Claudja Williams | Solving crime and violence
Many commentators would have us believe that crime and violence in Jamaica is a social and economic issue fed by poverty and ignorance. And while those factors may contribute to the problem, I would confidently argue that their impact is negligible. The data do not support that argument.
The data would suggest that rather than having an inverse relationship, crime and violence actually has a positive relationship with education levels and income. That is, although education and income levels have steadily increased over the years, crime and violence has also continued to increase.
Another argument is that our population is too high, thereby resulting in increased crime. This can also be easily debunked by looking at the data. Crime and violence, on average, has seen faster growth rates than our population. In fact, between 2009 and 2014, the Jamaican population grew by just over one per cent. No, not one per cent per annum. That's one per cent overall! Murders, on the other hand, grew by 20 per cent between 2014 and 2015!
So where does that leave us?
- Our population is fairly stagnant.
- Inflation aside, household incomes are as high as they have ever been.
- Unemployment rates have been worse.
- The stock market has been booming for about two years.
- Literacy rates are high.
- More people have tertiary-level education.
- More people drive cars (If you don't believe me, just try getting from Mandela Highway to Half-Way Tree in less than 20 minutes on weekdays at 7 a.m.).
- More people are homeowners.
We seem to be doing pretty well. Yes, I know, the taxes are horrible, but that is another conversation. On paper, things are pretty great. So why are we killing each other? The ugly truth is, it is our CULTURE.
We are socialised from birth through the examples set for us by our elders, through our music, through our entertainment, through our politics, through those who should be our mentors, to have little or no value or respect for the lives and properties of others.
Sure, we profess to be a Christian nation and we love to call up on such faith when it suits our own selfish views, but do we really act like it? Yes, you say? Well, have you seen our crime statistics? If you haven't, they're pretty bad.
Back to the point. It is our culture to treat life and property with little regard, especially if those lives don't belong to anyone we know. Case in point: the lotto scam.
If someone offends us, we quickly react with violence, whether with our words or our actions. We suggest that people should die if we don't agree with their lifestyle choices, their actions, or their point of view. It is so easy for us to say things like "him fi dead", "mi a go stab yuh up", or "dem fi chop up him ... ". How many of us have propagated such violent thoughts in casual conversations or on social media?
The Jamaican Government must take a multigenerational approach to solving crime and violence. There can be no short-term plan. Replacing our police commissioners every two years only fuels the problem, as people start to lose more respect for, or confidence in, the law and those who enforce it.
Besides, there is only so much the police force can do. More policing is simply treating a symptom of a much, much deeper issue. And to the extent that crime is a cultural issue, I would argue that more policing will not fix the symptoms, even in the short term.
CHANGE IN THINKING
From the perspective of the Government, the solution to fixing crime is to change the way we respect and value the lives and property of others. This change in thinking must be primarily aimed at the youngest generation with a view to having a significantly lower crime over the next 20-30 years.
Programmes like PALS need to be more developed and better funded to create the cultural shift needed in our schools and in society. Messages of respect, discipline, and patience should be sent throughout our society with a special focus on our children.
Our judicial and governance framework must create a social system that favours abiding by the rules. No more of the 'gi him a bly' mentality that essentially sends the message that failing to follow the rules brings rewards rather than punishment.
When we look at ourselves and bring the crime problem a bit closer to home, it should be easier to see that the solution is simple: us.