Crime in Jamaica, especially violent crime has reached a fever pitch. It has gotten so bad that the (slim and always fleeting) gains made after the Tivoli debacle, that is to say, the drastic reduction in murders, have been lost. We see this year on year, and it reached near its maddening heights last year by going over 1,300 murdered. Things have gotten so anarchic that the criminals are able to freely murder in midday, in a crowded street and walk off. As a result, the people are naturally terrified, and the government always looking forward to the next election have now found it wise to call a state of emergency.
Some citizens see this as a blessing, they say that killing these brutes and thugs is the only way to bring peace to this nation. It is an understandable reaction as people are scared and feel that they may very well be the next victim, but the implementing of this SOE, at this point in time and in that particular place (St James) seems to me like a massive waste of time, and that is putting it in oh so polite terms. Many questions need to be asked, and these questions I fear are not being asked because we all want to have a quick (and preferably sexy) end to this crime problem.
The first obvious question is why St James as opposed to Clarendon or Westmoreland? The official line is that St James recorded (and looked like it may break it again) the most murders in the nation last year (which is true), but so does Clarendon (which recorded 168 murders last year). The truth which we all know, and really are a bit ashamed to admit is, St James was chosen because the government could hardly let the golden goose (the tourist industry) feel the pain.
The second question is why just St James, why not extend the state of emergency? When I look at a map of Jamaica, I see porous borders in the parish of St James, I see parishes (St Ann, Hannover) which already have a high crime rate and who rely on the same crime. The logical thing in my point of view (if you have to go that route) would have been an SOE for Cornwall, that at the least would have cauterized the outflow of criminals (who I am very sure have buggered off a-la Tivoli and ZOSO). The criminals who have managed to flee the dragnet will go on and continue to scam and traffic drugs, they will continue to be a blight on the nation. This is so because persons have a vested interest in looking like they are taking a stance against the criminals and going no further, they aim to protect the tourist industry and the crime bosses.
We also have to ask what the follow through will be, are we going after the business communities, politicians and security officials who fund and protect these gangsters (who are after all pawns in the grand scheme of things)? Will those who have knowingly done business with criminals (the lawyers, money traders and jewellers) be held to account for their wrongdoings and crime by-proxy? The answer after a couple of months is no, it is simply a roundup of the usual suspects, the footsoldiers, runners and of course innocent people at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In other words, it is poor people who have been rounded up and pushed into lockups in such numbers that they have to be sending some to Kingston to ease the burden. The imposition of the state of emergency in St James has been a waste of time just as the ZOSO was a waste of time (though the ZOSO idea does have some merit if implemented properly) and the proof of this is borne out in both the ever-increasing murder rate and the extension of the state of emergency into North St Catherine.
Everyone knows that Jamaica’s problems took decades to reach this height, it did not happen overnight. Years of politicians funding and benefiting from gangs, years of businessmen funding and benefiting from gangs have placed us in this situation. Decades of the state abdicating its position as guarantor of security, failing to provide an environment for decent jobs and a reneging on the promise of education have led to criminals filling the void and extricating them will not be an easy or short feat.
Tackling crime will mean many things, some sexy and some boring but all aspects are important. It means having a fully trained social service so that the neediest are assisted instead of falling through the cracks. It means taking restorative justice seriously, training the people and providing the buildings from which they can work. It means locking up the scoundrels in high places who continually fund and benefit from crime. It means providing decent education, housing and prospects of a job. Those are the hard, boring bits which need to be done if we are to truly curtail crime, implementing a state of emergency, though sexy, is only useful insofar as it allows the state to provide the remedy unimpeded.
I fear that the state and the people are not ready for the hard work, they still dream of a quick fix and the yearning for Adams coupled with the partial state of emergency in St Catherine shows this. Until the hard work is done in tackling crime these grand actions will always be a painkiller trying to cure cancer. We will get there eventually, more and more people are coming to realize that harsh measures alone won’t cut the muster, the question as always remains how many more will have to die before we do the hard work?