...but crime and social decay have been decades-old problemsSunday, November 21, 2021
Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Mark Golding, four weeks ago, described an amendment to the Emergency Powers Act as premature. Last Sunday the People's National Party (PNP) described the announced states of public emergency (SOEs) in seven police divisions by Prime Minister Andrew Holness as premature. Whose side is Mark Golding and the PNP really on?
Does Golding realise that we have a long-standing and severely abnormal murder rate in this country?
Does he know that Jamaica has been lodged in the ignominious category of a murder capital of the world for the last 35 years?
Does Golding really care that the majority of those being slaughtered by marauding gangs are poor, dispossessed, downtrodden, black Jamaicans, who, unlike him, cannot afford the means to protect themselves against merchants of mayhem whose singular objective is the creation of terror and destabilisation in order to gain filthy lucre.
Does Golding and the PNP care that there are garrison communities — most of them controlled by the PNP — where citizens live in constant fear of gunmen?
Our deadly reality
Life is the most basic of human rights. Does Golding know this? While the PNP talks glibly about protecting human rights — which I believe is really a guise for their attempts to relegate the Holness Administration to a 'do-nothing' state and, ultimately, political paralysis — 11 Jamaicans were murdered two Saturdays ago.
On average, four Jamaicans are murdered every single day. This crime epidemic has been afflicting us for nearly four decades.
At a virtual press conference last Sunday, where he announced the declaration of seven SOEs, Holness delivered in graphic detail some of the 'savage and barbaric' acts taking place in Jamaica. That did not surprise me.
Said Holness: “It's one thing to commit the ultimate act of a murder, but when you start to see a devolution into what can only be described as the ultimate barbarity, savagery, a competition for cruelty, the worst of the worst, where you only see these kinds of actions happening in war zones, where someone can be beheaded and their heads used as a football [and] sent back to the families. We are seeing an increase in murders, but we are also seeing a new trend of savagery and barbarity, in violence.”
I have been warning for years in this space that this was where Jamaica was headed. In recent months, several of my The Agenda columns bemoaned the increased and rapid social decay in our country, eating away at the very foundations of the society. The entire society is being ripped to shreds by the monster of crime.
Jamaica has had over a 1,000 murders every year since 2004, according to Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) official statistics. Yet, every chance Peter Bunting, the Opposition spokesman for national security, gets he tries to, as we say in local parlance, “big up himself” by reminiscing how murders during his time as security minister were less than any year compared to when the Holness Administration had SOEs.
How can anyone who really cares about Jamaica thrive on such empty insularity?
Jamaica has had one of the highest murder rates in the world for nearly 35 years, Mr Bunting. In 2005 our murder rate was 64 per 100,000 — the highest in the world. We are sick!
In 2017 Jamaica's homicide rate was 56 per 100,000. In 2018 the homicide rate dropped to 47 per 100,000; then it was three times higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2019 our murder rate was 47.4 per 100,000; and, in 2020, 46.5 per 100,000 — the region's highest homicide rate. Is the PNP aware of these realities?
While the aggressive cancer of crime continues to affect and infect nearly every nook and cranny of Jamaica, some like Peter Bunting continue to fiddle with transient optics, shadowy appearances, and trinkets of political correctness that are imported from elsewhere. Jamaica is not being advanced by those among us who draw blind political lines on national issues which are determining our collective survival. We are in a great abyss. We must escape!
National effort needed
I am an unrepentant supporter of the SOEs as a major crime-fighting tool. In previous my The Agenda columns I presented incontrovertible evidence that hundreds of Jamaican lives were saved by the SOEs. Simultaneously, I recognise that SOEs and zones of special operations (ZOSOs) are not silver bullets.
Commendations to Bunting for being right on one thing. Last week he admitted that, as long as the sub-human social conditions exist in many of the communities across Jamaica, crime will continue to escalate.
Many years ago, I noted in this space that, “We have in this country a veritable assembly line of social conditions which feed the development of criminal behaviours.” How might we get out of this hell? The sharp, short, shock which the SOEs provide are needed to stop the haemorrhaging. But we need more, far more foundational actions from all.
If we are going to really tame the monster of crime in this country we need to dispense with the robotic politicisation of crime and violence and, instead, focus on being tough on crime and the causes of crime, as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once recommended. Our leaders in Parliament must lead that process, not with mere words, pseudo science, stale regurgitations, and submission to fads, but seismic legislations. Citizens must demand these or be satisfied with the rot and the consequences. We have been trapped in this abyss, for a long time.
We need to come down from our pomp and pride and recognise that we are at a crossroads of severely tough choices in this country. We cannot dilly-dally and shilly-shally any more.
We must stop deluding ourselves that we have all the expertise to solve a crime problem which has got systematically worse over the last 40 years. We need to get international help.
