Mark Wignall | No Dudus, no peace
Two Saturdays ago, a few hours before daybreak, 15 armed men in a well-coordinated operation robbed vendors at the Coronation Market. That stood in stark contrast to the days when the influence of the Tivoli strongman, Dudus, ensured that downtown was safe for seller and buyer.
In the late 1990s, an educated source close to the organised crime downtown explained it to me. "In the Middle East, Arab and Jew live like puss and dog, yet in Jamaica, dem business right beside each other and dem live next door each other in dem uptown community.
"So if dem can do it, Tivoli and 'Matches' Lane can do it. Tel Aviv and Southside can do it." He was, in fact, describing how downtown shared up the areas of influence in the protection 'tax' racket. "The way we figure it, nuff a dem business downtown paying minimum tax to government an dem know sey police can't protect dem. So we do it an everybody nice."
The most stark proof of the agreement and the infernal unity of the organised underworld attached to both sides of what used to be a hot and toxic political divide was shown in September of 1998 when Matthews Lane strongman Zeeks was picked up by the police.
Armed gunmen from Tivoli, Rema, Denham Town, Matthews Lane and Fletcher's Land took over the streets that day and night and at least one motorised unit of the JDF had to retreat in the face of gunfire.
In the days prior to 2010, it was a rite of passage for many uptown householders to make at least one monthly early-morning trip to Coronation Market to source the cheapest, freshest and most flavourful farm produce. That is done now, largely at one's own risk.
I am not making out a case in favour of criminality. The reality is Dudus used to provide his second-tier lieutenants and much of the community the means which prevented them from preying on their neighbours. In the near six years since his extradition, the criminal element downtown has returned to its default state, seeing the State and the 'system' as the enemy and as its natural prey.
When druggists like Ramcharan and 'Deedo' were extradited in the mid- to late 2000s, the absence of their widespread patronage in the west resulted in the rise and the growth of the lotto scam. It's the old mantra operating. Nature anchors a vacuum.
Men like Dudus, Zeeks and their cohorts in other dense, inner-city pockets know the realities more than our social scientists and policymakers. With a mass of poorly educated youth and in excess of 60 per cent unemployment, chaos and anarchy is only a stone's throw away.
So extreme brutality is applied as the controlling element and it works as long as the dysfunctions of the State are allowed their infiltration by the organised underworld. For many years, the policeman, the politician and the businessman allowed it to operate, or they pretended not to see it or acknowledge its existence. Now it is out of control, and appealing to the families of criminals is an act of foolish desperation. Why should the families listen when they are sharing in the spoils of their criminal sons?
Promise little, Commissioner Quallo
We are at another juncture in the ongoing and seemingly uphill battle against violent crime in this country. We now have a new commissioner of police.
I agree with Minister of National Security Bobby Montague that the nation should stand with the new commissioner, but what are the mechanisms by which members of the general public can stand with the new commissioner more than they did the last one?
We know that if Commissioner Quallo succeeds, the nation succeeds. It appears to me that Minister Montague wants a more proactive public, one where people finally recognise that the forces of good are much more than those intent on wreaking havoc in the society.
That simply means telling what you know. It is usually the fact that once a heinous crime is committed in a community, the perpetrators are known five minutes after. The real bugbear is that many citizens do not trust the police to go to them and give them information in confidence.
What will Commissioner Quallo do to change that culture? And believe me, if that culture is not changed, the new commissioner will find himself experiencing early meltdowns, as others before him have had.
Quallo must transform within
In the last few days of his ascendancy to the top cop post, all I have heard of Commissioner Quallo are good things. He listens well. He is an efficient and capable administrator. He is a bright man. He is a good manager.
His first role is to rid the JCF of the rogue element inside it. How does he do that knowing the loyalties that exist in the squaddie culture? He also needs to widen the intelligence base in the force.
One policeman told me months ago that after he was transferred to a new division, he decided to ask members of the rank and file who were the main troublemakers in the area and if there were any files on them. He said the men acted quite apathetic. In their jobs, they were merely going through the rounds.
"And then there was the hustling. Once I found out why they were not carrying me on patrols, I, too, accepted it. They saw me as too clean and most of what they were doing on patrols were hustling for businessmen and organised criminals."
How does the new commissioner crack that glass ceiling? There is a strong culture in Jamaica which states that a job is only to be taken if 'hustling' is in it. The JCF is no different.
Peacemaker or fire-breather?
Those in the population who have supported strong policing like Reneto Adams' style have always made out the case that there are irredeemable young men who are prepared to die instead of being captured. What these people fail to see is that we have tried decades of that type of policing and there has been nothing much to show for it.
The question is, is it at all possible that inside one commissioner is a man prepared to read hardened criminals beatitudes while holding in his hand a big stick? Is there a perfect formula?
Commissioner Quallo will come to the table with one of the widest bases of support from the general population. He will have this support not because his professional accomplishments are well known or because pundits are saying he is the right man for the right time. Nothing like that.
He will have the wide support because people desperately want to see a winner sitting in the commissioner's seat. As I said before, if the commissioner wins, we win. So the support for Commissioner Quallo will be predicated on the basis of a great wish and hope in the breast of those who know this country is capable of much better things.
The JCF, under Quallo, will continue to increase its focus of using technology in its crime-fighting arsenal, but at the same time the new commissioner will have to ride and whistle.
What I would wish for in the future is that prior to the appointment of such people to such important posts, an arrangement is made for public involvement and engagement like civic bodies questioning the top two or three picks in a parliamentary setting.
So far, violent crime has proven itself immune to the naming of new commissioners of police and their stay in the office. We do not wish to see Mr Quallo relegated to a footnote of history because of that immunity.
We want him to succeed and to take us there with him.