Wed | Dec 7, 2016

How to ghettoise a community

Published:Monday | January 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Garth Rattray

A ghetto was once a place in European towns where Jews were required to live (to confine themselves to), but the word has been adapted to describe badly run-down, densely populated and usually crime-infested communities/areas.

Most countries have their ghettos. In North America, such areas are occupied by racial minority groups. In Jamaica, our ghettos are mainly occupied by poor people, many of whom are uneducated or undereducated and therefore unemployed or under-employed and dependent on politicians, society or others outside the community. Those communities lack proper social amenities and are usually high-crime areas that require intense and proactive policing.

These communities have a majority of good and decent, law-abiding citizens but also incubate all forms of criminality. The decent citizens live in fear, under constant threat from the criminal elements. These communities export criminality that seeds itself in other, similar and vulnerable communities, and thus criminality gets perpetuated throughout the wider society. This is how Jamaica ended up among the top (per capita) murder capitals of the entire world.

Ghettos dont just spring up overnight or magically appear. Entire communities do not just suddenly and mysteriously morph into run-down, depressed, lawless, crime-infested places. It is a slow process that always takes place in full view of the entire country and with the full knowledge of the powers that be that are supposed to prevent such degradation.

product of abandonment

Ghettos are the products of inefficient and/or corrupt governments wilful or careless abandonment of their responsibilities to the citizens who must depend on them. They abdicate their duties. Since there is never any accountability, the process is perpetuated ad infinitum.

Some politicians facilitate the formation of ghettos because they can manipulate the underprivileged and dependent in our society. That reasoning led to the garrison communities wherein people were given just enough (free) money and (occasional, temporary) work opportunities to make them beholden and dependent on one particular political party or the other. It also led to bloody political wars, and brought about the culture of gun violence and disrespect for the rights and lives of fellow Jamaicans.

At other times, the system is complicit because it is so inefficient and has so many corrupt individuals within it that it fails to respond to the blatant signs and symptoms of the process that leads to any community becoming a ghetto.

The transition usually begins with illegal activities that go uncorrected. This governmental shortfall is fully to blame for the eventual breakdown within some communities and contributes to the downward spiral that causes indiscipline, corruption and crime across society. This impacts on our ability to survive as a nation.

where little things lead

It begins with little things like the setting up of illegal selling stalls on the sidewalks. Other signs of ghettoisation include the leaving of junk or disabled motor vehicles on the roadway or on the sidewalk. Some places suffer the fate of illegal commercialisation. Other signs include the playing of loud music by establishments or individuals that totally ignore the rights of residents nearby. Signs also include the unauthorised or illegal construction of apartments or multifamily dwellings that do not comply with the ratio of habitable space to lot size. These are facilitated by corrupt or incompetent government officials.

Soon, residents leave such areas in droves. They sometimes rent their homes to many families, thus converting them into tenement yards. Others sell their properties for whatever they can get as they helplessly watch the value plummet. The properties are usually bought by people who, in turn, run the place down and rent parts to others, thus converting them into tenement yards.

This process takes place over many years in spite of the efforts of vigilant decent, tax-paying residents who telephone and write and complain in vain, until they give up and can only bear witness to the birth of yet another ghetto community and the resultant consequences that impact our entire country.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.