Thu | May 24, 2018

Editorial | In a state of anarchy | Taking the fight to evil

Published:Friday | January 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Backed into a corner by the rising wave of murders, the Holness administration had few cards left to play besides a state of emergency. If the Government had twiddled its fingers much longer, the parish of St James would have been swamped in a tsunami of blood.

But despite this, we commend Prime Minister Holness for being sufficiently seized of the gravity of dysfunction and bedlam in the northwest parish to pursue "firm and resolute measures" to staunch the bloodletting. Effectively, St James has become the epitome of the anarchy into which Jamaica has plunged.

Charles Sinclair, the government senator and councillor in the St James Municipal Corporation, must feel vindicated after lobbying for a state of emergency in the parish for nearly two years.

That appeal met resistance from the police force, government officials and, particularly, the hotel interests, who argued that such intervention would be bad for business and that streets teeming with soldiers and police would mar tourists' view of Jamaica as an idyllic island paradise.

Kicking the can down the road, however, has resulted in St James plumbing new depths with a record 335 murders in 2017. Much of this violence is linked to internecine gang wars, the lottery scam, and the smuggling of drugs and guns, but its tentacles have had the effect of spreading widespread fear, panic even, among law-abiding citizens who sometimes find themselves unwitting casualties.

A fatal shooting this week near Sangster International Airport, gateway to the tourist Mecca, might have been the final straw. That incident was preceded last week by the issuance to Americans of a reformatted travel advisory by the United States Department of State, which has, perhaps, jolted the hospitality sector and other captains of industry into realising that the resort city Montego Bay cannot be insulated from the violence outside the towering walls of all-inclusive hotels.

Indeed, it is this same apathy and somnolence that allowed Tivoli Gardens to develop, conversely, as a state within a state - until it was brought to a head when Christopher Coke and his band of home-grown terrorists challenged the integrity of the Government in 2010.

 

A VIGOROUS CAMPAIGN

 

While jackbooted military might could curb the deadly violence in St James, that will not be a panacea for the dysfunction that typifies many of the communities that serve as incubators for the killing machines. The law-abiding critical mass in Montego Bay and its environs must band together and give the Government and the security forces the help they need in bringing to heel a culture of violence. That will involve a vigorous campaign by civil society, including the Church, to encourage residents and business people to unveil the criminals, including their sponsors and facilitators who lurk in the shadows. Reveal what you know.

The Church, the acclaimed largest army of do-gooders, should also partner with the security forces and welfare agencies in undertaking initiatives to resocialise neighbourhoods that have been acculturated. This will include sustained interfacing with mainly marginalised, poor, and unemployed folk, including welfare and workshops and other critical support on parenting and dispute resolution.

The business sector, too, has a role to play in complementing police-military action on the ground. Come forward with specific initiatives and tangible skill and empowerment programmes to reorient poor, young, black boys and men who are too often easy recruits to gangs.

The security forces should tighten the dragnet at bordering parishes to catch the fleeing perpetrators of evil, and the Government ought to enlist foreign help, if necessary, to put crime on a permanent retreat.

A comprehensive and multiplatform challenge to the purveyors of mayhem can reclaim St James from its murderous madness.