Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Bring back civics

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM

NO TWO ways about it, all well-thinking Jamaicans, all honest and decent Jamaicans, want the country to see the back of crime and criminals.

People are angry and afraid and affected by the violence that is a very real beast in our country. Whether murder or lottery scamming or gang war, crime is carried out by a few rotten apples. But crime does happen, and these few rotten apples hold us all hostage and affect every single one of us.

Let's talk numbers. Up to the middle of May this year, 409 people were murdered. That's three people a day. One hundred and seventy-seven women were raped. There were 453 break-ins - in this little country. These are unnaturally high numbers, which, in other countries, would signal a national emergency.

So when the Minister of National Security Bobby Montague calls for a reinstatement of hanging, or when Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his Budget presentation, indicates his desire to have some murder suspects held without bail, there are a lot of people who cheer.

Some people feel like we need to rid Jamaica of criminals, by any means necessary. And I, too, would probably be all for it, if I were sure we were hanging the right person, and if I were sure we were imprisoning the murderer. If the system were perfect, absolutely. But Jamaica ain't perfect.

Far from it.

 

HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW?

 

And I can't help but think, what if I were put on the wrong side of the law in error? Stranger things have happened. In this very imperfect system, I am not at all comfortable with signing away my right to freedom before I am even tried.

So, as lawyers debate the legality of what has been proposed by our leaders, and if the politicians who set the laws are unclear, and the lawyers who defend the law can't agree, what of me and you? It raises a big question in my mind: we, average people, how much do we know about our laws? About our rights?

We see it on the news all the time. When challenged by law enforcement, the first thing out of people's mouths is, "I know my rights." I bet you if you ask that person, "What are your rights? Tell me,", you'll hear silence.

The bitter truth is that most of us live in a country with laws governing our very lives that we don't know, nor do we know how those laws affect us.

Were it not for lawyers, dog woulda nyam a lot of wi supper.

Now, I don't expect us to know the laws with the proficiency of those who earn a living from it. But you need to know if you have a right to a phone call. You need to know for how long the police can lock you up without charging you. You need to know if you bail somebody and they run away, you can then be locked up.

For a privileged few Jamaicans, their first introduction to the laws of this country isn't until and unless they attend the UWI. They have a mandatory course called law, governance, economy and society. How many of us actually get to university? For those who don't, when do they learn about their rights?

The reality is that a disproportionate number of people who have their rights infringed upon have never been to university. They've never been taught what the laws are, or what their rights are.

And it's not just the poor. Most of us just try to live well and stay out of trouble using common sense. Lawyers know the law. The rest of us, if we are to be honest, are just winging it. And that's a dangerous thing.

There was an announcement in 2012 that civics would be back in schools on a wide-scale basis. It hasn't materialised. A similar announcement was made by the current minister of education in March of this year. It needs to happen, and not just at the primary level.

The Child Development Agency has been very good at sharing with primary-school students what their rights are as children. And that's an amazing start.

We need to graduate the conversation in high schools to what our rights are as Jamaicans. School is more than churning out people who can spell and count.

As a government, if we're going to ask our people to be fully functioning, contributing member of the society; if we're going to ask them to play this game called life, we have to teach them the rules.

Civics is a must!

• Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.