Orville Taylor: Crime: We all own the John Crow‘s egg
'When you fly at the level of eagles, you have no time for the John Crows who fly below.' The problem with that statement is that it is fraught with a major misconception. Vultures fly much higher than eagles and are the world's highest-flying birds. The Griffen vulture has been recorded at 11,300 metres and our own John Crow flies just above 6,000 metres, while the iconic American bald eagle maxes out around 4,500 metres.
This is one John Crow reference, for which I will not apologise, despite the men in green circling the security minister while the prime minister maintains her distance and silence - and perhaps with good reason. Trust me! There is enough blame to go around regarding our current homicide rate, and it has as many owners as a promiscuous dog's puppies.
As I said last week, the level of crime in Jamaica is surprisingly low compared to the rest of the Americas, including the USA. The one statistic that is an outlier are the alarming homicides. Nevertheless, the profile of murders shows some devils in the details. Most of the murders are gang-related, with mostly young men killing each other. Despite the hysteria, the majority of us do not feel that the murderers are going to directly target us.
Only 6.7 per cent of Jamaicans, in 2014, reported being a victim of any crime, compared to 16.7 per cent of Americans. And 36.2 per cent of us express fear on public transport, compared to 41.4 per cent of Americans. Moreover, only 16.9 per cent of us report that our communities are affected by gang activities, compared to Americans who indicate 22 per cent. Ask the police and the University of the West Indies' Mona GeoInformatics Institute and they will tell you that there are geographical clusters. Thus, exactly like Americans, 23 per cent of us avoid walking through 'troubled' neighbourhoods.
Nonetheless, when we look at the data proportionately, we have approximately 700 youth being killed each year. Therefore, if we address the youth-gang problem, we will dent the numbers. Furthermore, much of the increase in murders is caused by the amplified scamming activities in the western part of the country. But it didn't begin there.
One of the reasons I am giving Peter Bunting a chance is that in 1979 to 1980, thugs supporting the then minister of national security and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) opponent, a former cop and military top brass himself, suddenly found themselves with so many guns that they could have started a small civil war.
In 1980, some 899 Jamaicans were killed by other Jamaicans. Check the ballistic reports; the M16, M1 enforcer, Bushmaster and Smith and Wesson 357 Magnum found their way into the hands of my friends, who wore green and orange, with new blood oaths to kill socialists and Labourites. I was a youth in my last year in high school and Bunting was in college.
And for the record, most of the boys and young men who became 'shottas' had their fathers living at home or had relationships with them. So the perpetual excuse of missing fathers is pure bull. What the old-style garrison politics created was a set of people who became accustomed to being taken care of by politicians, via community dons, and some grew acculturated to living off the proceeds of crime. The real difference is that there is less direct political involvement today, but the guns are still out there.
Every current politician who was active in politics in 1980 or earlier shares collective responsibility for the current crime debacle. But of course, given that the People's National Party (PNP) has run the country for 22 of the past 35 years, it has more accountability.
During the 1980s, homicides were in the 400s and never passed 500 until 1990 after the PNP took over. Successive PNP ministers of national security saw the figure soar to as high as the peak of 1,674 in 2005. True, it is the PNP that is responsible for the 1,000 watermark, but when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) took over in 2007, the figure was 1,574. By the end of 2011 when the PNP returned, it was1,125 but only after setting the period record of 1,680 in 2009. At 1,097 in 2012, and 1,200 in 2013, to 1,005 last year, we saw reason for optimism. This year, more than 600 persons have been killed.
Enough middle-finger pointing; criminals just killed somebody's promising 24-year-old daughter, adding to the total this year. And, the only reason she is dead is because she was a policewoman. She is, pure and simple, a victim. Constable Crystal Thomas, savagely murdered on her way home on Tuesday night, brings to five the number of police personnel killed by criminals this year. As we grapple with the homicide rates, we can recall 1980, when a record 26 cops were killed by criminals, and 2008, when 20 were murdered. Somebody taught criminals, that it was OK to kill cops and somebody provided guns to them then before they could acquire them for themselves.
An average of 10 policemen and women have been murdered annually since 2000 out of a stable police population of 13,000. Which demographic category of persons, in this country or the English-speaking Americas, has experienced more violence? And note, the majority have been killed while on 'down time'. This simply means that they are systematically targeted for death. For all the chanting down on the Babylon, some of whom are indeed killers and crooks in their own right, something must be done to stem the 'policeophobia'. This is one statistically verifiable phobia, which is destroying the nation.
We must deal with policing issues based on data not hysteria. Proportionately, more police are killed than they kill suspects. Most police are not involved in illegal or improper behaviour. Impunity is a myth; no other police force in the Americas has more oversight, and it eliminates scores of bad cops each year. And they are seriously under-resourced. Nonetheless, bad-apple cops destroy public trust, the most critical element in the fight against crime. And if there is any truth that cops chose to ignore their dying colleague because they didn't want her blood soiling their vehicle, the high command must act swiftly and decisively to punish.
reducing youth unemployment
To reduce homicides, first we must work on the minds of the youth and focus on reducing youth unemployment, which is three to four times the national average. It is also nonsensical that loans to further post-secondary education are more expensive than motor car loans. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is right: Economic growth is one factor that can reduce the propensity towards crimes among youth. Second, the message must be sent to criminals that not only will they be caught, but their ill-gotten gains and their lives are going to be lost if they continue their practices.
Here, the families of these new breed of killers who wash bloody clothes, spend the blood money and pretend that they don't know it is tainted, need to realise that people who are heartless enough to destroy other peoples' lives will also be targets of others, whom they betray or simply who want a share of the spoils. This means that unlike the 1970s-'80s gunman, who would avoid displaying guns in the presence of his 'enemy's' grandmother, the current shotta will even kill your coconut tree and goldfish as reprisals.
Finally, except for the 'one-pop', we do not make guns. Thus, tighter gun control is needed and some more assistance in technology and mobility from our metropolitan partners.
- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.