Columns

The great deception

Al Miller

Sunday, September 10, 2017

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In the Sunday Observer of September 3 there was a story entitled 'Violence spoils summer fun for Rockfort children'. The subhead read, 'Gangsters agree to truce at back-to-school treat'. The story outlined that “gangsters” attended the treat put on for the children for the purpose of agreeing to a truce. They were apparently wary of showing their faces early in the day because the police were in attendance, but they later shook hands, lauding the event and the opportunity it gave to the children to get out of the house for virtually the first time during the entire summer break.

For Rockfort, it's great that there is a truce, but this is not a solution. The Observer story also reported that gunfire could erupt at any time of day during the preceding weeks. Consequently, children were afraid to go to the shop or even to go outside, and had learned how to seek refuge under beds. This state of affairs is not and must never be acceptable!

We must not be lulled into complacency with this truce as though peace were an answer for injustice. All the conditions of injustice remain, the guns remain, the unemployment remains, the dons remain. The violence will only flare up again if the root causes are not transformed. There must be no relenting until the root problems are solved.

Thinking that a truce is the same as transformation is the kind of thinking that has constantly deceived us into believing that crime is either solved or under control. This has been the great deception for decades.

Even a commissioner got it wrong!

I read with interest in the Sunday Observer (September 3, 2017, p6) the article with comments by former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington. He argued that the police have abandoned the strategy that was used when he was commissioner. He described his strategy as one of “focus on developing strong counter-measures to disrupt the gangs, making significant arrests of key actors to weaken the gang leadership, defending the communities against the gangs by occupying the space they controlled, and disrupting the financial activities gangs used to sustain themselves”.

Many believe that a significant part of what was then called 'disrupting the gangs' may have meant simply killing the apparent leaders and anyone who was a budding leader. Between 2007 and 2013 we saw high numbers of extrajudicial killings by the police. This produced a temporary lull while the gangs reorganised themselves. But the negative method of disrupting the leadership structure of the gangs has done exactly what many of us who knew the system publicly said would happen: It has caused more potential leaders to come forward and vie for control of territory. All it did was scatter many of these leaders to new pockets to breed and multiply. Now we no longer have a few hot spots, but a nation of hot spots. We have more gangs and dons than ever before, and the murder statistics have returned to exactly what they were before the 2010 Tivoli operation.

The communities view that kind of police action as oppression and injustice, as many allege that some were killed or framed based on lies and questionable circumstances. That approach produces more angry citizens, especially the youth, who lose faith in the system. This is why trust levels in the police and our system of justice have declined and continue to decline rapidly.

Sorry, Mr Ellington. What we are reaping today is the harvest of an incomplete approach. We have never addressed the breeding ground of the gangs and their violence. So the cut stalks simply spring up again. The approach, though well-intended, has actually created a bigger problem.

Ellington's remarks highlight the point of 'the great deception' of various crime strategies. As a nation, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into believing that the crime problem is being solved or that serious gains are being made because of the temporary lulls in crime, owing to short-lived tactical moves by the police or because of a peace truce. We have read the wrong indices, when in fact there has been no fundamental change. I repeat: We cannot fight fire with fire. Hence all the crime reduction tactics of the last 30 years have not created any real solution, merely temporary respite.

As long as guns remain in the hands of criminals; as long as corruption is endemic within the police force; as long as tribalism, garrisons and donmanship remain; as long as injustice and oppression of the poor in the inner cities and rural areas remain, it's a great deception to believe we have gained ground or begun to solve our crime problem.

How did it all start?

The numbers tell an interesting story. In 1962 Jamaica had one of the lowest murder rates in the world (approximately 66; 3.9/100,000). In 2005, we had the highest murder rate in the world (1,674; 58/100,000). It took only 43 years for us to become the most murderous country — basically a single generation. How could we have had such a radical reordering of societal mores? What intervening elements caused such a major behavioural change among the citizenry?

At Independence, and maybe for the first 10 years thereafter, we were a nation that was united around the cause of Jamaican Independence. We shared a common identity and values rooted in love of God and love of neighbour. This was reflected in our motto, anthem and pledge — crafted and presented by our founding fathers and embraced by the citizenry.

But something changed. What was it that changed? What was the primary intervening factor?

The years 1972 to 1980 saw the introduction of contending political ideologies that began to divide the nation into tribes, causing us to lose the shared identity of being Jamaican. After only 10 years into life as an independent nation, we had not yet matured in our identity as Jamaicans. There was not sufficient time to develop that stability in our 'Jamaicanness' before the political factions of the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) plunged us into the ideological struggle that ripped apart the very fabric of the national soul.

