Columns

We can beat this crime beast if....

Richard Hugh
Blackford

Monday, June 19, 2017

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“Walk and live, talk and (expletive) dead.” This chilling line from a popular local movie underlines the fate promised to people who provide information to the authorities. It provided support for the “informer fi dead” culture and flung the doors wide open on what had been Jamaica's worst kept secret up to then — that we kill each other and we kill each other a lot, so much so that at one point Jamaica ranked as the murder capital of the world with more than 50 murders per 100,000 of population.

In the last 30 years Jamaica, with a population of just 2.8 million, has occupied an almost fixed position of being the fifth or sixth most murderous country in the world with a murder rate of just about 40 per 100,000 of population.

The crime of murder has always figured as an emerging problem in Jamaica where homicides averaged 193 per year between 1970 and 1975. Between 1976 (the beginning of the period of political ideologies and the start of the internecine wars) and 1979, approximately 1,508 Jamaicans were killed at an average of 377 murders per year. In 1980, the year of the tumultuous election which was conducted along sharp ideological lines, a staggering total of 899 Jamaicans were killed. Conveniently, politicians then, and with the complicity of the police, coined a new term, “political violence”, as an explanation for the wanton destruction of Jamaican lives, essentially providing our two political gangs with an excuse for facilitating the destruction of Jamaican lives by fellow Jamaicans.

Between 1981 and 1991 murders averaged 465 per year with 5,100 recorded over that period. Since then the murder toll has clambered steadily upwards, hitting 953 in 1998, then 1,045 in 2002 before catapulting to 1,674 in 2005 and peaking at 1,680 in 2009. In the last 10 years Jamaicans have slaughtered more than 14,000 fellow Jamaicans and all the time the authorities have merely offered verbal assurances that last as long as the sound of the promises being spoken into the press conference microphones.

Crime and violence management by the responsible authorities has become nothing more than a sick joke, to the extent that those who seek occupancy of Jamaica House use the crime problem as a political football.

Crime generally, and the punishing murder toll specifically, is a matter of national urgency and can no longer be accommodated as a haranguing point between political opponents, because if the Government fails, Jamaica fails.

I firmly believe that our current murder problem is not beyond our ability to resolve. It is not as if we are being invaded by a foreign army or that we are dealing with a group of international terrorists. In fact, my information is that the police have knowledge of virtually all the criminal hide-outs and even more — they know who the perpetrators of the violence are in most of the affected communities. The problem is that these are the political garrison communities presided over by sitting members of our Parliament whose aloofness provides succour to the perpetrators. The dismantling of political garrisons is therefore a necessary first step in addressing this problem.

The second element is the enabling of the police. Crime management will never be successfully accomplished as long as there are zones in the island that are off limits to the police. We have already seen what this attitude created in Tivoli Gardens — a template that has been copied and implemented in other communities on both sides of the political divide nationwide. Today, we are reaping the whirlwind of that. As long as there is political interference, the police will never be able to successfully accomplish their objective.

A third element is police empowerment. We committed to changing the culture within the police force more than two decades ago, through a shift in recruitment strategies. Today, the officer corps of the force, and to a greater extent the rank and file are comprised of better educated men and women. The through-put from that will become a better building-block process for developing better police/public relationships. However, unless we can remove the culture of silence from our existence, the police's efforts will be in vain. We need to dismantle the “anti-informer” culture in much the same way as we must dismantle the garrison communities.

My final recommendation is for a significant increase in public pressure from civil society and the need to take to the streets. Jamaica's reputation for protest and civil disobedience was forged through the efforts of our slave population via rebellions. Such rebellions served to undermine the structure of the slave society, ultimately contributing to the decision to abolish slavery. Paul Bogle and the likes of George William Gordon continued those struggles which ultimately provided the framework on which modern Jamaica has been built.

Jamaicans today cannot shy away from struggle yet expect to reap the benefits of much-needed change. We need to put pressure on our political leadership and cause them to act positively and bring about needed change. Take to the streets, demand action from your community representatives and from your parliamentarian.

If we want a better Jamaica, we must embrace the fact that we have to advocate the change that we want and we must recognise that we are never going to enjoy having an omelette if we are unprepared to break some eggs.

— Richard Hugh Blackford is a writer and self-taught artist. He operates Yardabraawd International LLC and shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida and Kingston, Jamaica.

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