Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Horace Levy | St James emergency derailed

Published:Friday | April 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Horace Levy

I am in agreement with Arlene Harrison Henry, the public defender, that the state of public emergency in St James should be ended rapidly.

First, the public emergency is being used to justify detentions on a mass scale, which is a serious violation of human rights. The length of time that the young people are detained, the conditions of their detention, the damage it does to their lives in loss of jobs, and the pain it causes them and to families, these add up to gross injustice.

If this continues, we would have to accuse the prime minister of hypocrisy, of lying. He called on the security forces to respect rights. He asserted that the rights were being respected.

The fact is, however, that from the beginning, and in the face of repeated exposure, there has been gross violation of rights by mass detention. Of the more than 1,700 young people detained, only a small fraction deserving of it have been kept back for further investigation. The absence of preparation to keep detainees in decent conditions reveals a deliberate don't-care approach from the outset.

This further means that the State has not valued the West Kingston Commission's condemnation of the mass detention of more than 4,000 that occurred in the Tivoli incursion of May 2010. It is repeating the same useless and cowardly behaviour of the security forces.

Second, there is a serious need to address murder elsewhere. The murder rate islandwide is still four per day. Sharp increases of 11 and 12 per cent in Clarendon and Westmoreland, and of 253 per cent in St Andrew South, are clamouring for attention. And I have picked parishes and divisions where not just the percentages, but the actual numbers, are very high - 41, 47 and 60 murders, January 1 to April 14.




Of course, some Montegonians, the big business (not small) people, want the state of emergency to continue; they feel safe. But ending the emergency need not mean abandoning the parish to the previous rampant actions of gangs. No. The security forces must continue their control of main thoroughfares and their manning of the various entries to Montego Bay. They should by now have sufficient information on the more volatile communities to be able to keep them stable, so mobile squads should remain and be active.

Third, emergency powers further entrench the wrong approach to policing and detentions that the constabulary has practised over the years. The rule that the police consistently ignore is that detention must be carried out on the basis of a reasonable suspicion. It means that just scraping up every young man in an area is in violation of this rule.

My basic message is that another year of 1,616 murders is not acceptable. Neither is a year of 1,500 murders, nor of 1,300, 1,100, 1,000, nor 800. These are not just numbers. They are our Jamaican people's lives we are talking about.

It means that effective and immediate action islandwide is needed. This calls for a different strategy that relies not solely on repression, which 56 years of practice have demonstrated to have failed. The strategy must incorporate serious prevention, not the 'face card' we have in the present ZOSOs. The latest homicides in Denham Town, which are not the first, show up their failure. It is time to admit failure.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights lobbyist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and halpeace.levy78@gmail.com.