Devon Dick | What can we do about murders?
St. James murder record skyrockets with 263 persons murdered out of a population of 184, 000 so far in 2016 [Gleaner December 27]. This is the parish that became the hub of protest against working conditions of 1831 under the leadership of the enslaved Sam Sharpe. The greatness of Sharpe is that he was considered a non-human but inspired by his Christian faith he challenged a violent society and overcame against all odds. It is apparent that we need to learn from the paradigm of Sharpe.
We have tried many things which have not seen any marked difference and sustained improvement. In 1974, then Prime Minister Michael Manley introduced draconian measures to fight crime because the number of murders were approximately 200. This was the year we introduced Gun Court which was designed to combat gun violence by trying suspects in camera and without a jury.
By the 1980 the murder rate skyrocketed to almost 900 and we believed it could not get any worse. We tried the Suppression of Crime Act which gave wide powers to the police. This did little to abate the number of murders and eventually this Act was found to be unconstitutional.
By the 1990s we tried many special squads but the monster got worse. By 2002 we broke the 1000 murders for a year barrier and there has been no turning back with this senseless violence.
What else needs to be done? We have spent in inner-city communities including free housing but little difference. We have had periodic interventions such as Bawl Out, Storming the Gates, National Day of Prayers, Peace concerts led by Bob Marley, Peace walks by church leaders, monument to children killed, gathering at Emancipation Park and Sam Sharpe Square. Perhaps 1996 World Cup football qualification helped. We were told that with the capture of the don of dons Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke things would be better but . . .
The key therefore is to get to dismantling gangs, cutting the source of funding, severing the links between politics and criminality and also the funding by the private sector of criminals.
Jamaica needs to be mobilised against criminality. In 1831, there were 15,000 European colonialists and 300,000 enslaved persons. It is said that Shape without the aid of mobile phone was able to motivate 60,000 persons in the majority of parishes to engage in passive resistance. Sharpe had 20 percent of the population supporting him. We need a similar mass movement which would make a statement of enough with the murders.
In addition, we should not excuse murders and say that the victims must have been engaged in some wrong doing. Last week, 22-year-old Trevor Samuels, a member of the Old Harbour Bay Baptist church was killed. This only child, of a policeman and teacher, was an ardent worker for the Lord. In any case each life is special and sacred.
Another important feature is that it must involve our young people. Sam Sharpe was 27 years old when he led the resistance. The court record of Sharpe’s trial and Henry Bleby, missionary, support the age of 27. It is important that young people are in the leadership for this transformation.
Churches must intentionally make spaces available as places for conflict resolution. Too many minor issues have escalated into major murders. This movement must also be under girded by a philosophy of equality of all and justice for all. This is a difficult task and might require the sacrifice of our lives a la Sharpe in order to lead to peace and prosperity.
With faith in God we can overcome these ills by implementing the right strategies.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.