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Why we should reject Bunting's 'John Crow politics' apology

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2015 | 8:01 AMMartin Henry, Contributor
Peter Bunting

'No-P Jamaicans', the vast majority of the country, shouldn't join the Opposition in accepting Government minister Peter Bunting's apology for his' John Crow politics' statement.

The apology is not sincere. And the Opposition knows it. But the Opposition knows even better how to play politics, just like the apologiser. The Bunting apology has no greater merit than the apology of a child forced to say, 'sorry'. 'Teacha sey mi fi tell yuh sarry'.

Mr Bunting, minister of national security in the Government now formed by the People's National Party (PNP), made carefully prepared remarks, which he meant, about his crime portfolio, at a party constituency meeting for St Andrew Eastern on Sunday, July 12. He was careless about media coverage. Lots of these party conferences take place without a whisper in media.

This newspaper, the following day, reported the minister as telling the party faithful, a message not intended for anyone else, ""I have tried to keep national security outside the partisan political fray, however, that approach can only work when you have an enlightened Opposition. One hand can't clap. It is now clear that they are making the issue of crime a central plank of their political platform. Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage. Well, I have a message for them. I'm back, and I'm going to respond comprehensively and devastatingly. This man, him never trouble no one, but if you trouble this man, it will bring a bam-bam."

Bunting-mild, except for the John Crow part. We Jamaicans take the greatest offence at any comparison to John Crow, the worst of all creatures. So both the power and the accuracy of a metaphor are lost in the violent cultural offence to the comparison.

In his 'apology' in Parliament a couple of days after the offence, a JLP/Opposition press conference, and hundreds of negative public comments in media, Bunting was careful to apologise mostly for the impact of his John Crow politics statement and not for the statement itself.

 

Unfortunate comments

"The language of politics is often rough and encouraged by the atmosphere at political rallies," a subdued Bunting said in Parliament the following Tuesday, the passion of the party platform long subsided. "But two wrongs don't make a right. Last Sunday, I made comments at a constituency conference in Eastern St Andrew that were unnecessarily harsh and seem to have caused a fair amount of discomfort; additionally, these remarks are inconsistent with my approach to handling my portfolio," Bunting bowed.

"I have been focused on 'Unite for Change' and my remarks were contrary to that objective. Therefore, I would like to use this opportunity to apologise for those remarks," the minister said.

He then noted, by way of strategy, that the two major political parties could no longer afford to diminish their will and efforts to defeat crime in the country by political point scoring and gamesmanship. "Let us...unite around the best ideas to tackle this problem," he beseeched.

"I close by inviting the Opposition, in all sincerity, to bring forward any idea that they may have for additional measures to address this long-standing obstacle to Jamaica's violent crime," the minister said, extending the olive branch to the Opposition as murders climb 19 per cent so far this year, over last year.

The Opposition, with leader Andrew Holness and shadow minister Derrick Smith out front, was ecstatic that they had extracted an apology from the minister and so increased political mileage; never mind the insincerity and the hypocrisy of the apology.

But its insincerity is not the biggest reason to not accept Peter Bunting's apology for his John Crow politics proclamation. The tendering and accepting of hypocritical apologies is very necessary to keep the world spinning. So let's not knock it.

A much more important reason for flinging Bunting's rotten apology out where the John Crows can find it is its attempt to cancel the truth in what he had said at the constituency conference. For Independence, we are chatting 'bout 'proud and free, Jamaica fifty-three'. Nothing has contributed more to the rotten state of our country than John Crow politics. Crime has been fed by our John Crow politics.

Murder, aided and abetted by tribal politics, has increased under every minister and every police commissioner since Independence, despite small dips every now and again, like in 2010 and last year. Nobody has anything to boast about.

Mr Bunting is quite right. The Opposition in Jamaica, like vultures, gleefully reacts to every perceived failure of Government in order to gain political mileage.

Opposing is built into the system of parliamentary democracy, worldwide, and is entrenched in our own Constitution, but we have taken opposition to extremes in Jamaica. Not only is there the opposition of parliamentary debate, which is expected, but the two political parties which have alternated in Government and Opposition have taken opposition to the streets and have armed their party thugs and gangs for violence and bloodshed.

The legacy of this John Crow politics is in the garrisons, the gangs and the guns which have driven violent crime in Jamaica until today.

 

Both sides guilty

Mr Bunting's shortcoming is not in comparing the responses of the current opposition to the murder spike to the behaviour of John Crows gleefully circling overhead to profit from death and decay; his shortcoming is his failure to include his own party, when in opposition, in this John Crow behaviour which has held back Jamaica so much. Someone in the heat of debating the issue, fired off, wrong or right: "Who behave more like John Crow, in opposition, than the PNP?" The constant vulture-like attacks on the Bruce Golding government in recent memory lend a great deal of credence to the charge. And the current Opposition, like its counterparts past, has been selectively forgetful of their own crime-fighting failures in Government as they hammer Bunting.

The current wranglings in the PNP over admitting the Labourite warrior Joan Gordon-Webley to membership exposes the putrid tribal politics all the way back to the bloody 1980 general elections.

The minister's apology was tacked on to his more substantial presentation to Parliament of a three-pronged strategy to fight crime - strengthening the operational capabilities of the security forces, more anti-crime legislation, and addressing social causes of violence. Been there, heard that.

As murder rises, including police deaths, the time is right to say again, we cannot hope to have sustained crime reduction without significantly beefing up the human and technical capacity of the security forces, whatever else needs to be done. There has to be many more officers on the ground with the support capacity to investigate, arrest, successfully prosecute, and, therefore, deter.

Crime and violence is a national emergency on par with the economy. No, ahead of the economy. Because the first duty of government is the protection of the lives and property of citizens. The second duty is justice.

The Government must divert resources from all other budgetary obligations to supply the critical needs of public order and public safety, crime reduction and delivery of justice.

We know, and the minister of national security very well knows, that stop-gap measures repeated endlessly can't reverse the crime situation which John Crow politics has helped to create.

The police commissioner, operating out of headquarters buildings held together by termites, and who is not into counting bodies, must count the cost of effective policing and make it known.

More laws without more enforcement capability won't make a difference, except for clutter. And we really don't need a police state for drastic crime reduction. We need emancipation, freedom from the domination of crime. Free Jamaica has never been more criminal.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.