Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Editorial | Launch Violence Prevention Commission now

Published:Tuesday | October 13, 2020 | 12:13 AM

There is no need for reminders about the prevalence of criminal violence in Jamaica. They are there anyway.

On Sunday, for instance, this newspaper reported that in the seven months since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in early March, more than 700 people have been murdered in Jamaica. The quarantines, community lockdowns, and other measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus may have had their desired effect on that front but with little impact, it seems, on the perpetrators of criminal violence. On the current trajectory, despite a 1.7 per cent decline in homicides so far this year, compared to 2019, murders are likely to end 2020 in the 1,300 range. Jamaica will maintain its homicide rate of around 47 per 100,000, keeping it in the top tier of murderous nations.

These figures should be a fillip for the Government, working with societal partners to fast-track, and where possible, advance the implementation of key undertakings in the national consensus on crime, signed in August with the political Opposition, private-sector groups, and civil society organisations. Among the more important points of concurrence was the need for a National Violence Prevention Commission (VPC), to operate independently, using “empirical research”, and in consultation with communities, to make recommendations for community renewal and development programmes that are “aligned to the reduction of violence in Jamaica”.

NO REASON FOR DELAY

This commission is to be in place by the end of the second quarter of next year. That is too far from now and too long since the August 3 date of the signing of the pact. There is no fundamental reason – except if the security minister, Horace Chang, maintains his declared aversion to community-intervention projects – for the delay.

Already, there are basic infrastructure templates, international case studies, and best practices in place upon which the VPC can be modelled. More important, Jamaica has sufficient thoughtful analyses of what are its problems and what is to be done to overcome them. What is now required is a concerted, long-term, multisectoral approach to implementing the solutions rather than the searches for the magic-wand fixes that too often presume the need for suspension of people’s rights.

With respect to the VPC, the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ) Community Renewal Programme (CRP), whose current projects should be enveloped into the work of the commission, would provide an excellent secretariat for the initiative.

In operation for nearly a decade, the CRP works in 100 volatile communities in the parishes of St James, Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, and Clarendon on physical transformation and youth and social-justice initiatives. The CRP, however, has lacked the money for sustained investment on the scale required in the targeted communities. In any event, we are not convinced that the PIOJ should be engaged in the project-delivery phases of these interventions. What the institute has, and is designed to do, is the research and analytical capabilities that would make it exceedingly useful in delivering empirical information upon which the VPC would rely, as conceived by the consensus agreement.

VPC WOULD BENEFIT

The VPC would benefit immediately, too, from the ongoing efforts of the Elizabeth Ward-led Violence Prevention Alliance, which is part of a global network of groups and agencies, allied with the World Health Organization (WHO), that takes a public health, epidemiological approach to addressing societal violence. The system works. Jamaica, if it so requires, can access the case studies on Cali, Colombia, as well as guidance through the WHO’s reports on health and violence.

The VPC and the Government also have access to the work on Jamaica’s crisis of criminal violence by Anthony Clayton, professor on sustainable development at The University of West Indies (UWI), Mona, and Herbert Gayle, the social anthropologist and public intellectual, who also teaches at UWI, Mona.

The Government has made a passing sweep into the concept of dispersing criminals and engaging communities with its zones of special operations schemes. These have largely faltered while the Government, as its primary anti-crime policy, reached for full-fledged states of public emergency. Three years ago, in one of a series of articles in The Gleaner addressing the problem of violence, Dr Gayle observed: “Once the homicide rate surpasses 30 per 100,000, it requires luck and extreme muscle to get positive results within a five-year cycle from the application of force. For instance, the Tivoli invasion was so massive that it created a trench in homicides between 2010 and 2014 ... yet, the 2015 and 2016 homicide data show that pre-Tivoli violence is again our reality.”

It still is. Clearly, it needs far more than states of emergency or jackbooted policing to fix the problem. Initiatives like the proposed VPC are an obvious part of the solution.