Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Battle for soul of inner city

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:01 AM

A hearts-and-minds campaign is usually discussed in the context of ending a war. In fact, the term was popularised during the Vietnam War when the Americans tried various strategies to win over the locals to their side. It failed spectacularly.

However, the idea was to identify with the people's struggles not by using violence, but through soft skills, including projects in art, craft and culture.

The security operation of May 2010 when one soldier and at least 76 civilians were killed in West Kingston during attempts to capture Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was akin to a war in which gunmen matched firepower with the security forces and torched police stations in an orgy of death and destruction. West Kingston was, in May 2010, a theatre of war.

And now a distinguished panel has been assembled at great cost to determine what really happened and who is culpable. Whatever the outcome of this commission of enquiry, the bitter memories of May 2010 linger and are not likely to be extinguished by anything that is said by the witnesses or the panel.

Deep scars remain and the mutual mistrust between inner-city communities and the security forces are well entrenched. Inner-city residents are forever complaining about their sour relationship with the security forces. They often cite disrespect, excesses and injustice. There are profound insecurities in these communities reeling from high unemployment and contending with poor infrastructure and social distress, leaving citizens feeling neglected and abandoned.

 

THE REPLACEMENTS

 

The way is then left open for criminal strongmen to fill the void and take on the mantle of community leaders and enforcers. Christopher Coke was one of these enforcers. And there becomes a clear contest for the hearts and minds of community members.

In the new era to be created, law-abiding citizens who often bear the backlash of criminal behaviour must be prepared to share intelligence with the police and to assist them in apprehending undesirables who undermine the peace and stability of their communities.

The terms of the current commission of enquiry have been described by some as flawed, others say they are inadequate. But all agree the cost is monumental. If this commission of enquiry does not offer an opportunity to learn some important lessons from the May 2010 events, it would not have served a useful purpose to the country.

And if at the end of the day a clear path to better relations between inner-city dwellers and the security forces cannot be identified, we are doomed to repeat the horrors of May 2010.

Civil society, including churches, remains close to inner-city neighbourhoods and it can help to improve relations between the citizens and the security forces and break down the barriers that impede opportunities for development in these communities.

Kingston is a vibrant, bustling city, but its inner core is rotting away. Political leaders never seem to have the answers to arrest the decay of this inner core and they sometimes build a few houses that only result in cramming more people into a small space and creating new barriers. When our leaders find the way to motivate and inspire people, including those in the inner cities, by conceiving measures to revitalise, retrain and equip these communities, then we may avert a repeat of the Tivoli siege.