offered a more holistic range of crime fighting measures, further underlining the argument that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent.
Sovereignty was a frame which received considerable purchase. Many of these articles were highly critical of outside influence, from the European Union and other organisations such as Amnesty International. However, the theme of sovereignty also related to the failure of successive governments to resolve the death penalty issue themselves.
Related to the theme of sovereignty, human rights were invoked by a number of writers. While some provided informative outlines of relevant issues, human rights was also used as an example of outside influence, and arguments grounded in these points were often met with scorn.
As a sub-category of human rights, the idea of Barbados of as ‘developing country’, and therefore distinct from ‘developed countries’, was noted. This thread argued for an approach to crime and justice that was better suited to such a nation and resisted outside influence.
In those articles which dealt with alternatives to the mandatory death penalty, the preference was generally for very long periods of imprisonment, generally understood as life without the possibility of parole. It was recognised by some that this was a worse sentence than death.
Finally, there were various references to the sensitivity of the issue of the death penalty in Barbados. This also included recognition that the opposing sides of the debate were often engaged in a process of characterising the other in negative ways.
There was considerable interest throughout the newspaper sample in the death penalty. Noted in particular was a spike in the number of articles on this issue following one particularly high-profile crime which involved substantial loss of life. There were a lot of articles on the question of the death penalty, from editorials, to columnists, to pieces by academics, and lawyers. This was in addition to general news pieces.
Barbados as a Paradise
Many of the stories from Barbados which dealt with the death penalty evoked an idea of Barbados as a paradise. This was conveyed in a number of ways, including shock that such violence could take hold, fears for safety and the tourist industry, and a tendency to hark back to an earlier more peaceful time. The idea of Barbados as a paradise was also invoked to support both pro-, and anti-death penalty positions.
One letter writer (‘Gun town alive and very active’, Nation News, 27 August 2014) writes that gun crime: ‘must leave us all very concerned about our general safety in our beautiful country.’ The letter warns that crime:
‘could finally destroy our tourism. Do not find comfort in the fact that there are murders all over the world, for this is Barbados, seen by all as a safe haven and we must try to keep it that way.’
Frances Chandler, in a piece in the Nation News entitled ‘Our paradise lost?’ (30 April 2014), complains that ‘we seem hell bent on destroying’ this paradise. She concludes ‘We seem to be losing the unique qualities that made us “Bajan” and made Barbados a paradise.’
Barbados was imagined as a place apart, where such violence does not belong. BC Pires, in a piece titled ‘Hang on’ (Nation News, 13 September 2010), expressed this well when he began the piece: ‘The weekend’s news seemed Trinidadian: six dead in a fire deliberately set as part of a violent robbery.’
Pires’ view, that such things do not happen in Barbados, captured national shock at a recent arson which left six women dead.
BC Pires continued: ‘Many of us here feel sure the Caribbean is one of the best places in the world to live; nearly every Bajan will tell you Barbados is the best, bar none. What makes it so? Is it this important order that can only be preserved by popping necks?’
However, Pires remained a voice against hanging, evoking the cruelty that Barbados had suffered for 400 years.
In contrast, former Attorney General Sir Richard Cheltenham is reported as basing his support for hanging on the small, close-knit nature of island society: ‘I have always been a death penalty man because in a small society the murdering of people has an impact on the whole society’ (Gercine Carter, ‘End of the rope’, Nation News, 26 August 2010).
Reports which frame the argument according to Barbados as paradise often hark back to an earlier time: ‘Some have become resigned to the fact that once-peaceful Barbados is no more, but it is becoming too much to bear for others’ (Sherrylyn Toppin, ‘Talkback’, Nation News, 5 October 2015).
Many of the newspaper stories occurred in the wake of an arson on 3 September 2010 at Tudor Street in Bridgetown, Barbados, which killed six women. These stories all expressed horror at this loss of life, and many then framed the death penalty argument in light of escalating crime rates, and the argument that ‘something must be done’.
One article summarises the online response received by the Nation News in the wake of the fire and concludes ‘Most online readers called for the death penalty’ (5 September 2010).
One story, by Rhonda Thompson (10 October 2010), reported polling data on public opinion on the death penalty, from a Nation News-commissioned CADRES survey. The headline announced ‘Hang them!’ and the piece started, ‘Barbadians want “an eye for an eye” and a return to the noose’. However, the poll interpretation in the headline is misleading; polling data showed that although 79% of respondents had expressed support for the death penalty, 50% expressed conditional support while only 29% expressed unconditional support for hanging.
