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Horace Levy | Government must lead

Published:Wednesday | July 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Horace Levy

Do we really want to get to the root of the violence, the murder, and take it out? End that desperate terrible pain in our head, our chest, our gut, all over? Identify its root and take it OUT?

The taking out would need more than a day. But a start could be made. And 'omens' tell of success. First, there is the level of public concern - Jamaica has never before seen it so high. For decades, after the front-page headlines, the weeping and the setting up of special big-name police squads, we have passively accepted our 'culture of violence' and the JLP-PNP focus on the 'more important' matters of economy (thinly conceived) and political power. Today, passivity is on its way into the past. We WANT that root out and we want it out NOW.

Second, the tools are in place - the Independent Commission of Investigations, the Office of the Public Defender, and even movement from the Police Service Commission. We have as well a detailed prescription for sharpening another tool, the security forces; it came from the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry (COE) report.

The commission exposed the thick vein of mismanagement and misdirection (some of it criminal) that ran in the police force from commissioner to constable. The police are not the problem's root, however.

The commission's hearings also revealed the immense pain, in its many dimensions, of the residents of Tivoli Gardens. The revelation has been important because, along with some of the enquiry recommendations, it has pointed out to us where the root of the violence and murder is to be found.

The root is not hatred or 'bad mind'. The root is not trauma or mental disorder. Fred Hickling is right in bringing forward their frequency and contribution to the cycle of violence. But again, these are symptoms. The root is inequality, exclusion, disrespect, which is injustice and scorn of human rights. This is what is provoking the violence. People subjected to prolonged exclusion and disrespect react with violence.

Because of the disrespect conveyed by police extrajudicial violence, the force must be cleansed of the rotten element responsible for it. This element, in numbers, is small but very impactful. But much elsewhere is required to address inequality, exclusion and disrespect and the injustice that they signify.

You want to know about inequality in Jamaica? Read Page A3 of The Gleaner, July 12, 2016, where the cost of the COE to the public purse is set out. Most people have not bothered. The story is cold. People have already decided that, excessive as was the price, the COE was worth it. At the US$400 per HOUR charged by some lawyers in civil cases, clearly they live at First-World standards in a Third-World country. This has consequences.




You want to dig deeper into inequality? Read the brilliant article by Annie Paul (Gleaner, July 14, 2016) and its insightful quotation from Nadeen Althia Spence. They point to the inequality stemming from class, intersecting with race, that leads to the denial of rights and the reactions of poor black youth. "'... [T]he black boys in Montego Bay ... no longer know the value of life... because their black lives needed to be qualified for it to become fully 'smadditised'. It needed land, and money or an accent. When you grow up in communities that are built on captured land, what does it mean for the girls and boys who develop their personhood in a place where land and property and money helps to define your person.'"

Annie Paul calls on Police Commissioner Carl Williams as "rightly saying that the problems in Montego Bay are not something harsher policing measures or a state of emergency can solve. They are systemic and need social intervention". It is social intervention that will address the inequality, exclusion and disrespect. But social intervention is the responsibility not of police but of Government.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights campaigner. Email feedback to and