The road to 1,342


The road to 1,342


Sunday, January 19, 2020

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Last week I stated that the increase in murders in 2019 had nothing to do with bad decisions taken in that year, but was a repercussion of a plethora of choices that were made by our leaders beginning about 45 years ago. Let us start at the beginning and analyse the pivotal decisions that have resulted in the 2019 murder toll.

In 1974, the Manley Government launched a programme of massive, badly needed social change. Given the time in our history, it appeared he was leading the country towards the establishment of a communist state. Whether this assumption was justified or not, the programme was promoted in a way that gave that impression.

The communist threat eventually resulted in the arming of thugs by both political parties, and the involvement of foreign powers. That was the seed of our current crisis.

Realising the difficulty of managing this new threat, the Manley Government introduced the Gun Court and the Suppression of Crime Act.

After the 1980 election, a large number of the gangsters were exported to the United States, Canada and England. However, the culture remained. The remaining criminals would eventually receive funding from the exported gangsters, making the politicians powerless to manage them.

The Seaga Government, realising the size and gravity of the gang threat, kept the Suppression of Crime Act that it had originally opposed and fought these gangs with it and with the use of a super squad known as 'Operation Squad'.

These brave men faced the onslaught of superior arms long before bulletproof vests were a part of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) uniform. The gangs were never defeated, but were suppressed throughout the 1980s.

In the 1990s, the gangsters exported in the 1980s returned in great numbers and were labelled 'deportees'. They became the new minds behind the gangs. The combat that had become part of our culture in the 1970s and 1980s had the repercussion of a higher than normal murder rate by Caribbean standards and subsequently, a higher than normal rate of police/civilian shootings.

In the early 90s, a movement was undertaken by local and international human rights groups to combat it. The approach used was to ignite an anti-police culture, where the warriors were presented as murderers and cowards, rather than as soldiers of a national cause. This eventually led to several decisions that would disempower the police, both morally and operationally.

In 1993, a former military officer Colonel Trevor MacMillan was brought into the JCF as commissioner of police to tame, punish, or destroy the lawmen viewed as high-handed, excessive or corrupt. MacMillan was a good man, but he made decisions that would jolt the force like none before.

The feared policemen who had national profiles were transferred, fired, or scared into submission. Operation Squad was destroyed. The fight against the gangs, that had been a national movement spearheaded and motivated by these policemen, stopped. That was the fertiliser for the seed.

The gangs smelled blood and murders tripled in three years. The Patterson-led Government in 1994 removed the Suppression of Crime Act.

There was now nothing in our law books to contain a highly armed militia of thugs being funded by drug kingpins. The country fought back, with Francis Forbes as commissioner, using new super squads. We managed to contain the gangs, but they still grew. However, murders did not triple in any three-year period like they did under MacMillan.

In 2003, the Crime Management Unit was disbanded and the Special Anti-Crime Task Force followed soon after. There were no super squads left. The trees grew into forests.

The gangs continued to grow until they reached the point of domination. Massive Government contracts became an additional source of funding for gangs as a new control measure to be used by politicians.

The intervention of the US Government and a massive effort by Jamaica's military resulted in a change in 2010. This was based on the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Jamaica's crime boss, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. For the first time since 1974 the armed forces had the thugs on their knees. What was needed was a continuous push to also bring the garrisons under control new legislation to allow for indefinite detention of gang leaders; the introduction of crisis detention centres; and the re-introduction of super squads. All this was needed only until we defeated the gangs.

Instead, we had a Commission of Enquiry and the presentation of the warriors who put their lives on the line as murderous cowards. Careers were destroyed. A new era of a culture of anti-police sentiment directed by men who knew nothing of battle or military or police service began.

INDECOM was established to impartially investigate police shootings. A reasonable step, but it also embarked on a programme that discouraged police/gunmen engagements and this drove the cops into submission and the gangs smelled blood.

The climb back to gang domination began and took one more step in 2019. The result: 1,342 murders.

This was the culmination of 40 years of bad decisions.

However, we have seen a light in the tunnel, even if it is not at the end. This light shows us that we can use state of emergency (SOE) regulations to literally cut crime rates in zones where it is utilised. Look at St Catherine's homicide rate in the period after the SOEs introduction.

The solution lies in a crime-centred SOE that allows for normality of movement for regular citizens but gives police the authority to detain gang members indefinitely with the stop gap of control mechanisms governed by the court.

At this point it is our only option. If we do not use it we will one day again be under the domination of a man like Dudus, and there may be no heroes left to fight and no foreign warrants to force our hand.


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