Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Bernard Headley | What's with this hang-up on 'crime plan’?

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Bernard Headley

Those of us who have been around the block a time or two are quite familiar with the theatricality of Senator K.D. Knight. We have for more than five decades been amazed, bedazzled and certainly entertained by his wit, witticism and sheer political thespianism.

However, on Thursday, March 29, in his contribution to the Upper House deliberations on the Andrew Holness administration's anti-crime proposals, Mr Knight may have acted up on a stage too far. He gave grudging support to the Government's anti-crime proposals, but he then threatened to "rouse" with agitprops his opposition People's National Party's minions into rebellious action (the 'language of the unheard'), should the Government fail to bring forth in weeks a "crime plan".

It would be a remarkable accomplishment if my admirable friend, K.D, were to infuse his stagecraft with a measure of critical thinking.

So why this fixation on a crime plan? We have experimented and implemented, over the past 55 years of our Independence, innumerable crime plans as means for containing our insistent crime problem. All the crime plans that we have implemented since the 1960s have had as their central organising idea the false notion that our crime situation is unidimensional, linear, episodic, isolatable and epidemiological. In light of which, our crime-reduction strategies have been, for the most part, reflexively straightforward, and mechanical.


Fowl thief phenomenon


We have thus, in our crime plans, implemented numerous cordons sanitaires, sanctioned countless kick-down-door missions, and dispatched endless search-and-destroy police 'death squads'. All to no avail!

We have, in other words, simplified our crime dilemma into a fowl thief phenomenon. The six or so PowerPoint plan that we then devise for dealing with the fowl thief is: (a) construct sturdier and more secure fowl coops; (b) increase lighting and other surveillance devices, perhaps enhancing with closed-circuit TV; (c) hire or increase security guard personnel; and (d) instruct the guards to aim firepower in the direction from whence they may have heard the outburst: "Ain't nobody here but us chickens."

To take the point further, having in the past viewed our crime situation as, say, an illegal gun- and drug-trafficking problem, we've purchased (with international assistance) expensive, faster 'go-fast' vessels - faster than the Colombians'. We have, in addition, invested in technologically advanced scanning equipment at our airports.

And finally, to curb wanton murder and our ganglord and badman problem, we have sent in to get them the toughest of our toughest in the Jamaica Constabulary Force - our 'Trinity' Gardners, 'Bigga' Fords and Reneto Adamses - to show them who is the baddest. Still, regardless of all these, our desperate crime situation persists and even worsens.

My hope is that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government are taking their time to systematically, comprehensively and compassionately understand and dissect the complexity of our crime problem, and not hastily come up with some simplistic and tedious 'crime plan'. I truly hope that they are bringing the weight of their collective wisdom to see that our crime problem stems from the structural deficits of our society, the one that Great Britain in 1962 gave us full charge to create.


Not a law-enforcement problem


Crime and violence are not for us 'outbreaks'. They are not episodic. We do not suffer from 'crime waves' or 'crime surges'. We instead live constantly with high crime, the threat of crime and daily violence. Rather than stemming from discrete, epidemiological forces, our crime problem is interwoven, organically embedded and bound up within the Jamaican social order.

If we were to be intellectually honest about the true causes of our crime dilemma, we would see them as intrinsic to arrangements of discrimination, exclusion, dispossession and urban drift, underprepared and dysfunctional institutions, underdevelopment, partisan political thuggery and warlordism, persistent poverty and persistent backwardness.

If Mr Holness and his Jamaica Labour Party Government are truly wise, they would see that treating with crime resides less in the Ministry of National Security and more in their ministries that deal with planning and development, industry, education, and labour. Even the progressive, embraceable, but still mostly rhetorical, 'weed-pacify-and-seed' initiative still borders on the myopic.

Producing successive generations of youth who can, with equal delight, slit throats as they can make babies (reproducing futuristic clones of themselves) is not a law-enforcement problem, one that can be treated or remedied by a policing 'crime plan'.

- Bernard Headley is a retired professor of criminology at the UWI, Mona. Among other books, he is the author of the Howard University Press classic, 'The Jamaican Crime Scene'. Email feedback to and