Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | A state of emergency, then what?

Published:Saturday | January 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica Defence Force soldiers on patrol under the state of emergency in St James on January 18.

There is something distressing about a state that inherited a paramilitary-style police force from its colonial masters and is seemingly resigned in herding its citizens like cattle, and (sometimes?) infringing upon their rights and freedoms as the most appropriate and only way to deal with difficult and persistent issues.

Bleeding-heart liberals like me who champion human rights and social justice are often suspicious of these measures because of how they are implemented. We are also acutely aware that they do not generally result in much change, if any, and certainly not in a sustained way.

Those of us who sanction a state of emergency, for example, and believe it is justifiable because of the state of affairs should interrogate our support for these interventions. Have you considered that had there not been high levels of inaction and piecemeal approaches when Government acted, we, quite possibly, wouldn't have to live in such fear?




I don't deny that a state of emergency is possibly the only thing to make us, the people in St James especially, feel a little safer (as the presence of security forces is comforting for some of us), but what happens after the state of emergency? What happens after we scare criminals and murderers away for a couple of days or weeks? Will they return to perpetrate reprisals against their enemies and commit crime and violence against others while we pat each other on the back for having driven fear into them?

Would we have arrested and charged the perpetrators of crime and violence? Would we increase the clear-up rate for murders? Or would it simply be another case where innocent citizens are left feeling terrorised by the State (again!)?

Glenroy Murray, policy and advocacy manager at J-FLAG, asked a critical question on Facebook: "Why [is it that] effective policing can't be done outside of repressive frames of special zones or states of emergency? A wah so bout policing make police can't solve nutten unless dem have special powers? Is the system so inherently defunct that our only recourse is special procedures, and, if so, we rightly recognise these interventions as part an endless cycle and in that space, of course, ghetto people will want effective state protection if it can only come in these repressive frames?"

With 6,335 murders in the last five years (2017 being the highest, with 1,616) and only 25 per cent of them being cleared up (i.e., someone was charged or killed in relation to a murder), our resolve must be more than scaring criminals away. We need to catch them, charge them, and, important, convict them. That must be our focus.

The surety of justice and being held accountable for the wrongs, as fellow bleeding-heart liberal Susan Goffe from Jamaicans For Justice has said time and time again, is paramount.

If you look at the number of murders in the last 10 years, it raises one critical question: What did we do between 2010 when murders were 1,428 (down from 1,680 in 2009) and 2014 when it was 1,005 (down from 1,200 in 2013 - the lowest since 2003 when it was 975)? What did we learn? Why were we unable to sustain the gains? What are we not doing now that we were doing back then that could help arrest crime and violence, which is wreaking havoc across the country?

On average, more than three persons have been murdered per day in the last five years. How do we make our communities safer? Can we do so without resorting to operations like these to restore order, peace, security, and safety? What do we say to and do for our children who grow up in and around these situations? How do we create hope for them and the country at large?

The Government must ensure that what it does will result in the kind of improvements we need, and that while conducting these operations, it is neither reckless in its actions nor does it abrogate, abridge, and infringe upon the rights of citizens.

Grants Pen and August Town in St Andrew are communities that we should study. They demonstrate that if the State takes the necessary actions, and if all the stakeholders - religious leaders, politicians, police, organisations, residents, etc - work collectively, we can achieve so much.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human-rights and economic and social-justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.