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Horace Levy | Containment not good enough

Published:Tuesday | October 4, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Horace Levy

Minister Bobby Montague's presentation in Parliament last week on the measures taken to stem the violence in western Jamaica was detailed and comprehensive. It seems to have satisfied most people that the minister, the police, the Government are on top of the problem.

The really sad thing is that satisfaction. It is because the violence, grim as it is, 100 murders a month and climbing is treated as intractable. It has been with us for so long that it has become a fixture in our environment, a grin-and-bear-it unease. So the counter-violence prescriptions, which focus solely on repression and containment, are taken as sufficient. It is not even noticed that containing for a time is all they are doing.

It is only because the International Monetary Fund and Economic Growth Council are telling us how big a chunk of our GDP the violence is gobbling up that it has recently gained some serious (maybe) attention. The decades-long destruction of thousands of lives in poor communities has, for the most part, been tolerated by political directorates and an untouched outer-city populace.

Of course, it is entirely necessary for terrorising criminals to be dealt with by more police, military, equipment, police posts, dogs, the revival of the scamming unit, and the creation of two police divisions in St James. When the crescendo is reached of 23 murders in 13 days in a small area and populace, there has to be that kind of action.

The pressing question remains, however - could it not have been prevented? Did we have to wait for 23 murders to happen? What about the new measures doing little to prevent another peak down the road? The past assures us of that.

Noticeably wanting, apart from an early reference by the police commissioner to social intervention (in any case, not his remit), is a presentation by the authorities of any analysis of the problem. PM Holness' promise of a strategy by a special committee and his invitation of public input leave the prevention question untouched.

So we would like to know more about the forthcoming strategy. Who are its architects? Is there involvement of knowledgeable people like UWI's Professor Anthony Harriott and Dr Herbert Gayle, the PMI's Mr Damian Hutchinson, who over the past decade led the reduction of murder in Kingston and St Andrew? Professor Anthony Clayton has been tapped otherwise by Minister Chuck, but is that sufficient? And what about Frances Madden in Southside? Or Claudette Pious, whose methods in Children First in the heart of Spanish Town got her accused by a don of "taking away his soldiers"? A top-down solution, Andrew?

What remains clear is that the predilection for the old approach, in spite of it not working, still leads. Proven new methods get leftovers.The fact (for which I can personally vouch) is that money and resources are being poured into the one - more boots, wheels, units and posts - on a scale completely dwarfing input into the other. Priorities easily trump the alleged financing gap. But the other strategy, for all its complexity, strikes at the root structure of the problem. And its several strands would have to be tackled at once.




It is the subculture of violence; the prevalence of single-parent households as the locus too often of the abuse of children who are later the violent ones (which is prevented in Sweden, however, by state support to single mothers); opportunity lack in low-income communities, and more than 30 per cent youth unemployment; police themselves as agents of criminal violence and resisting reform; the competition between our two principal political parties and their linkage with gangs (which led to weak central authority as shown in Tivoli) - it is this tangled web of disrespect and inequality (see my column of 20/7/16) that is not even spoken about by those in power.

What is it that has prevented our political directorates over the years from dealing with it? Not evil-mindedness nor lack of some concern. But two things, I would say - distance and what Gayle has called (from Mideastern exemplars) 'feuding', which begins at the political party level. Distance, because most (not all) politicians, once inducted into the ranks of the 'uppers', lose crucial empathy for the 'lowers', even if they themselves emerged from poor circumstance and still keep contact with it.

The 'feuding', which is the second factor, is what blocks empathy and postpones urgent action. Power rules over policy every time, and the excluded 'suck salt'. The Rastas are so right in calling it 'Babylon'.

- Horace Levy is a member of the Peace Management Initiative. Email feedback to and