Sunday, December 17, 2017

Leniency for Machel

We should not condone criminal behaviour as a society, but there are times when we can show mercy, and I think the case of Machel Montano calls for that.

In the first place, we have to look at the crime and the degree of violence that attended it. It does not appear that Mr Montano had a weapon, nor was this some premeditated assault on someone.

This rather was an altercation that drew no blood, and that is in itself rather an anomaly, given today's standards for the level of violence any simple confrontation yields.

Mr Montano is in his mid-30s, and the records show this is his first offence before a court. When a young black man in this society is able to navigate through his youth, while always in the public eye, and the basis of jealousy because of his success, we have to commend him.

Mr Montano has been an exemplary citizen. As a society we have watched him grow up from the precocious child in diapers singing on the Savannah stage, to the grown man who can fill the stadium on his own. I have always viewed him to be exemplary on a number of counts.

First, he has been brought up by competent and sheltering parents, both teachers in their youth, and university graduates, who clearly taught him the value of education. Machel is a Presentation College graduate with seven or more O-Levels. It is to his credit that because of his talents, he quite brilliantly was able to fashion a career in the music industry in which he and his parents had creative control.

We could look at the creative contribution of Mr Montano to national life. He is an icon here to a broadly spanned age grouping that includes both the young and the young at heart. He is known for wining and jamming, but not for drug-taking, which is an affliction that we have seen overtake its share of artistes. Nor do we associate him with crime of any sort.

This was an unfortunate episode that was not serious enough to get out of magistrates' court into high court, and should probably have been settled out of court at an early stage rather than extend over such a long period. Victims should have been paid.

Some years ago, at the height of his popularity, the Mighty Sparrow had cause to fire a gun at men who had attacked him "way down Henry Street by HGM Walker". Sparrow used the medium of calypso to make his case. His refrain was "ten to one is murder". The courts understood this was the Mighty Sparrow, who was going to be a magnet for all kinds of characters in the city hoping to get some fame by being engaged one way or other in some altercation with him. They knew Sparrow had otherwise lived an exemplary life. He was forgiven.

Machel Montano should be forgiven. He is not a criminal. He certainly is not in the league of Vybz Kartel, of Jamaica, who now sits in prison with two murder charges over his head. Machel does not sing about violence. He does not entice youth into crime of any kind. Far from it. He instead has lived his life in an exemplary way, showing young black men in particular that education is foundational to fashioning one's life.

I think a creative way to deal with Mr Montano, as far as sentencing goes, would be for him to be made to do community service related to crime control. He could make short videos with a crime-prevention theme, aimed especially at youth in high-crime areas. There are types of crime that we should not tolerate from anyone, however high his or her profile in the society. I do not view a manly altercation that does not include weapons as something over which we should take satisfaction in seeing an otherwise law-abiding citizen go to prison.

Theodore Lewis

Professor of Education

University of the West Indies