Further, the reactionary nature of the poll, occurring a month after the Tudor Street fire, is apparent also:
‘Seventy-nine per cent of all respondents polled believed that swinging of the gallows is the way for this country to go, in the wake of a recent worrying crime wave.’
This demonstrates the emotionality and contingency of the death penalty issue, the poll was a reaction to an event, ‘which ignited the death penalty debate yet again’, and the poll results are framed in light of this.
Peter Wickham, who carried out the poll, is careful to remind that the poll was conducted in a time of heightened feelings following a high-profile crime. Wickham (Nation News, ‘To hang or not to hang’, 12 September 2010) further notes that there is not a huge amount of research about public opinion on the death penalty, apart from these Nation News-commissioned polls.
However, despite a lack of empirical evidence, many reports unproblematically refer to widespread public support. Denise Wickham’s article, ‘Time to hang those guilty of murder’ (13 September 2010) claims, for example: ‘There is a public outcry to resume hanging on the island for those people who commit a crime as heinous and barbaric as the one perpetrated recently.’
In the wake of the Tudor Street fire, the then Attorney General, Freundel Stuart (now Prime Minister), also spoke out and sought to clarify the human rights arguments against the mandatory death penalty. These statements were likewise described by journalist Albert Brandford as a reaction ‘to a public outcry for the gallows to swing’ (Albert Brandford, 10 September 2010).
However, there is some evidence of a more critical reaction to the expressions of support in the wake of the killings. BC Pires, for example (Nation News, 13 September 2010), is critical of ‘first the wave of prayerfulness; and then, hot on its heels, the vitriolic demands for hanging.’ Pires describes this as ‘blood lust’, and continues, ‘There is no act of violence West Indians can’t fix by applying more violence. If “they” throw a firebomb and murder six, “we” throw a tantrum and hang six dozen.’
Rhonda Thompson, writing again in an editorial (‘The agony of implementing the death penalty’, 11 October 2010) in the Nation News, writes that ‘“Hang them” has become a familiar cry, captured in media headlines, for those overwhelmed by grisly statistics of murder.’ However, she too is critical of the ‘“pop-their-necks” clamour’.
Al Gilkes (Nation News, 5 September 2010) in a column titled ‘Bajans want a few necks to pop too’, refers to the Trinidadian murder rate of ‘tsunami proportions’ (mirroring the comparison with Trinidad and Tobago noted above), as well as the ‘barbarity’ of criminals in Trinidad and Tobago, and goes on to state that in Barbados the recent Tudor Street fire has shown that the death penalty is needed:
‘Their reason for wanting “a few necks popped” is that we have had it up to our own necks with the heartless, Jurassic Park brutality of an increasing number of criminals who show no regard for limb or life and no respect for man or God. Remorse is also not in their vocabulary. Friday night’s heartbreaking tragedy in Bridgetown with six innocent lives lost, not because of an accident but because of a heinous criminal act, is but another classic example of why even Christian-minded Bajans want some necks to pop at Dodds. I fear that if something doesn’t happen soon, we could see a resort to vigilante justice.’
Apart from those articles written following the Tudor Street fires, many other articles expressed concern at rising rates of violent crime, ‘Gun violence seems to be coming like the waves along the shore – sometimes it is a ripple, other times it is much stronger, but it just keeps coming’ (Sherrylyn Toppin, Nation News, 5 October 2015).
In addition to gun crime, the issue of domestic violence is also raised a number of times throughout the articles, one letter writer (Barbados Today, 4 September 2013) argued for an ‘eye for an hour’ and warns that:
‘if no capital punishment is being handed down on those who take the lives of women, or anyone for that matter, in such a cold blooded manner, then it’s going to just continue because they know that they are going to be placed in prison, and don’t mind being placed in prison, eating and drinking at the taxpayers expense.’
This letter also betrayed a punitive approach to prisoners and the conditions of imprisonment.
Echoing these punitive sentiments, there was recent anger about the decision to release convicted murderers. Maria Bradshaw, writing in the Nation News (20 March 2016) wrote that Barbadians took to social media to question the decision of the Privy Council of Barbados to release a number of convicted murderers from prison. The report mentioned in particular ‘serial killer Oliver Archer’.
However, one article from Barbados Today notes, in contrast to this argument, that Barbados has one of the lowest rates of murder in the region (‘Falling in line’, 28 January 2015).
