Fri | Nov 27, 2020

Mark Wignall | Learning from the Tivoli template

Published:Wednesday | July 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM

In that extremely unique slice of a moment in May 2010, just before the security forces breached the barricades and forced their way into Tivoli Gardens, there must have been at least one man in the command structure asking himself what happens after the clear and hold.

As a man with an appreciation for the divisions of labour and responsibility in this country, he could have reasoned that his sole job was to deal with the immediate threat of violence and to put it down. To maintain the peace would have to be left up to the politicians and specialist technocrats.

And if significant percentages of those in the general population wanted to buy into a share of the ownership of that longer-term plan, then so would all of us be the better off for it.

It may not be entirely fair on my part to bring comparisons between Tivoli in May 2010 and plans around the special zones security initiatives. Tivoli Gardens, as the most heavily armed and organised garrison pocket in the island for many years, had always been an incubator of violence and exporter of same, while fighting violent crime nationally in 2017 must take into consideration its wider dispersion into all parishes.


Easily broken


Surprising to the criminal elements inside the West Kingston constituency in 2010, the barricades were easily broken down and, unsurprisingly, wholesale state-sponsored violence was waged right across the board. On gunman and citizen. What else was there left for an army to do? Chant the national anthem?

As a result of the superior violence by the state, the criminals went into a mix of fleeing, caving, and fighting, but mostly yielding to the state. Clear and hold came at the steepest of prices - loss of multiple lives.

Let us not delude ourselves into the belief that when the security forces enter troubled areas, they will not be intent on pushing fear into the hearts of armed gunmen. Essential to that is superior violence, and we saw how Jamaica's criminal community responded to it in 2010. This, of course, must never be seen as an excuse for the state to begin shooting down, people but at some stage there will be bodies.

Apart from the state plainly not knowing how to deal with a troubled community like Tivoli/Denham Town after a clear-and-hold situation, seven years later there are also angry teenagers who were young adolescents then. That they have access to guns is obvious. That they are presently uncontrollable is a nightmare.

The third tranche in the special zones push is the build aspect. Based on the lack of resources, much of that 'build' will be more of fostering community spirit and understanding instead of, say, providing community latrines.


Obvious reminder


We have been reminded of the obvious. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is short of about 3,000 men and women. With that deficit, and being told by the commissioner that staffing constraints will reduce the force to only two communities at any one time, we begin to see the difficulties that will come with trying to layout the 'build' ideal as it moves from small town to big community.

The ferocity of state-sponsored violence in 2010 had driven significant fear into the vitals of the criminal community. I am not so sure that that same level of fear exists in the hearts of this latest crop of desperadoes.

The only rational approach in outfitting the build scenario is to move significant numbers of the law-abiding into wanting to reclaim their little neck of the woods. They will have to be reassured that when they call the police emergency number, they are responded to and not rejected because they 'come from dung so'.

Extracting those who are unafraid to spill blood will have to be effected directly, that is, by raw police action and intelligence, but the police and the army will have to gain new ground in the trust factor and increased reliability among the wider community.

Not many are in the mood to harshly criticise the initiatives even though we have to bear in the mind the possibility that as resources run out, the energy to implement the plan may wane.

Then we will be forced to build mostly on hope.