While we delay taking an inevitable path the majority of well-thinking Jamaicans, who diligently and legally toil hoping to catch the increasingly elusive Jamaican dream, scream in agony because the merchants of misery are rapidly being emboldened by rancid victories.
Social Transformation Ministry
The long-standing and rapid rate of social decay in our country cannot continue unabated. As I noted some weeks ago, the Holness Administration continues to make many positive strides in regard to the management of the economy. But these are being and/or soon will be cancelled out if the rapid rise in social decay is not arrested. The social rot is all around us — for those who want to see.
It is obvious, for example, that the stoning and damaging of Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), buses by miscreants is a sport nowadays.
Consider this: “Two people, a driver and a passenger, suffered injuries to their eyes after a bus windshield was shattered, the State-owned company said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“The company had tweeted earlier in the day that three of its buses had were damaged by stone-throwing vandals.
“The incidents happened in the Three Miles area of St Andrew, the same area that the company flagged in a statement last week when it appealed to members of the public to desist from damaging its buses.
“It said such incidents not only put its drivers and passengers at risk, but end up costing millions of dollars to repair the damage.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 10, 2021)
JUTC buses have been damaged to the tune of millions of dollars over many years. Cecil Thoms, the communications manager for the public entity, says each time the company has to replace a windscreen damaged by malefactors it costs the taxpayers near $800,000.
I don't believe the stoning of JUTC buses are random acts of criminality. I believe sets of people are playing to an agenda. It seems there are some people who want us to return to the bad old days when we had a public transport system, certainly in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR), that resembled the Middle Passage experience.
In that cruel cauldron, perverted men used the chaos of minibuses, packed like sardines, to rub themselves up against near defenceless females. Schoolchildren and old people were routinely left stranded. Loud, lewd and crude music was a bitter staple, and chaos was the order of the day. And “ductahs” — so called, maybe, because they were half of what they needed to be — as they hung from bus entrances. We must never return to that predicament.
It cannot be that the criminals who damage buses are so smart, wily, and or slippery that we must live with the mounting cost of their foul deeds.
Owen Smith, the deputy managing director of operations at the JUTC, revealed to sections of the media recently that the State-run company had suffered 69 stone attacks since the beginning of 2021. He said, in October alone, there were 19 stone-throwing strikes on the JUTC in the Three Miles area of St Andrew.
Smith noted that, in 2020, there were 63 stone-throwing incidents against the JUTC, which began operations in the late 1990s. This continued onslaught on a company which facilitate the public good must be halted. It is not going to be stopped by mere public pleas to the culprits who are intent on reducing this country to a failed State so they can profit from national chaos. The technology exists to catch these villains.
Others countries that have had similar problems have tamed savage beasts who foment public disorder. Are we learning from them?
On the subject of learning, recently I heard minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Robert Morgan bemoaning the fact that the ministry's 211 telephone line, set-up to enable members of the public to report child abuse, was being bombarded by pranksters, and one offender in particular repeatedly sexually harassed the operators of the service. This is sickening!
Recently some young women were abducted and robbed. The police, as usual, put out some contact numbers for members of the public to help with the safe return of the ladies. Some took that as an opportunity to prank, not bothering to think that they might one day be caught in the emotional and physical situations in which the women and their families had been trapped.
Social decay is metastasising in our society.
Headline: 'Prank calls affecting police emergency service' ( Jamaica Observer, December 8, 2016)
Headline: 'Firemen forced to drive miles each time: 100 prank calls per month' ( Loop Jamaica News, July 17, 2021)
The notion of community and common humanity are rapidly receding. The devil take the hindmost is fast becoming the dominant theme of daily life in this country. Jamaica cannot — or will not — realise its 2030 vision of becoming the “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business” when large segments of our population, instead of rendering assistance, are quicker to pull out a smartphone and record people at their lowest and neediest states in order to gain likes and retweets on social media.
I think the Holness Administration needs pull all the existing social programmes that are distributed throughout numerous ministries and put them under a single umbrella of a Ministry of Social Transformation, Youth, Gender and Culture. Such a ministry, I believe, among other things, should be mandated to mount a national consultation with all stakeholders on how to repair the severely damaged social fabric of this nation. Scores of good research papers, many by local scholars, that detail how we can promote social inclusion exist. We need to dust off the heavy cobwebs from many of them and begin to seriously see to implementing relevant recommendations.
Straight away someone is going to say, “We don't need another ministry. We already have too many.” Well, if your singular focus is quantity, then God bless you richly.
I am more concerned with the national rejuvenation of a type of social order which used to exist in Jamaica and other countries here in the Caribbean still enjoy. Having social programmes dispersed across several ministries, in my humble view, has promoted 'turf-ism' and 'silo-ism', which in turn produces minuscule positive results.
We will continue to get the same results if we continue in this vein. A word to the wise should be sufficient.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.