Considering the frequent proposal that the death penalty should be deployed as a tool to combat violent crime, many articles dismissed the effectiveness of such a policy.
In an editorial of 11 September 2015, in the Nation News (‘Abolish death penalty’), one of the central problems with the death penalty argument is laid out: ‘A stubborn and enduring bit of mythology is that capital punishment deters killings.’ The piece goes on to note that this is not borne out by the evidence. However, throughout the articles on the death penalty, the issue arises again and again.
Peter Wickham (Nation News, 14 August 2011) takes recent examples of hangings in the Caribbean and uses these to show that executions do nothing to reduce crime; he cites St Kitts in 2009 and Trinidad and Tobago in 1999.
Wickham then concludes that if deterrence is not a sustainable argument, the true reason for support must be retribution:
‘The argument that if the gallows begins to swing regularly violent crime will immediately fall is therefore simplistic and easily refutable. We are, therefore, left to conclude that vengeance is really the only plausible reason for pursuing hanging and while vengeance is also a legitimate basis on which to punish, it does little to help curb the current wave of crime.’
Albert Brandford also reports on the comments of then Attorney General Freundel Stuart that the death penalty does not seem to act as a deterrent (10 September 2010).
Writing after the opinion poll that showed the majority of respondents supported some form of the death penalty, Rhonda Thompson (Nation News, 11 October 2010) wrote that ‘The reality is that, based on cold, empirical data, the death penalty has NOT proved to be an effective deterrent to murder’.
An editorial in Barbados Today (12 October 2015) however suggests that in a minority of murder cases, the death penalty is a fitting punishment regardless of deterrence:
‘Equally, proponents could argue that capital punishment should be used as a rare option for the most heinous crimes; a punishment carried out not as a deterrent, but as a true penalty for those we are certain deserve it.’
This argument therefore abandons any notion that the death penalty is primarily for deterrence, and instead grounds support in the need for community expressions of revulsion.
Beyond those articles which called for the resumption of hanging to tackle rates of violent crime, there were also articles which advocated other approaches, these included improving the efficiency of the police, and putting more resources into social protection infrastructure, such as education, which could have beneficial impacts on the crime rate.
In an editorial from 8 August 2011 in the Nation News (‘Realities in battling armed killers’), the newspaper acknowledges that ‘recent cases of gun-related murders have sent shockwaves across this nation’. The editorial calls for calm, in support of the recent appeal by the Police Commissioner, and further cautions that hanging is not an effective response to crime:
‘Calling for the popping of necks of murderers must come to terms with the reality that Barbados’ Constitution provides for mandatory execution, by hanging, of convicted murderers. But other societies, developed and underdeveloped, have come to appreciate that the death penalty has not proven to be an effective deterrent to the crime of murder. So, let emotionalism be kept under wraps and conscious efforts be made, instead, to cooperate with the police in curbing the current spate of gun-related murders.’
In support of a better resourced police service, BC Pires wrote (Nation News, 13 September 2010), that ‘it won’t be a wondrous act of God, but hardnosed police professionalism, that catches the criminals responsible for this heinous and all other common or garden crime’.
Peter Wickham (Nation News, 14 August 2011) too calls for a more holistic approach to crime control. Criticising the generic cry of ‘something be done’, Wickham wrote:
‘Certainly, something needs to be done now and something has for some time “needed to be done”. The “what” is a matter we might disagree on fundamentally since a frontal assault on criminal risk factors would force Government to shift resources and policy towards a social sector that would make our “better off” uncomfortable.’
Rhonda Thompson (Nation News, 11 October 2010) also urged a broader response: hanging ‘is yet to prove an effective alternative to the strengthening and modernising of security forces; the pursuit of enlightened policies and programmes on penal reform; and the systematic operation of properly supervised rehabilitation centres, particularly for young and first offenders.’
The sample of articles demonstrated a strong theme of sovereignty which argued that Barbados must be allowed to resolve the death penalty issue itself. The theme of sovereignty was also tinged with allusions to a modern form of colonialism, and the imposition of norms from Europe and organisations like the United Nations.
A strongly argued editorial in Barbados Today (‘Copycat acts we can all do well without’, 12 November 2015), opens with a quote from former, Independence-era, Prime Minister Errol Barrow, ‘We will be friends of all, satellites of none.’ The editorial criticises the habit of ‘follow-the-crowd overindulgence’.
