Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Editorial | In a State of Anarchy | The dark and twisted paradox

Published:Tuesday | January 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The USA has, on average, three mass shootings a year. The deadliest so far happened just three months ago, in October 2017, when 58 people were killed and more than 500 wounded by a single gunman in Las Vegas. All these mass shootings are reported around the world, because people are shocked and horrified at the random killing of innocents.

In Jamaica, the level of violence is 10 times higher than in the USA. Yet this slaughter goes largely unnoticed by the world.

One reason for this is that all attempts to reduce the level of violence in Jamaica have failed; the homicide rate in 2017 was almost back to the level it reached in 2009, Jamaica's worst-ever year. The killing now grinds on relentlessly, day and night, averaging about four murders every 24 hours. Many Jamaicans have lapsed into cynical despair. They no longer believe that our politicians are able or willing to solve the problem. In fact, many of them believe that politicians are part of the problem. As a result, they no longer vote and have disengaged from the political process, which means that self-serving, corrupt politicians can operate with even more impunity. We are in a state of anarchy.

Another reason is that many Jamaicans are still able to lead relatively normal lives. Most of the violence is concentrated in a few areas, where the rate of killing is three to five times higher than the national average.

People who do not live in those communities are much less likely to be affected. So many middle-class Jamaicans today appear to be willing to live in a country with appalling levels of violence, as long as it does not spill out from the ghettos and affect them or their families. They seem oblivious to our state of anarchy.

A third reason is that most of Jamaica's decision-makers the political, legal and business elite live in gated communities, or have personal security, and are, therefore, protected from the sea of violence that is drowning the rest of the nation.

But for those who live in the troubled communities, life has become a nightmare. Some of these neighbourhoods are now among the deadliest places in the world. In the parish of St James, the rate of killing is now almost six times higher than in the government-controlled areas of Afghanistan. Most of this killing occurs in the informal settlements in the Montego Hills above the tourist hotels and beaches. Fortunately, the tourists don't know that they are looking at Jamaica's killing fields, or else they might stop coming to Jamaica. Soon they might.

The dark and twisted paradox that lies at the heart of life in Jamaica today is that we know the solutions to violence, but we do not want to apply them.


Looking outward


Other countries have shown the way. With a combination of more effective policing, fast and efficient justice, and social reform, Colombia reduced its national homicide rate by 53 per cent in six years, while Rio de Janeiro in Brazil decreased its murder rate by 43 per cent in seven years.

However, the champion is Jamaica, which reduced its national homicide rate by nearly 40 per cent in one year. This was one of the largest and most rapid declines in the rate of homicide ever recorded.

The transformation started with the Tivoli operation in May 2010, which led to the extradition of Christopher Coke and the normalisation of Tivoli Gardens.

This significantly degraded the most powerful criminal organisation in Jamaica, demoralised the remaining gangs, and resulted in the killings or arrests of many of the main violence producers in Jamaica. Most of the decline in the homicide rate occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Tivoli operation, i.e., between 2010 and 2011. There was a 37 per cent fall in the number of homicides from the 2009 peak, the equivalent of 621 fewer deaths, which is over eight times more than the number who died in Tivoli in May 2010.

Why, then, did we not continue with the process of normalisation until every troubled community in the land had been brought out of the darkness of fear and violence?

Do we lack courage or resolve? Or is it that the shadowy figures who benefit from the proceeds of crime are too powerful?