Editorial | Mass mobilisation against crime
Delroy Chuck is wrong. The establishment of these zones of special operations (ZOSO) won't significantly reduce crime in Jamaica. Certainly not in any sustainable fashion. And not of themselves. There is need for far more.
Which is not to suggest we don't endorse the Government's initiative. This newspaper supports any reasonable project to confront Jamaica's most pressing problem. However, resolving the crisis of crime demands far deeper concentration, greater coordination of effort and energy, and much better imagination than the Government has so far been able to muster.
So far in 2017, there have been nearly 1,300 homicides in Jamaica. Murders are up by more than a quarter, when compared to 2016. At this rate, there will be, by year end, around 1,700 homicides, or a rate of more than 63 per 100,000. That will surpass the peak of 2009, which was followed by three years of decline - in the wake of the Tivoli Gardens security operation - of a cumulative one-third.
The ZOSO law is intended to mimic the declaration of a state of emergency, but without the same sweeping powers to limit constitutional rights. Security forces are supposed to go into an area declared a ZOSO, clear it of criminals, and keep them out while state agencies engage in infrastructure development and social intervention. In that respect, it has similarities to a programme used in the favelas of Rio, which this newspaper commended to the Jamaican Government.
OVERSELLING THE INITIATIVE
Prime Minister Andrew Holness described the ZOSO law as an "appropriate response" to an "urgent problem", while Mr Chuck, in helping to guide the legislation through Parliament, called it "one of the most important and effective crime-fighting tools yet", which he expected to play a role in putting criminals "on the run". Though not in the same hyperbolic terms, Mr Chuck, in a speech last week, was touting the capacity of ZOSO.
We had warned the administration against overselling the initiative, which is apparent from last month's declaration of the first ZOSO in the community of Mount Salem, Montego Bay. Mount Salem is largely quiet, but the rest of Montego Bay and the parish of St James, of which it is the capital, continue to be wracked by violence. Over the last 10 days, up to last Wednesday, the city recorded 21 murders. St James, the country's most murderous parish, has already reported more than 270 murders. But criminal violence is not limited to St James.
Its solution, we expect, will include initiatives like ZOSO, but a really effective and sustainable reduction to crime has to start elsewhere. Two things, in this regard, are necessary.
The first is for the Government, in particular the prime minister, to have a profoundly held understanding that crime is beyond a problem, having become a deep crisis that is pushing Jamaica to the realm of anarchy. Having come to this realisation, the prime minister has to pull together the best minds, wherever they can be found, to work out the short-, medium- and long-term strategies - including the overhaul of an incompetent and corrupt police force - and the creative deployment of all available resources.
The second, and in some respects more important, of the prime minister's and Government's undertaking, has to be the mobilisation of the Jamaican people to this cause, in a way that hasn't happened for any issue before, and certainly not since the 1970s when Michael Manley was driving consensus around democratic socialism. In other words, Prime Minister Holness has to bring extraordinary leadership to bear on this crisis. He has to see it in terms of Churchill and wartime Britain.