The editorial then makes reference to the death penalty: ‘In the first case, an invitation to copy, we have the call for the elimination of capital punishment for blatantly wilful murder –– on the nonsensical notion that it would not stop the killing’.
BC Pires wrote (Nation News, 13 September 2010): ‘It takes a nation to find its own way.’
Pires argued that an approach to crime should be sought that reflects the values and humanity of the country.
Frances Chandler too writes for Barbadians to retain what is unique about their country, and advocates ‘change only if it’s for the better, not for the sake of keeping up with the developed countries’ (Nation News, 30 April 2014). Chandler, in agreement with Richard Hoad, calls for the country’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Albert Brandford quotes the then Attorney General that the human rights issue on the death penalty was ‘a decision that the society would have to make’, again emphasising that this was a question for the people of Barbados (‘Rights bodies hold noose’, Nation News, 10 September 2010).
Ricky Singh, writing from Barbados, in the Nation News, about Trinidad and Tobago’s retention of the Privy Council as final court of appeal, suggests the absurdity of this ‘even as it advances preparations to celebrate Trinidad and Tobago’s 50th independence anniversary.’ Singh contrasts this with Jamaican efforts to ‘quietly and methodically’ break ‘the colonial link with the Privy Council’ (27 April 2012).
Also critical of the interference from outside, and in a very controversial column, Richard Hoad in the Nation News (‘Bush remedy for Adriel’, 4 April 2014) writes: ‘The White Man has been the most successful species to inhabit this earth. We’re talking here about the empire-seeking colonials, today’s British, Europeans and Americans.’
Hoad goes on to argue that the abolition movement is just another form of colonialism, in which alien ideas are spread. Complaining that ‘Miscreants are literally getting away with murder’, Hoad is critical that ‘the White Man… dictates our views on everything from homosexuality to hanging.’
The theme of sovereignty also includes criticism of successive governments’ failure to resolve the death penalty issue.
An editorial in the Nation News (11 September 2015) takes aim at the government, and its reluctance to act because of the fear of public opinion:
‘So while they have suspended carrying out executions and judges go through the motions of sentencing convicted murders to death, governments and the opposition wouldn’t take the next logical and correct step and remove it from the statute books altogether. How come? Public opposition to the death penalty wouldn’t get them many votes.’
Therefore, one element within the ‘sovereignty frame’ is that Barbados must take action on the issue itself. In a Barbados Today editorial (12 October 2015), the newspaper underlines the need for a public debate on the death penalty. Following World Day Against the Death Penalty, the editorial quotes the words of the EU Ambassador ‘that leaders should show more courage, and launch a meaningful public debate. This tendency to keep things under the carpet has failed in every instance.’ Emphasising the need for the input of all Barbados citizens, and for a consensus, the piece closes, ‘The time has passed for the debate to begin.’
In another Barbados Today editorial (‘Towards the best nation on earth truly?’, 7 January 2016), the need for the country’s elected politicians to resolve the issue is again highlighted. Referencing the 50th anniversary of independence, the article quotes one of the Prime Minister’s goals for making Barbados great again:
‘Features of Barbadian life lost, and should be reclaimed. These would or should, we aver, include our intestinal fortitude and resolve in making our own decisions to our national benefit on, for example, capital punishment and illegal gun possession, without the interference and intimidation of outsiders.’
In this thread also, and offering some counter to the frequent allegation that no movement has been taken, Adriel Brathwaite, Attorney General, spoke of the reasons for pursuing the amendment Bill which would restrict the scope of the death penalty, Brathwaite noted that it was ‘his responsibility as an elected legislator to pursue areas where he believed better paths could be taken to guide the country’ (‘Noose loosens’, Barbados Today, 25 March 2014).
In some cases, the government’s failure to do anything is picked up on by victims of crime, ‘A grieving grandfather questions the government’s failure to enforce the death penalty following the tragic death of his loved one last night’ (Barbados Today, 16 September 2015).
Related to the issue of sovereignty, through reference to Barbados’ past as a location in the slave trade, some writers evoked this history to argue that Barbados had to forge its own path. For example, BC Pires (Nation News, 13 September 2010) evoked this history of Barbados when he called for Barbadians to remember their humanity:
‘What has made the Caribbean so special is that, in the face of the most barbarous treatment that went on for so very long, we have never lost our own humanity. By all means catch and punish wicked men; but let us try to step away from the violence that has not stopped for 400 years, and works against us and our very spirit. Let us remember, when things are bad, that it was our own good hearts, and not the whip, that formed anything we could love on these rocks.’
