Wed | Feb 21, 2018

Horace Levy: Murder: Where do we go from here?

Published:Tuesday | April 26, 2016 | 12:00 AMHorace Levy

We are all appalled at the continued high level of murders, and various solutions are put forward, especially putting more police on the streets and bringing in the guns.

But the murders keep on happening. So let us note the following facts and analysis.

1. Up to 1962, the murder rate in Jamaica was more or less in line with murder rates in most countries worldwide - about one per week.

2. Murders began to be more numerous in the 1960s and reached a peak in the near civil war of 1980, about three-quarters of the 889 attributed to political conflict between the two main parties. In the 1980s, they fell back to pre-1980 four hundreds level as conflict between the two major political parties fell off.

3. Murders began again to climb in the 1990s, reached another peak in 2009 at 63 per 100,000 of the population, or five per day. Street gangs associated with the two main political parties were responsible for a large part of those killings. Police paramilitary tactics, blessed by the political directorate, contributed for many years by example to the climate of violence.

Murders fell back, however, after the Tivoli Gardens security forces operation, which the two political parties supported, to about 40 per 100,000 of the population, or three per day, where it has more or less stayed since. Even though the violence of the security forces, especially of the police, was murderously excessive, there was a positive side to the operation in its assertion of the central authority of the State. This had been lacking for years and was greatly needed.

4. The political parties won the support of deprived youth to their quest for political power not just by distributing guns, but by promises of a better life, which they did not, however, keep. What was kept was the poverty, exclusion and dissing of that needy segment of the population that believed the promises. Poverty does not cause violence, but sociologists have long established that inequality, which is high in Jamaica and loaded with disrespect, does.

5. As a result of 50 years of its use to resolve conflicts, violence has become endemic, a well-established epidemic nourished by decades of exclusion and race-class disrespect. For the most part, the political parties no longer sponsor it. Guns make violent killing easy but do not cause it. Although a small set within the JCF continue illegal killings and are protected by squaddie silence, the epidemic of violence in our midst cannot be blamed on the force, which appears to be turning more and more to community-policing methods.

6. How is this epidemic to be ended? Ask the medical health fraternity. It is a many-sided task. Setting priorities and working from the ground up, not top down, is the way.


First, as mosquitoes must be eliminated to prevent ZIKV, immediately remove from the constabulary a major stimulant, the 150 killers in its midst, and begin a thorough reform of the JCF and the Police Services Commission. INDECOM is doing its best but needs further support, e.g., by having its own forensic laboratory. And almost double the budget allocation to the Ministry of Justice. Until the impunity to killers guaranteed by the present slow pace of justice is ended, the murders will continue.

Second, conduct a nationwide sustained education campaign, carried into every community by the Social Development Commission and the Restorative Justice Unit of the Ministry of Justice, on how to peacefully resolve conflict.

Third, and most important, begin a multibillion-dollar campaign of development in low-income communities to end the exclusion and the dissing of the two-fifths of our population below or just barely above the poverty line. This has to be conducted in continuous dialogue with the communities and along with their leaders.

The Community Renewal Programme, drafted with much consultation by the Planning Institute of Jamaica at Bruce Golding's direction, is there to be implemented. And the Peace Management Initiative has shown it can be done, as done last year in nine communities around Spanish Town. It won't be done in a year or two, but it must be started, obviously right away, if the endemic violence at the root of the murders is to be brought to an end.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights advocate. Email feedback to