State of emergency 2018: Lifesaver or letdown?


Sunday, February 10, 2019

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The 1976 State of Emergency straddles the line between distant history and haunting memory. It is not current, but still remembered as a time when Jamaica fought its first real civil war.

We often question whether it was necessary; a political tool, a means to dispense cruelty, a time to arrest the middle class, an attempt at a communist overthrow, or simply a means to fight men bent on destabilising the Government.

All of the above are hard to measure and opinions for and against will forever be given without request by those of us a little too young to know and others a bit too old to forget, or indeed forgive. Thus, views are rarely pragmatic, logical, or in any way free of emotion.

I am a researcher with great interest in Jamaican crime, so I like academic assessment free of emotion.

Emotion has clouded our analysis of the study of the 1976 era, just as it clouds analysis of such a study in any part of the world where political action results in the loss of life and the destruction of a country. You doubt me? Try having a discussion with a Jew about the Holocaust in World War II, or an Armenian about the Turkish attempt to wipe them out at the outset of World War I. The loss of life and of their way of life makes it impossible to assess without emotion.

Such is the case of the state of emergency of 1976 and the years of mayhem leading to the 1980 election. One set of 60-year-olds are adamant that Michael Manley wrecked Jamaica, whilst another group says he brought about much needed change. Both are angry and, as a result, myopic in their analysis.

The state of emergency of 2018 did not result in the destruction of Jamaica in any way. No opposition arrested, unlike 1976. No flight of capital, no Eventide fire, no Orange Street fire. Thank God.

Therefore, our generation and, happily, those of us who conduct research, have a basis to analyse free from emotion, free from hate.

Why is this so? Because most of the country was not negatively impacted by it, just a small subset of people who were detained and, by all reasoning, had it coming.

There were no police massacres, no civil uprisings, there was no mayhem. In all reality we could do it again without any real blowback.

So let us analyse the effectiveness of this state of emergency — and remember, adults under 60, this is our State of Emergency. This is the one we get to say we lived through, or more importantly, lived because of. Some would choose to use guns recovered; some gang leaders brought to justice; others, cases cleared up, to judge success.

I choose to use the impact on the murder rate. Why? Because that is why it was declared. It was done to stop the slaughter in Montego Bay and in Spanish Town.

So, let us begin. First, Montego Bay.

The last quarter in 2017, from October 1 to December 31, reflected 110 murders.

The first quarter of 2018, which is when the state of emergency came into effect, had a murder rate of 22. That was a phenomenal fall in homicides.

Quarter two of 2018 had 29 murders, quarter three had 25 and quarter four had 26. So based on the level of slaughter of people by gunmen in the last quarter of 2017, there was an immediate 80 per cent fall, which stayed relatively consistent for the entire year, with each quarter reflecting numbers in the twenties.

This ended the year at 102 for St James. Had the slaughter continued in keeping with the last quarter of 2017, Montego Bay would have had 440 murders in 2018.

This is people we are talking about, not poultry.

Now let us look at Spanish Town.

The last quarter of 2017 had a total of 31 murders and the first quarter of 2018 had a total of 49. That is a 58 per cent increase. This slaughter resulted in the introduction of the state of emergency on March 18, 2018. Since the inception of the State of Emergency, murders dropped to 16 or by a percentage of 79.5, and remained on this level throughout the third and fourth quarters of the year, with murder figures of 15 in the third quarter and 19 in the last. Spanish Town closed the year with 99 murders.

Had it maintained an average in keeping with the first quarter, Spanish Town would have had 196 murders for the calendar year 2018.

I would not even wish to calculate the figures if they had continued increasing at 58 per cent per quarter, as they had between 2017's last quarter and the first quarter in 2018.

Some say that the killing just shifted to other parishes. Well, to that I say “do the maths”.

The murder rate, nationally, dropped by 22 per cent, moving from 1,647 in 2017 to 1,287 in 2018.

Based on the saving of lives, the state of emergency's count is 360. So, if it did not recover one gun, imprison one gunman, or solve one murder, I could not careless because saving that many lives is an incredible success story in the prevention of abject misery for hundreds of Jamaican families.

If you think and consider that a life saved could be that of your loved one, then you would quickly agree with me.

This intervention was one of the bravest and most dramatic steps ever taken by a Government and its opposition to save lives in Jamaica's history. I would argue that if this level of cooperation and maturity existed in the 1970s thousands would not have died, Jamaica's economy would not have been ruined and the seed of gang domination not been planted.

So, the way forward?

We did it once, we can do it again. If the murder rate starts to trend upward, then I pray that our leaders will step up as they did last year and show the true power of Jamaican law and, indeed, Jamaican will.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback:

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