Human rights arguments against the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty were present in some articles. However, many articles framed human rights as a pseudo-concern of a small number of ‘elites’ far removed from the realities of crime. The human rights argument was sometimes placed in opposition to the need for sovereignty, as this discourse was held to be the domain of outside bodies.
Denise Wickham wrote (Nation News, 13 September 2010):
‘Several members of the legal fraternity, along with a few members of the public, are against the death penalty sighting [sic] human rights violations; seems like the individuals that perish aren’t human therefore they had no rights.’
She continued: ‘Even though they are a minority, these people can make enough noise to stall justice indefinitely.’
Echoing the criticism that human rights arguments dismiss the victims of crime, a letter writer (Nation News, 14 August 2014) also says: ‘sorry, I forgot that the victims are usually loaners [sic] – they have no relatives at all.’
In another letter in the Nation News (5 September 2011), headed ‘Just deserts for the cold blooded’, the Bible is used to counter human rights arguments, and there is evident scorn for ‘those in our society who, on “humanitarian grounds”, are calling for the abolition of the death penalty.’
In a report by Gercine Carter, titled ‘End of the rope’ (Nation News, 19 July 2010), a speech by the former Attorney General Sir Richard Cheltenham was reported in which the unwarranted interference by the Privy Council was referenced. Cheltenham, who had been Attorney General when the last hangings occurred in Barbados in 1984, alluded to perceived hypocrisy of the five-year time limit following the Pratt and Morgan decision by the Privy Council by contrasting it with the very long period of time condemned persons spend on death row in the United States.
However, there were also articles which provided more neutrally-framed information on human rights. In an article following the Tudor Street fire, Albert Brandford in the Nation News (10 September 2010) outlined comments from the Attorney General (now Prime Minister), Freundel Stuart, regarding the issues which have concerned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, namely the issue with the mandatory death penalty and the need for a discretionary penalty. This issue, according to Stuart, ‘is the longstanding issue which Barbados has had with the ICHR that has to a certain extent kept the gallows from swinging since 1984’.
There are frequent reports which detail the views or visits of foreign diplomats, and their comments on the death penalty, all expressing broadly human rights arguments. Barbados Today runs some stories which report the remarks of British and European politicians, for example, the visit of Baroness Patricia Scotland of the All Party Parliamentary group in the United Kingdom (15 March 2013), or the visit of the Head of the European Delegation to Barbados (11 December 2013). These pieces summarise arguments against the death penalty frequently, Baroness Scotland is reported as saying, , ‘Barbados is always out in front; it is never behind and this is one issue and it is unusual.’ There was, however, some criticism for the perceived condescension of this argument in the comments accompanying the article. The EU delegation head noted that in Europe, it was political leaders who took action, often in opposition to public support, to achieve abolition. Another report (Barbados Today, 10 October 2010) quoted the EU Ambassador to Barbados, Mikael Barford, on European Day Against the Death Penalty, who said that although aware of the worrying crime rise, politicians must ‘show more courage’. He further invoked the faith of many citizens of Barbados: ‘This is a moral issue about the value of human life. As a deeply religious Caribbean society this is one of the basic tenets that as a community we should hold dear.’
Barbados as a ‘Developing Country’
Related to human rights arguments, some articles attempted to distance Barbados from the broader human rights discourse that motivated abolition in ‘developed countries’. These articles explicitly grouped Barbados with other less developed countries, and argued that such circumstances required different approaches to crime and justice.
In one case, reported in Barbados Today (16 September 2015), a man whose grandson was killed invoked this cultural difference, ‘They are coming to Third World countries and telling small countries what to do.’ The man alleges that larger more powerful countries who use the death penalty, like the US and China, are not subject to the same interference.
Denise Wickham wrote, ‘If I am wrong to want the death penalty reinstated then God will be my judge, but it’s time we in Barbados do what other Third World countries do’ (Nation News, 13 September 2010).
Wickham found common ground with developing countries, claiming that there was a common ethos, distancing Barbados from ‘developed’ nations and their approach to the death penalty, perhaps seeing it as a necessary punishment in developing countries.
However, the divide between developed and developing countries could also be referenced to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of hanging, and the global trend. Writing on the failure of the death penalty to effectively tackle crime rates, Rhonda Thompson (Nation News, 11 October 2010) noted that this was the case ‘not just in the Caribbean, or in other poor and developing nations, but also in rich, developed and powerful countries.’
