Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Crime and government responsibility

Published:Thursday | July 7, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Everyone has been in a frenzy since last week when more than 20 persons were shot in St James - around 12 of which occurred in one night. Suddenly, as expected, many more of us now recognise that our communities are in a shambolic state and are forced to show empathy for those who are routinely affected by these incidents.

The truth is, many of our communities are riddled with innumerable cases of crime and violence which the relevant authorities seem woefully inept at arresting. Typically, the blame in this regard is directed at the police because they have a duty and have 'sworn to serve and protect'. Thankfully, when we are not castigating the police for not doing enough, we offer solutions that might help to make our communities safer.

I notice though, that whenever we talk about addressing crime and violence, we typically focus on the role of 'all stakeholders' in making our communities safer. Regrettably, as is customary, much of the discussion is centred around the fact that many citizens do not volunteer information that could lead to the arrest perpetrators. We also ventilate that too many of us do not feel any remorse for benefiting from the proceeds of crime, and that far too many mothers help to protect their sons who are criminals by 'washing their bloodied clothes and hiding their guns' (apparently, fathers do not do so).

While there may be some truth to this, I am deeply concerned that we continue to ignore the crucial role the Government plays in reducing crime and violence and, therefore, guaranteeing our safety and security. Apparently, we have all forgotten (or are we just ignorant) that the Government is ultimately responsible - no - they are obligated to protect our right to life by taking measures to ensure citizen safety and security. Such measures include, inter alia, moving with alacrity to improve the legal and justice system, strengthening the police force (note this is not limited to buying additional arms and increasing the fleet), improving the witness protection programme, and, importantly, programmes/initiatives that will be efficacious in reducing the number of persons - young people in particular - who could become involved in gangs and corner crews and perpetrate these offences.

The state of affairs in Montego Bay is instructive for how we develop strategies to deal with the situation at hand. It seems similar to my own community, which is the product of much neglect. The police have said (lottery) scamming is the reason the Second City has become so violent. I think is a very convenient analysis. It must be deeper than that. I don't doubt, however, that scamming has contributed significantly to the high level of crime and violence that has become characteristic of Montego Bay.

 

COLLECTIVE NEGLIGENCE

 

I do not deny that our collective negligence is equally culpable for what has been happening in our country. I don't seek to make an excuse for our not doing enough or more. Notwithstanding, we have to be more willing to question our parliamentarians about what they are doing to guarantee we can, by 2030, have a Jamaica that is 'safe, cohesive and just'. It is their failure that has been helping to wreak havoc in our communities. Why has the Parliament not spent some time to discuss and agree on a strategy to address crime and violence over the next five years?

We have to appreciate that the police cannot possibly be held responsible for the absence of social programmes, the high levels of unemployment, especially in rural areas, the inability of our educational institutions to empower our children to reach their fullest potential, the meagre budget to the Ministry of Justice (which has been reduced in the 2016/2017 Budget), the limited availability of courtrooms to adjudicate these matters, the limited interventions to reduce recidivism, etc.

Ultimately, our Government is responsible.

We are going to need more than hanging and their outcry and empathy. We need more than hotels and BPOs to provide young people employment opportunities. We already know that we need more than mere 'divine intervention' (I couldn't help myself!). Displacing squatters won't help. We need more than talk; we need some serious action - greater investment in the investigative arm of the police force, more jobs and better pay, and a justice system that we can trust to secure justice for everyone, not just the rich.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.