Editorial | Gang war ripening
There are some people who think that when gang members become engaged in turf wars and kill each other, it solves the problem of violence in a community. Montego Bay is bleeding from gang violence, which ought to give solace to none.
The head of the police Communications Unit, Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, suggested in an interview that the multiple murders occurring in the nation's Second City are not random but are mostly related to gang feuds. She said these killings are reprisals - in other words, murder for murder.
Here are her words: "Even as we speak to murder in Montego Bay, it is very important to say to persons who are not familiar with the space that if you go to Montego Bay, it is very unlikely that you are going to be targeted and killed. Most of these are confined within those gang spaces we know as hotspots and they are very well known to the security forces."
Alas, Superintendent Lindsay and, by extension, her colleagues in the brass of the JCF do not get it. Gangs and their nefarious activities affect everyone in a community and the wider society. Jamaica has about 300 gangs and they represent a substantial threat to public safety. The violence heaped on communities directly impacts businesses, drives away potential investors and customers, and innocents often get caught in the crossfire and add to the alarming crime statistics.
Gang members, usually in their teens and twenties, are an economic burden on the state. For example, the judicial resources expended on trying to apprehend and bring gang members to justice are not routinely recorded, so they are often overlooked. But our estimate is that crime is costing this country billions of dollars annually and gangs are responsible for a huge portion of this expense.
NO REAL STRATEGY TO FIGHT GANGS
For many years, the JCF and its assorted advisers have talked exhaustively about dismantling criminal gangs. There have been various initiatives to target gangs, with the latest being the introduction of zones of special operations (ZOSO). Superintendent Lindsay hinted that the police are aware of where these gangs operate and, presumably, they also know the leaders. However, the police do not appear to have any real strategy or mechanism to address gang violence. Within earshot of the established ZOSO, guns continue to bark with impunity.
Even as criminals are trading bullets, schoolchildren cower in fear and are kept away from school for their own safety. The result is that their education is disrupted by thugs who have claimed territory for their own. Though they may not be the direct targets of violence, transportation providers, shopkeepers, artisans and others feel the impact as their businesses are directly affected.
The cost of violence and the strain on the medical resources also add up. Gangs are dangerous as they are expensive to the country. Together with scores of dead bodies, there are sometimes severe injuries and long-term disabilities suffered by the victims who will seek attention at public health facilities.
So it's not just that gang members are engaged in acts of reprisals. It's not all right to watch from the sidelines as they kill each other. Their activities will have a lifelong effect on the character of a community.
If ever there was need for a comprehensive bipartisan solution to Jamaica's gang violence, it is now. This bloody October may be a harbinger of more carnage. The minister of national security must by now recognise that the recycling of commanding officers, curfews and increased military presence are not the answer in an environment where well-armed gang members are bolder than ever.