Alternatives to the Mandatory Death Penalty
In those articles which made reference to an alternative to the mandatory death penalty, lengthy periods of imprisonment were mentioned. There was also some discussion of the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill 2014, which would introduce a discretionary system.
Reporting the views of the former Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, a piece in Barbados Today noted that Arthur viewed the 2014 Bill as ‘historic’ and an example of ‘enlightened pragmatism’ (‘Arthur on death penalty’, 28 January 2015).
A Barbados Today editorial (‘Let’s have full debate on the death penalty!’ 12 October 2015), expressed support for the amendment also, but also sounds a note of cautious support for the use of the death penalty in some limited circumstances. The article notes that ‘our authorities have already demonstrated that the country is moving in line with the expectations of the European Union’.
Meanwhile, the Nation News is an advocate of abolition of the mandatory death penalty, and of the introduction of life without the possibility of parole as an alternative sentence in some cases. Although an editorial of the newspaper (‘Hearing before sentence reasonable’, 30 October 2015) would suggest that the newspaper’s preferred position is for complete abolition, they call more modestly for a discretionary system as ‘a step in the right direction.’
However, although the Nation News advocates a general abolitionist editorial stance, a columnist writing in the publication, Denise Wickham (Nation News, 13 September 2010), argues instead for the resumption of hanging:
‘As long as there is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have committed the crime intentionally, then as long as the judge settles on a verdict and it’s death, then the sentence should be carried out within 12 hours.’
Wickham also raises the possibility of lethal injection, or some alternative means of carrying out the death sentence. However, if sentence of death is not imposed, Wickham recommends a sentence of 100 years life imprisonment. Wickham thereby effectively recommends life without possibility of parole.
Further reinforcing the Nation News’s (‘Abolish death penalty’, 11 September 2015) position in favour of the introduction of lifelong imprisonment, one editorial stated the view that ‘But the truth is that life in prison without any possibility of eventual freedom is a far tougher punishment and a much better solution.’
A letter published in the Nation News (14 August 2014) also recommends increasing the length of time prisoners spend on ‘vacation’ in prison, so that they only become eligible for parole at the age of 75. This terminology is representative of a punitive approach to prisoners.
In the Nation News also, columnist Eric Lewis (‘Please share the joke’, 21 August 2015) likewise cites the apparent ease of a prison sentence, ‘three square meals a day, and that there is no possibility of them getting hang, cause we done hanging people bout here now, and just now them gine be out.’
The Death Penalty as a Contentious Issue
The newspaper articles on the death penalty show how contentious the subject is for Barbadians. Rhonda Thompson (Nation News, 11 October 2010) writes that it is a ‘very sensitive issue’. A Nation News editorial (8 August 2011) expressly calls for ‘the more angry, passionate and worrying’ Barbadians to recognise that the country has been more effective than other Caribbean nations at responding to the increase in crime.
Those who argued against the death penalty, or the mandatory death penalty, reported receiving significant criticism for their position.
Peter Wickham (Nation News, 14 August 2011) writes that he was accused of not being sufficiently concerned with the crime rates, because of his columns which present arguments against the death penalty. He writes that ‘It is always difficult to counter the “pro-hanging” arguments because of the fury with which those who want to hang them high argue’. Reporting comments made by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite (28 January 2015) that he was not ‘soft on crime’ for introducing the amendment Bill, a Barbados Today piece further underlines the common criticisms of those who speak against the mandatory death penalty.
This shows the emotionality with which the arguments on the death penalty are made, and the intensity of feeling on the issue.
However, this theme also demonstrates how opposing sides of the death penalty debate have framed each other. The anti-death penalty writers have characterised pro-death penalty sentiment as irrational and emotionality charged. In her article (11 October 2010) in the Nation News, Rhonda Thompson refers to ‘the anguish that fuels the crescendo of cries’ and stated that many ‘emotionally refuse to recognise’ the ineffectiveness of hanging, she further characterised this group as ‘shrill’.
In a Nation News editorial (11 September 2015) in favour of abolition, pro-death penalty voices are referred to derisively as ‘a rising chorus “bring back the gallows”’.
In turn, anti-death penalty writers are lampooned as the unconcerned elite, without concern for the lives of ordinary citizens or the victims of crime, as noted within the above theme ‘Human Rights’, in which the discourse was frequently the subject of scorn.