Peter Espeut | Wanted: a new normal
When a festering sore requires radical treatment, a Band-Aid won't help. Sometimes applying inappropriate treatment to a chronic problem makes the condition worse. It all depends upon how insightful the diagnosis is.
Jamaica suffers from an epidemic of crime and violence. This is not a problem of ordinary proportions, calling for ordinary textbook solutions. Recently, we had the highest per-capita murder rate in the world (we have probably fallen in the global ranking to two or three). Gangs linked with the two major political parties are everywhere, and they thrive and spread by collecting extortion on their turf (hence they have to defend their turf from compet-ing extortionists). We are the world capital of lottery scamming.
In the past, our analysis of the crime and violence problem was naÔve and self-serving. The problem (we argued) was just a few out-of-order young men. The solution was, therefore, to catch them, and kill them, and voila! Problem solved! Operat-ions in this plantation called Jamaica could, therefore, continue in peace.
So we armed the police and sent them out to "read no beatitudes" to the criminals, and soon we had the highest rate of police killings in the world. And the more murders we 'cleared up' by dispatching the alleged perpetrators, the higher the murder rate went. Either the police killed the wrong people, or Jamaican society generates and incubates violent and murderous people faster than we can exterminate them.
Plantation Jamaica has been consistent in dealing with this problem of out-of-order mal-contents for centuries. In 1760, when Prince Tacky led a slave rebellion in St Mary, troops and militia were called out to suppress it (at that time Jamaica had no police force); it was the Scott's Hall Maroons who brought it to an end: Maroon Captain Davy shot Tacky dead, and the Maroons roasted and ate his heart and entrails. Jamaica slave society went back to normal.
Suppress Xmas rebellion
Troops and militia were called out to suppress Sam Sharpe's Christmas Rebellion of 1831 (Jamaica still had no police force). Maroons from Moore Town and Charles Town offered their services to bring the rebellion to an end, and in January 1832, a number of them were transported from Port Antonio to Falmouth by ship to join the Accompong Maroons to bring the rebellion to an end. The Maroons killed a number of the rebels, and Sam Sharpe and many of his band were caught and executed. Jamaican slave society went back to normal.
The end of slavery did not lead to the social peace plantation owners wanted, and when Baptist deacon Paul Bogle led a protest against the biased legal system of the day, it escalated into a "notorious riot", and troops and militia were called out to suppress it (Jamaica still had no police force). The Hayfield Maroons captured Bogle at Torrington, St Thomas, and handed him over to the authorities. The next day he was court-martialled and hanged. Jamaican plantation society returned to normal.
In the aftermath of the Morant Bay Rebellion, the colonial authorities established the paramilitary Jamaica Constabu-lary Force to keep the natives in order. Despite special squads (like Eradication and S-90), the JCF has not proved to be as effective as the Maroons in dealing with persons seeking to disrupt the normality of plantation society.
In 1834-1838, the system by which the labour of Jamaicans was exploited was altered. Normal property relations in Jamaican society were not disturbed; in fact, those who owned the plantations were compensated for the loss of their human property, while those who had been the victims of slavery were given nothing! Normal political relations in Jamaican society were not disturbed, since the right to vote was based upon the amount of property owned, the powerless slaves were now free, but still powerless.
The formerly enslaved were so divorced from the ownership of property capable of producing wealth that 180 years later, the great majority of their descendants have known only persistent poverty.
We must understand Jamaica's problem of crime and violence as protest against the structural inequality woven into the fabric of Jamaican society. Therefore, the only enduring solution to the problem is to create a new normal. The Government's ZOSO strategy is a baby step in the right direction.
But this will not be enough. What is required is social change - the creation of a new Jamaica, wherein the injustices of the past are redressed.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to email@example.com.