Fri | Feb 23, 2018

Horace Levy | Violence can be prevented

Published:Wednesday | October 12, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Horace Levy
A woman mourns the deaths of five persons who were shot and their home set ablaze in March Pen, Spanish Town, on Sunday.

Violence can be predicted, and it can be prevented, even Jamaica's. We have to come to that conviction not as an article of religious faith, but because the evidence for it is solid, both locally and internationally. Then we have to act on the conviction in a concerted way. We do not have to be waking up to horror scenes like the latest in March Pen.

On the local scene, does anyone not remember travellers to Norman Manley to catch a plane having to find some route other than Mountain View because police there were being shot at and even their vehicle set on fire? Those episodes 10 years ago occur no longer, thanks to a combination of effective policing and the methods of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI).

Party political or turf warfare in other sections of the city - Dunkirk, Trench Town, Whitfield Town, Waterhouse - have seen similar reductions of violence and murder for similar reasons. Admittedly, these were reductions, not total preventions. The murder rate in Kingston and St Andrew, while much lower than it is in St James, is still much too high. To lower them further and stabilise victories, the economy has to chip in with decent-paying jobs, and other factors have to be dealt with.

This is why August Town had the best success, because not mainly of its publicised peace agreement, but of University of the West Indies follow-up, with employment especially, to which more recently Sizzla is a key contributor.

Earnings from pick and shovel to fashion the Usain Bolt campus track or one of the new housing blocks, which have doubled campus accommodation, kept many a youth out of the 'shotta' business. Lately, a dub of a Sizzla song, copies of which can be sold here or abroad, is earning recipients good income. If other of our many world-famous artistes were to follow Sizzla's sterling example (which regrettably August Town churches do not appreciate), and if Government's housing plans were to bring jobs, the impact on violence would be quickly felt.

Turning to evidence from the international scene, there are two areas of relevance to Jamaica for violence prevention to which I would call attention. One is the abuse of children of single parents, the other is the education of convicted prisoners.

There is data showing that, in the US, children are more likely to suffer abuse in single-parent than in two-parent households, and that those abused are violent in later life. In Sweden, by contrast, which rivals the U.S. in the number of single parents, this pattern is entirely prevented through ample state support for single mothers in education and the care of their children. Sweden's homicide rate is way below that of the US. Its people are more tolerant, and the shaming present in the US welfare system is absent. It is these cultural factors, not single motherhood, that is responsible for the high rate of violence in the US.

Jamaica's tolerance is more like Sweden's, but its abuse of children is like that in the US - only worse. Dr Herbert Gayle has been calling attention to this abuse - torture, in fact - of boys in some single-mother households and its connection with later violence. Some social engineering is needed towards a focus on the education of single mothers and on encouraging fathers, the employed at least, to live with their babymothers, the first ones especially, ending the traditional 'visiting' relationship.

On the education front, the extraordinary results of a college education on prison convicts have been pointed out by renowned Harvard psychiatrist James Gilligan. His survey disclosed that over a 25-year period, of more than 200 inmates, most of whom served time for violent crimes, including murder, rape and armed robbery, but who received a college degree in prison, not one had been returned for a new crime.

Then he discovered that the state of Indiana had found exactly the same result, and so had Folsom State Prison in California (Preventing Violence). Minister Montague is on the right track in wanting to ensure that no prison inmate leaves prison illiterate. The NGO, Stand Up For Jamaica, works hard with minimum support to that end.

I have listed here only major preventive measures possible. But there are others: seizing the assets of the scammers, for example - police in Montego Bay know the houses as big as Andrew's owned by teenage scammers but do nothing about it. Kickbacks?

Spanish Town is screaming for social intervention. By a concerted preventive campaign on several fronts with the planned spending it needs, Jamaica's violence will begin a marked downward slide.

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