Ian Boyne: Hanging on to straws
The new minister of national security pulled for an old favourite of the masses in times of rising crime - the hanging panacea - but this time he was hanging on to straws, as Opposition Justice Spokesman Mark Golding's rebuff was only the first of a number to follow.
We all know that a more urgent task is to catch the wretches in the first place. And the security forces have not been doing a good job of that. At least, nobody believes so - certainly not the murderers - whatever the statistics might be saying. In a sense, you can't blame the security minister for reaching for something to drive fear in the barefaced criminals. Only that the threat of hanging is hardly a deterrent, and criminals, who are not all fools, know that our human-rights lobby is so powerful here that even if the Government were thinking of it, it would soon have to 'figet it' after the howls such as those which came from Mark Golding.
They would have expected, too, a stern lecture to the new minister from The Gleaner, which certainly came in that editorial on Tuesday, 'Get a clear focus, Mr Montague'. It begins: "We understand Robert Montague's wish to be seen, or appearing to be doing something dramatic, in tackling the serious problem of crime, especially murder ... . And calling for the resumption of hanging is tried and tested to incite popular emotions." But not from the elite, of course.
The Gleaner has some advice for Mr Montague: "Mr Montague would do better concentrating on improving the effectiveness of the constabulary, enhancing the efficiency of the notoriously slow justice system, and focusing on arrangements to improve public order."
That's well and good, but as I have been saying for years, these are not going to prevent murders over this weekend going into next week, and so some very short-term measures are going to be needed for any upsurge in crime. There are some dog-heart criminals who must be sent a message today, not four years' time when we are having five per cent growth and prosperity all around. Criminals must be afraid today - absolutely terrified - to go out on their murderous mission because they know it could be fatal if they do so.
Bleeding-heart liberals behind their security-ringed houses can preach all they want, it is not their lives that are primarily in danger. They can afford the luxury of a fundamentalist approach to security. I was stunned about a week and half ago when Cliff Hughes, a vociferous, strident, anti-hard-policing advocate, said, with frustration oozing from the heart, that what St James needed was a state of emergency. I wondered whether I was hearing voices and would never have believed it if someone accused him of saying that.
No respect for politics
Cliff Hughes has been mugged by the experience of a criminality that refuses to go away with the change of government. An important lesson that I hope we are learning is that criminality is no respecter of government or political party. Now we know it was not the People's National Party or Peter Bunting who was responsible for crime. Crime is a national problem. We can always comfort ourselves that "this is not us", but the facts themselves scream at us that we are a murderous society. Living in denial fools no one.
It is time we take a national, comprehensive approach to crime fighting and to building a culture of peace and security. That approach must involve the social interventionist initiatives advocated by human-rights and social activists, but it must also include hard policing and tough measures. It must involve community policing, social development, employment creation, justice reform, police reform, changing of values and attitudes, but also curfews, cordon-and-searches, going after guns, smashing gangs, and hunting down criminals aggressively.
No one set of strategies will work. And we don't have time to fix all our social problems and get robust economic growth before more lives are sacrificed. This crime problem has proved intractable over the years. And we should now learn our bitter lesson that security should not be politicised. We must stop this nonsense of believing that any political party has a better handle on crime than the other, or that we are safer in our houses under any particular political party.
I recently went back to an article I wrote on May 17, 2009, titled 'New minister, old problems'. This is how it begins: "A new minister of national security, a new broadcast to the nation, new expectations but the same old intractable crime problems. The national security ministry has been the burial ground for many a hopeful minister. Why would it be any different for Dwight Nelson?"
You know the answer now. I knew it from then. I went on: "Dwight Nelson has taken over at an inauspicious time: a time when resources are scarce and frustrations high." What has changed with that, too?
This austerity Budget cannot accommodate increased expenditure for national security. Or for significant social programmes. Mark Golding, in his reaction to Montague's hanging offer, said: "Jamaica needs, among other things, growth with equity that creates good-quality employment opportunities for our people so that they aren't drawn towards criminal organisations and violent crime."
Yes, but that is not going to happen next week, so more immediate steps have to be taken to deter criminals from fulfilling their life mission. As no less an authority on criminology than the progressive scholar, Professor Anthony Harriott, said in his GraceKennedy Foundation lecture some years ago: "... Even if the socio-economic problems are addressed, high rates of violence are likely to continue for some time. Attending to root socio-economic causes is unlikely to yield much short- to medium-term effects on the homicide rates."
More curfews, searches
We should think about the Cliff Hughes Alternative for St James (unless he has cooled off and is back to his bleeding-heart ways.) Bunting used to boast about how curfews had dropped dramatically under him. We need more curfews in the crime pockets. More searches on the road. Let human-rights fundamentalists continue to debate the legality or propriety of that. We want to save lives. They can continue to engage in sophistry about freedom versus security.
But crime control involves far more than hard policing. We have to radically change our norms. We have too high a tolerance for violence in the society. That's why we make excuses for it in our dancehall music. And media and business are too taken up with making money to care enough about values. What else could explain the fact that while the Yanique-Kitty cass-cass attracted huge attention recently, resulting in a staged apology, one fellow on that show last week came out with his military fatigue and his big gun in hand to tell the other that he was going to splash his marrow and put gunshot "inna yu head"?
There was absolutely no protest by anyone or any demand by TVJ or the sponsors for any apology for this on national television. Another fellow came out on that same show and in another clash used heavy gun lyrics, too, telling his opponent that he will "put him dung inna coffin".
We tolerate these things in our media, while our media executives decry violence in our society. Big private-sector people will put up $7 million in one luncheon to get the murderers of two American missionaries, but some in that same group will sponsor dancehall shows and TV programmes like Magnum with segments promoting murder music.
These are problems beyond any national security minister or any political administration. We are too ambivalent about violence. Because of our materialism and 'real rich' culture, communities will protect gangsters because they are licky-licky and can be bought. They won't give information on the criminals who are their children, their lovers and their friends, for they can share the loot. We have a deep cultural problem which no hard policing or social intervention can solve.
Our norms and values have to change. In the meantime, talking about hanging is a complete waste of time and clutching at straws.