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Two sides of the coin


Monday, July 17, 2017


Tackling the Right Problems!

The growth and development of a nation can only effectively take place in an atmosphere of peace and stability. Conflict simply produces fear and destruction.

Fear grips our nation from Negril to Morant Point. Gone are the days when crime and violence were located only in certain areas. There is no safe haven anywhere!

Don Anderson's recent polls affirm that the business community sees crime as the number one problem to overcome. It may be affecting business confidence which has experienced a downturn in the last two quarters. Minister of National Security Robert Montague posited recently that crime is costing us five per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP).


Radical & Right Action Needed

The crisis situation demands radical action in the short term, as well as medium-and long-term solutions. It is absolutely essential to go to the heart of the issues; call it what it is, even if it is embarrassing and uncomfortable!

The nation continues to skirt around the problem of crime and violence, hiding from the central issues. The tendency is to give more attention to one side of the problem and either ignore or downplay the other side staring us in the face.

The short-term route to break the back of the uncontrolled crime surge is to confront and attack the two sides of the problem directly and with urgency. Before I state them, look with me at how I arrived at these two sides.


The Breeding Ground – Side 1

We can agree that crime and violence flourishe in a climate of injustice, corruption, and poverty. Where there is much and constantly felt injustice and corruption, there will be a negative environment where people feel oppressed, worthless, angry, and hopeless.

Their natural response is to fight for survival, often expressed in negative behaviours and nefarious innovation. If left alone, this situation soon becomes a culture. Such is the reality of our inner cities and depressed rural communities. Most of the types of crime of concern are perpetrated from these communities; where generations of people live with their dreams denied or deferred, and are continually forced to accept that status.

Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, Harlem, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Many will recognise the first answer that he posits, “does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” But that is neither the only option nor even perhaps the most poignant. In the last line he asks, “Or does it explode?”

When people feel fearful and hopeless from being despised and rejected, this poses a potential threat to societal stability. Who are the ones who feel the impact of injustice and corruption the most? It is our youth in the 15 to 29 age cohort.


The Breeding Ground – Side 2

Then there is the police force. In poor communities where crime and violence is rampant, the ever-present, in-your-face, outward show of injustice and corruption actually comes from the police. The people believe the police harass and oppress them and feed them a steady diet of disrespect and indignity. To them, the police are the problem. To them, the police represent the attitude of the state and act as the defenders of the rest of society against them.

Hence, they conclude that everything and everybody is against them. Therefore, they think there is no hope, no matter how hard they try.


Problems cannot solve problems

So, I conclude that the two sides of the problem are:

The uneducated, unattached and fatherless youth in the 15-29 cohort from inner cities and depressed rural communities.

The perceived negative culture of the police force that perpetrates injustice and corruption.

With this being the reality, the mistake we are continuing to make is to use one side of the problem to solve the other side of the problem, when they are the two sides of the SAME problem coin. For example, we use the 'problem police' to solve the 'problem youth'. Problem cannot solve problem. Answers solve problems.

What is the answer? Attack the problem. We must confront and deal with the two problems.


Radically transform the Problem Police!

Since the current police culture enables the state of injustice and corruption on top of the poverty in which crime flourishes, THEN radically change the police culture! The ability to do so is solely under the control of the government. What needs to be done is contained in reports already prepared. We have studied the problems in the police force over and over. It is time now to act on what we know.


The JCF Culture

The Ministry of National Security commissioned a review of the JCF in 2007, and that strategic review — A New Era of Policing in Jamaica: Transforming the JCF — directly addresses the issue of corruption in the police force. It said, among other things, “the people of Jamaica believe that corruption is endemic and institutionalised in the JCF and that the majority of senior officers are corrupt or tolerant of corruption.” (p26)

The report further details the types of corrupt acts that the public is concerned about. They include: contract killings and torture; extortion; perjury; tampering with exhibits; trafficking in weapons; alerting criminals to JCF plans for interdiction; and pay-offs for traffic offences (p 26)

The report also speaks about the culture of the JCF. The dominant culture of the JCF is described (ibid p22), among other things, as one where: staff are subject to fear and intimidation; seniority and position are used as a tool of intimidation; a “blame” and “fault” tradition inhibits willingness to accept responsibility by subordinate staff; corrupt behaviour is accepted.

This could well be description of a gang culture.

These revelations ought to be startling enough to lead to immediate action to tackle this negative culture within the police force, but that is not the case. Neither is the review the first of its kind (nor even the second, or third). Numerous reviews of the JCF have been done in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, the recommendations for change go largely unimplemented, thus signalling that the culture of the JCF and corruption within it are acceptable to those who govern.

Against this background, it's clear that people would not easily be drawn to trust the police. Consequently, it is understandable why they would not want to share information or cooperate with a police investigation, or report criminal activity.

We have the capacity to deal with the issues in the police force, and we can do so at a lower cost than dealing with the results of crime. The question is, do we have the will to do it? I believe our current prime minister may be bold and courageous enough to take the needed action.


Radically Transform our Problem Youth

The other root issue is that of the unattached — usually fatherless youth in the 15 to 25 age cohort in the inner cities and depressed rural areas. We must give focused attention to this problem group by genuinely helping them confront the negative issues they face.

We must also challenge them to work with us as a nation to create positive transformation in all facets of our society. This is a defined group that can be readily identified, as the players are mainly known.

Target them for direct social and other transformational interventions first and foremost, to cauterise the problem. The current interventions by government agencies and NGOs are well-meaning, however, I believe there is room for them to be more targeted and focused on this cohort of young males who are the main players or those next in line in our drama of crime and violence.


Get Serious, Unite and Target

As I said last week, we can start with the top 10,000 who pose the highest level of risk to the society. We also know what many of their needs are. Too many are illiterate, jobless, and just plain desperate. They have been failed by the system and we need to acknowledge it and do something about it. That is IF we are serious about solving the crime problem.

We must create interventions that remove them from their negative circumstances, engage them with programmes that re-engineer them morally and socially, give them the opportunity to earn and to feel valued without their gun, and open their eyes to understand how they can contribute to building this Jamaica, land we love, while fulfilling their own dreams and their need to be prosperous.

Agencies which are already doing good work with the limited resources at their disposal must now grasp opportunities to unite and focus their initiatives on this cohort of youth.

I pause and invite you to help me applaud agencies such as the Citizen Security and Justice Programme, the Violence Prevention Alliance, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and their Integrated Community Development Project, and the Unite for Change Initiative. Don't grow weary in doing well; just refocus, retarget, and together let's transform this Jamaica, land we love.


Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or