We are no longer moved by murder figures

Letters to the Editor

We are no longer moved by murder figures

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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Dear Editor,

I am genuinely confused by what I see some people arguing about crime in Jamaica. Some say Jamaicans don't care about the 1,500 murders a year and the rate of say 50 murders/100,000 people. So, I ask what should people worry about?

For decades, Jamaicans have had the country's high crime explained to them. That explanation has come from several studies and is repeated by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It's that gang violence accounts for most of the homicides and is the main engine of the homicide rate. That JCF narrative has been supported by several academic studies into crime origins and victims.

The most recent authoritative study was for the 2016 IDB Caribbean Office report by Professor Anthony Harriot (https://publications.iadb.org/publications/english/document/Crime-and-Violence-in-Jamaica-IDB-Series-on-Crime-and-Violence-in-the-Caribbean.pdf)

So, my question is simple: Who are Jamaicans supposed to be showing sympathy or empathy to with regard to the murder rampage? Are Jamaicans supposed to be concerned about internecine rivalries that see many criminals killing each other?

What I often see are outpourings of sympathy for seemingly innocent victims (such as two children caught in crossfire this week or for recently murdered Roger Chang). That seems a completely appropriate reaction. I see sympathy for killed gang members expressed by many in their communities for whom they would have been friends and family. But would it be reasonable to see otherwise? I also read of reprisals for such gang-related killings.

What is the average Jamaican supposed to be doing to stop so-called violence-producers doing what they do amongst themselves? What I have seen is that people fear such violence spilling over into their neck of the woods, but we have no clear signs of that yet.

To protect against that possibility, more people use private security firms, live in protected (mainly gated) communities, and use various degrees of neighbourhood vigilance that includes increasingly things like 'alert' groups on WhatsApp, neighbourhood watch schemes, and more recent technology like alarms and closed circuit television systems. People have long used dogs and some keep themselves armed at home or at their business.

We have seen that the states of emergency (SOEs) and zones of special operations (ZOSOs) have corralled criminals and some abatement in murders in some areas. But, in recent months, we have seen an upsurge in murders within some such areas. So, violence-producers now know that they can continue their activities in such areas, unabated.

We know that many killings also come out of domestic disputes, which could be addressed by better anger management/conflict resolution skills, but that would take time to see results. But, again, the general population cannot do much to address what sparks such disputes into homicides.

We also know that many Jamaicans were not opposed to extrajudicial killings, which though morally frowned upon seemed to keep violence-producers in check.

If the origins of most murders in Jamaica are not as described, then we need to be re-educated.

Jamaicans, as citizens, can only do so much to thwart gangs; it's unreasonable to expect them to succeed, though. That task must fall to the State — unless citizens decide that they will become vigilantes.

So, I ask again, what is this sensitivity towards murder levels and rates that ordinary people are expected to show?

Dennis Jones, JP

Economist

dennisgjones@gmail.com


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