Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Horace Levy | Band-Aid over bloodshed

Published:Tuesday | July 31, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The issue at hand, in the matter of violent crime is the correctness of the policy of prolonged public emergencies that the Government is pursuing. Since this policy is largely based on reduced murders of 65 per cent in St James and 13.2 per cent for the entire island (as of July 14 by police statistics), it is critical to closely examine all the relevant numbers.

First, then, to the fewer murders in St James should be added the 18.6 per cent reduction in the western parishes of Hanover, Trelawny, Westmoreland, St Ann, St Elizabeth, and Manchester, another positive gain.

Second, more comprehensive statistics show elsewhere, namely in all the eastern parishes, not a decline, but an increase in murders. In what the police call the Metro, the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine, after taking out Kingston Western and St Catherine North, the areas impacted by a ZOSO and an SOE, the increase is 11 per cent.

In the rural parishes of St Mary, Portland, St Thomas, and Clarendon, the increase is 18.2 per cent. These are major increases, and though the numbers are small in three of the rural parishes, the trend there is alarming.

Third, it should be noted that the overall 13.2 per cent reduction is the result solely of the 103 fewer murders in St James, but it succeeds in masking the 63 climb in murders in the eastern parishes, a number smaller than the St James reduction but not insignificant.

Fourth, what gives these numbers even greater importance, relating as they do to an entire half of the country, is the declared central plank of Government's actual strategy. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, from early, declared: violent crime is to be tackled "community by community", parish by parish. The tackling, as it turns out, is by police and soldiers, by repression.

So two ZOSOs and two SOEs are regularly extended - to the delight of their residents - and the murder-reduction benefits are trumpeted. The 'social intervention', the only solution that addresses sources and is lasting, is very superficial, a 'face card'.

 

WE SHOULD BE GRATEFUL

 

In the meantime, however, the fact that most of the people of seven parishes, half of our population, are made to suffer grievously is glossed over. And we are quietly being led to accept that since murders in a few places are fewer, 1,200-plus murders this year is a level we should be grateful for.

What is prompting Mr Holness to pursue a path that will continue so much suffering for so many is the question that naturally arises. While I am not positioned to know, there is the persuasive view, expressed by a cynical friend, that it's just a numbers game and that since the party's current popularity is up, a change of course would only distract from the preparations to start within a few months for the really pressing matter of the next general election.

It is a view reinforced by (1) Holness' apparent reversion to the autocratic tradition that ruled the JLP for decades and that Bruce Golding broke with for a few short years, and (2) brazen partisanship.

It is plain where the Government stands. Not so the PNP. The PNP complains, raising cost, clearly unhappy with the exclusive reliance on repression. Some leaders know the alternative that includes tackling community deprivation and at-risk youth opportunities. But in the end, they tag lamely along with JLP policy.

Prompting this position appears to this outsider to be not principle, but fear of losing further ground to JLP popularity - partisan politics really.

PNP members engage in competition for the purely status vice-presidential positions. To those outside of the party, this is a ridiculous exercise, squandering political capital at a time when the country faces many serious issues, including those of murder and public emergencies.

Both parties desperately need to talk and listen to people outside of their closed circles.

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