Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | Phillips right on principle

Published:Saturday | December 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The People's National Party (PNP) will not win public support for its recent decision to not vote in favour for the extension of the states of emergency (SOE) in parts of St James and St Catherine, but it will go down in history for taking a principled stand on the matter.

On December 11, 2018, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips announced in Parliament that "we do not need a state of emergency to feel safe" and that though it has voted favourably in the past, it cannot at this time "support a further extension".

The PNP said that while crime and violence is still high and people's safety and security are still threatened daily, the conditions that warranted the declaration of a state of emergency no longer exist.

As expected, many Jamaicans are upset about their decision, especially those who are public commentators on these national issues. The only people who might be on the PNP's side on this is the handful of bleeding-heart liberals who call themselves human-rights activists. It appears that the 'well-thinking Jamaicans' are not so well-thinking after all, since they cannot be rational about the kinds of measures that should be used to arrest and control crime and violence in our country.

Understandably, criminals have made us so fearful that we have become prisoners in our homes and communities. It makes sense that people would want the State to drive fear into criminals and flex its muscles with paramilitary operations.

Many will, therefore, not understand the Opposition's decision (or care to) because we have been treated with encouraging data about reduction in homicides in the parishes where the state of emergency has been instituted for the past year. The Peace Management Initiative (PMI) has, however, shared that "Kingston Central Police Division is experiencing a near 70 per cent reduction in murders without a SOE".

It's particularly concerning that we have become so accustomed to a particular type of policing - lots of boots on the ground with heavy weapons and people's rights and freedoms being infringed (sometimes?) as a way to address crime and violence, especially the high rates of murders in our country.

 

Keep the checkpoints

 

Phillips is absolutely right. The State can still keep the checkpoints in the communities, even after the SOE comes to an end. The same number of police and soldiers can be in the area and saturate communities without the SOE. There can be curfews for days, charges can still be brought against anyone who is part of a gang, and those suspected of criminal activities can be arrested.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force Act or the ZOSO Act can be used to cordon off any area and the police can deny assembly like dances, parties and nine-nights. As Phillips said, "The only thing you cannot do is arrest citizens, and hold them indefinitely, deny them access to the courts or any hearing, and keep them without constitutional challenges."

The PMI has said that "effective policing [and] deployment of PMI violence interrupters have made a significant difference" in communities where they work. But that kind of soft measure is neither publicly desirous (the most recent LAPOP survey shows that very well) or politically expedient. Peter Phillips and his team should definitely be commended for doing what is unpopular.

I think it might be worth our while to interrogate why there is such a national consensus for measures such as a state of emergency to deal with crime and violence? Why do police officers seemingly feel so powerless and require such measures to implement their duties to protect and serve?

Preserving citizen safety and security does not hinge on the declaration of a state of emergency, zone of special operations, or allowing for arrests without charge for longer periods. All concerned parties must appreciate this simple fact.

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