Our attention shifted from national identity to focus on political and ideological priorities: PNP or JLP, socialist or capitalist, Comrade or Labourite. These new identities became more important and more ingrained over time.

It was a small step from that to the ability to paint the other group as wicked, evil and malicious — to turn brothers and cousins and neighbours into enemies. Enemies may be killed, justifiably.

We reinforced the rhetoric with geographic separation, so that the warring sides each had territory to control. Once you have a definable enemy territory, you have a target for physical attack. The only thing left was to arm the soldiers and deploy them against the enemy. It's no wonder we have a murder rate that approximates a country in the midst of civil war. The only difference is that we have not officially declared war.

A new national identity emerged — not out of many one - but an aggressive, violent, ganja-smoking, political, tribalist culture; smuggling drugs and leading in crime and violent behaviour in the major metropolitan centres of the world — London and New York; known to produce the 'baddest gangs' — yardies and posses.

A house divided cannot stand

Can we conclude that it was the intervening element of disunity which took only a generation of bombardment in the political process to give us the results we have today? With the disunity and loss of shared identity, murders moved from 170 in 1972 to 370 in the election year 1976 — more than doubling. As the division sharpened, murder again doubled to 844 by the time of the 1980 election. The division deepened to garrisons, donmanship — 'we and dem'. By 2005 the murder rate nearly doubled again to more than 1,600.

This radical intervention that created the rapid change was not due to external social problems, but moral, internal shifts in beliefs, attitudes and outlooks that expressed themselves socially in negative, criminal manifestations. The solution or answer must also come from a moral, internal mindset.

As long as disunity divides us through misplaced identity, wrong beliefs and mindset, there will be no change. Change only comes from displacement and replacement — removing the negative and establishing the positive. We need the equal and opposite force of unity in order to restore our common identity and break down the artificial political barriers that have been created.

We must embrace the legacy left to us by our founding fathers. We must reject the legacy of our unwise and immature post-Independence sons who chose disunity over unity and socio-political identity over our national identity. Let us restore our common Jamaican identity — one that has love of God and love of neighbour as its driving philosophy.

The way of thinking that was created by this tribal politics has become ingrained. Our crime problem is the result of deliberate actions to shape thinking. We must therefore respond with a deliberate and strategic action to change belief systems and mindsets. Every effort to respond to crime and violence without this key factor will only continue the great deception.

Because we have continuously failed to admit the true cause of our crime problem, we have never been able to adequately address it. Simply killing or removing gang members will never solve the problem, because the fertile seedbed that produces them will merely continue to push out more.

Who can solve the problem?

Those who created the problem, or for whatever reason have become part of the problem, cannot by themselves easily solve the problem. This is particularly true in this national crime dilemma. Who is currently working to solve it? The Government, the centre of the political system, the security forces, the bureaucrats of the last 40 years? These groups are all part of the problem, hence they cannot solve it.

These groups do have a role to play in the process, but they cannot develop or manage the process if it is to have objectivity and integrity. This is one of the main reasons the crime and other social ills have remained unsolved for decades, and only seem to worsen.

It is clear that the prime minister wants to deal with the problem. It needs new thinking and broader perspectives that are able to look at the total picture in a holistic way. We need to devise the immediate, short, medium and long-term actions for greatest impact in each stage.

It requires something I said in an earlier article: The prime minister has to find a person or group he can trust, and entrust this matter to them to direct it; he must give them the authority to operate on his and the Government's behalf.

Bruce Golding, as prime minister, was bold enough and came closest to beginning the process that could solve the problem. He allowed the introduction of the National Transformation Programme, which had moral foundations and was geared at changing values, mindsets and attitudes. It was led by civil society — a partnership of civil society, private sector, Church and State. Government was a partner giving governmental authority and backing. Golding saw the vision and was bold enough to allow it and take his hands off it. That was an act of confident leadership.

What would have made it complete was to enlarge its scope to include breaking the back of crime and the proper levels of funding to accomplish the goals that had been set. The issues surrounding the Tivoli affair brought a premature end to the programme just before the implementation phase was to have begun. This kind of targeted intervention is still needed.

I believe that there is enough wisdom in us to solve what appears to be the greatest deception of our time. Let's stop deceiving ourselves. Temporary truces do not bring an end to violence; merely removing gang leaders will not solve crime; attending to the social and economic issues without addressing the moral core will not adequately deal with injustice; simply ignoring the divisions will not foster unity.

It's time to go for real solutions.

Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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