John Mahfood | The ugly truth on crime
We have been plagued with the ugly monster of crime and violence in Jamaica since the early 1970s. In fact, I think that we should celebrate 2020 as the world-leading crime capital for half a century.
Initially, the crime problem was aided and abetted by our two political parties. Later on, they lost control of the criminals and, for the past 20 years, they have sought to bring it under control without success.
I remember speaking with Portia Simpson Miller when she led the PNP in her first election effort and asked her what was her plan to control crime. She said that as a woman, she would not allow more of her people to be killed needlessly, and this was her first priority. This sounded high-minded, but there was no mention of a plan. She won the election and things got worse under her leadership and successive governments.
Today, the Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party is about to introduce zones of special operations, but I am sure that no one in Jamaica has any confidence that this will work! We are getting numb to utterances from our leaders about crime-fighting efforts because we have lost all confidence in our leaders' ability to control crime. Even worse, we have become numb to the crime itself.
This week, one of my staff members was 'executed' with multiple shots to the head as he left work and waited for a bus. The reaction from me and our staff was sorrow, but gratitude that it was not one of us this time!
We feel that it could be any of us because you do not need to be a criminal to be chosen for execution!
We all see the numerous problems that contribute to the loss of control. To name a few:
- Lack of equipment and personnel in the police force.
- Inefficiency because everything is done manually, including taking statements.
- Rampant corruption in the police force.
- Mindless judges who allow simple cases to drag on and on, wasting precious time and worsening the case backlog.
- Incapable people in the judicial system who either refuse to prosecute cases or cannot win convictions.
- Inadequate penal institutions that are filled to capacity.
- Outdated laws that hamper the prosecution's effort.
These are just a few of the issues that come easily to mind. I am positive that over the many years that we have seen this growing cancer, there have been many studies that have identified the way forward, so I don't think that it's a lack of ideas that is the issue!
Obviously, to gain control of crime once and for all, it is going to take a massive effort, the type of which we have never undertaken in modern history. It has to be an all-out war on crime.
We must have massive reallocation of financial resources, radical reorganisation of our security and judicial systems, and major changes in our laws, some of which will impinge on our so-called rights and freedoms. Do we really have much rights and freedoms now? We have to hide behind grilles and under beds.
We are afraid of the security personnel. We are locked up in jail for a week or more without charges. We are afraid to go out at night. Visitors to Jamaica are locked in the all-inclusive hotels.
PRICE TO PAY
There will be a heavy price to pay for this, including heavy increase in taxes, significant reallocation of funds from education and health, reduction in the public sector, loss of personal liberties, etc.
This is the real issue: In order to wage an all-out war means huge sacrifices by all of us. This is what Britain and the US had to endure in the Second World War. But then, they were fighting a foreign enemy and it was easier to accept the sacrifices. We need to take the same approach. The only difference is that we are fighting an internal enemy. That is what happened in the US Civil War and this is what we are facing.
We need a complete change in our vision and communication by our leaders. We need a leader who can see the big picture and who is brave and confident enough to make it happen.
If we fail to once and for all do the right thing, Jamaica, as we know it, will not survive. The brightest among us will continue to leave. Tourists will stop coming to Jamaica. Foreign investment will dry up. Local businesses will either relocate or close. The economy will gradually decline and unemployment will increase.
Crime will rise to the point where it will be unsafe to go out day or night. Roving gangs of 20 or more will visit your homes and rape your children at will.
That is my vision of Jamaica in 20 years if we do not act now.