Fri | Sep 25, 2020

Horace Levy | Operation Scapegoat

Published:Tuesday | October 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Horace Levy

Both Dr Horace Chang’s denunciation of social intervention failure in St James over 20 years and the October 3, 2019 Gleaner editorial’s acceptance of a similar failure in August Town suffer from a fundamental misconception based on inaccurate data. Neither Peace Management Initiative, East and West, distinct organisations established at different times with different leaderships, methods and funding, was ever charged with ending criminal violence, the kind that brought murders to more than 300 in St James in 2017 and increases elsewhere. That is the responsibility of the security forces, massively funded at $92.6 billion this year, while subventions to the two PMIs annually total about a meagre $100 million.

The PMI’s mission was to head off the community violence that was being waged, as it turned out, between crews of young delinquents defending their communities (at that time, now passed) from partisan political motives. PMI East succeeded reasonably well in its task. The situation in Jones Town, Duhaney Park, Mountain View (in spite of a recent flare-up) and several other communities is miles removed from what it was 15 years ago. PMI West was initially less impactful but has picked up in the last four years. PMI work runs alongside regular police efforts, and their joint input has records of achievement.

So if Chang is looking for a culprit for the failure in St James to bring criminal murders down between 1997 and 2017, he must look to the police force. He must tell us why it took pressure from the US, in defence of its citizens against Jamaican scammers, before Jamaica’s Government began to deal seriously with that problem. He must tell us why it took his administration the entire 2017, murders piling up to 300-plus, to finally declare the state of emergency (SOE) in January 2018.

Chang must explain something else. We all accept that the SOE was highly successful in 2018. But he must now explain how its extensions still leave the murder level this year higher than last year.

The Gleaner editorial of October 3, 2019, cites the CAPRI studies of August Town and Montego Bay, and perhaps Chang, too, is relying on CAPRI data. They are being misled. I have high regard for CAPRI’s work generally, and the August Town study contains some good material, reflecting very hard work. However, as I discussed with the CAPRI team, it falls down in critical respects.

A mistaken conclusion

The conclusion that there was no evidence that social intervention had a significant impact on the crime situation in August Town is mistaken. It is based on an excessive esteem for, and reliance on, quantitative data, the raw number of homicides especially, over the qualitative, which often explains the numbers. Thus, in a pivotal line of argument, the study exaggerates the importance of the fall in numbers to zero in 2016 and their surge back in 2017. It then fails to recognise their domestic dispute origins, mistakenly crediting them instead to a return of gang members just released from prison. No such return occurred, according to a very reliable source. But this sequence plays an important part in the study’s conclusion.

Insufficiently taking the qualitative into account, the study overlooks, for example, the significant psychological impact of the 2008 peace agreement on the people of the community and their consequent behaviour. It does not take into full account the effect of periods of employment on murder levels, or the testimony of those working for peace about the lack of resources and its severe effect on their work, forcing PMI’s withdrawal for a period, for example.

Dr Chang’s slap in the face of civil society and their social interventions was possibly his way of emphasising the necessity for SOE extensions and for state interventions.

But intended or not, it has the effect of declaring an unwelcome exclusivity towards the rest of society, as well as perhaps Government’s social services.

Horace Levy is a member of the Peace Management Initiative. Email feedback to and