Communities must be organised to help face down crime... there is no other way

Monday, August 27, 2018

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We keep saying in this space that if Jamaica is to stop criminals, there will have to be systematic and sustainable organisation of communities to assist the police in every shape and form, always within the ambit of the law.

The murder of 14-year-old Yetanya Francis in Trench Town last Thursday night underlines the point. Note the Jamaica Observer story headlined 'Hang Them', which related the anguished response of the child's father as well as reactions from residents of the community.

We are told that some residents were extremely disappointed because those closest to the scene of the crime are said to have heard the cries for help from the teenager but did nothing about it.

“Mi cyaah believe say people hear and dem nuh come out and come search,” our reporter quoted a resident as saying.

The truth, though, is that a community response such as was needed here is easier spoken about than done.

The hard truth is that, in such situations, people afflicted by fear, uncertainty and an absence of trust for those around them are very likely to freeze and do nothing — not even call the police.

The worry for each person, each household, is that they are on their own, exposed. No one is watching their back.

The situation is made worse when the police are viewed by some with distrust, even hostility.

It's well established in Jamaica and elsewhere that communities with strong, unified, well-led groups, including neighbourhood watches, citizens' associations, youth clubs, etc, have far fewer incidents of crime than those without such organised structures.

We readily accept that such organisation becomes far more difficult in socially and economically depressed areas such as Arnett Gardens and the wider Trench Town. But that higher degree of difficulty does not in any way negate the need.

We suspect, we certainly hope, that such attempts at community organisation are being made in the limited zones of special operations. By whatever means necessary such community organisation must go islandwide.

Criminals must be made to know that the entire community is against them. The Government, with prime minister and Opposition leader taking the lead, should seek to galvanise political representatives, church leaders, business leaders and so-called civil society to help the numerous vulnerable communities organise themselves to combat crime — always in partnership with the police. When communities get to the stage of confidently turning their faces against criminals, there will be no need for states of emergency, etc. But as it now stands, that measure is keeping a lid on crime.

We are aware of a lurking fear for many that such community action can lead to vigilantism. It seems to us that the way around that involves close consultation with the police. The question of trust in relation to the police can present a problem, but the law has to be at the forefront at all times. A properly funded Social Development Commission should play a pivotal role in all this.

Comprehensive community organisation of the sort we are recommending won't happen overnight and it will be expensive. But it's full time for Jamaicans to draw a line.

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