Tue | Mar 20, 2018

Arnold Bertram | A ticking time bomb (Part III)

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Arnold Bertram

The ticking time bomb, which requires an urgent national response, is the continued degeneration of our young urban unemployed males into a lumpenproletariat, which produces violence as a commodity for sale to organised criminal networks, or used for its own criminal enterprises, which include scamming, extortion, protection and robbery.

The ranks of the lumpenproletariat are regularly strengthened by the infusion of criminal deportees from the USA and Britain. Oliver 'Bubba' Smith was one of the 1,031 felons deported from the United States in 2002, and shortly after his arrival succeeded in uniting disparate criminal gangs based in Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) strongholds in Central St Catherine under 'One Order' to challenge the People's National Party (PNP)-aligned 'Clansmen' for control of the extortion racket in the Spanish Town area.

In the service of organised criminal networks, the lumpen have repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to overwhelm the police, to intimidate the law-abiding citizenry, and to frustrate all efforts to regulate public behaviour. This capacity was demonstrated in September 1998 when they took over downtown Kingston to protest the arrest of a local don, Donald 'Zeeks' Phipps. Three days of rioting and armed clashes with the security forces left "five persons dead, including a soldier; seven shot and injured, including four policemen; a number of torched police vehicles, including an armoured vehicle that the police were forced to abandon; and the eventual release on bail and subsequent acquittal of Phipps". (Harriott, 2003)

Next was the turn of the lumpenproletariat of Spanish Town when, in July 2004, despite the presence of heavily armed members of the security forces, they brought an end to the commercial life of the city by criminal violence. The occasion was the shooting of Oliver 'Bubba' Smith, the don of the One Order criminal network.

However, the most frightening demonstration of the social and military power of the lumpenproletariat began on May 24, 2010 when a joint military and police command entered Tivoli Gardens to arrest Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who, interestingly, was not wanted by the Jamaican police, but for extradition to the United States to face charges of drug trafficking and smuggling. They were confronted by well-armed paramilitary forces, which included criminal contingents from as far away as Montego Bay. The confrontation claimed the lives of one soldier and at least 74 civilians and the police seized 29 handguns, 27 rifles, 12,020 rounds of ammunition and 84 explosive devises.

The extradition of Coke and the dismantling of the Shower Posse eliminated Jamaica's most powerful organised criminal network, but the time bomb continued to tick with the mushrooming of some 300 autonomous criminal gangs operating islandwide. In recent times, rural communities, no less than urban townships, have come under terrifying gun violence as scamming and armed robbery dominate criminal activities.

While no single initiative will stop this time bomb from ticking and ultimately exploding, there are steps that can be taken immediately to manage crime more effectively and to expand educational and employment opportunities for the youth.




The evidence seems fairly conclusive that the most urgent priority is to make the investments required to train and equip the police to global standards and to increase the complement to the levels required for the effective enforcement of law and public order, the investigation of crime, and the arrest of the perpetrators. In 2007, the arrest rate for murder was 44 per cent, and the conviction rate less than 10 per cent. Despite improvements since then, these rates are far too low.

However, even with a better-trained and more efficient police force, crime and antisocial behaviour in Jamaica will require assigning the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) a major role in the daily enforcement of public order. This role could be the recruitment, training, deployment and monitoring of an additional force to maintain public order in the urban growth centres, and in particular, the transportation centres and markets where the lumpenproletariat thrive and carry out its criminal activities with impunity.




Limiting the JDF to its traditional functions is analogous to keeping your best player on the bench while the team is losing the match. Success in the maintenance of public order, as well as in the fight against antisocial behaviour, requires sustained maintenance of the physical infrastructure in our markets and transportation centres, as well as improved delivery of local services, particularly garbage collection.

On the social side, the urgent priority is the training of teachers, not only to deliver the curriculum more effectively, but to play a significant role in the preparation of students for responsible citizenship.

"In a society as violent, unstable and strife-torn as Jamaica is, the classroom takes on a truly critical importance since this is where the critical age group five to 17 can be found for five days a week and nine months a year, and it is here that the taxpayer and the family make its largest investment in the preparation and training of our future citizens." (Don Robotham, 2003)

The clearest sign that a significant number of those employed as teachers are inadequately trained is that in our school system, the culture which promotes violence as the means of settling disputes between students, seems to be spreading much faster than that which builds bonds of friendship and cooperation across lines of class and colour. In addition, far too many students emerge from the school system without inculcation in the two critical values - the value of life, as well as that of a clean, orderly environment.

The growth of violence in our schools is directly related to the increasing legitimisation of violence at the community level by citizens who contend that they get more protection from organised criminal networks than from the police, and that their welfare needs are more regularly met from the proceeds of crime than from public revenues.

Going forward, the sustained assault against organised crime and antisocial behaviour must be underpinned by economic and social development. The stability that has been restored to the macroeconomic framework must be used as a launching pad for sustained and equitable economic growth. Similarly, we must resist any attempt to erode the significant improvements made in education and training by ensuring that quality and accountability are maintained, even as we expand access.




Finally, we must communicate more effectively the successes of our young people from inner-city communities who choose to be law-abiding and who overcome major obstacles to achieve phenomenal success in business and professional life. Television programmes, such as those hosted by Ian Boyne, should be the substance of television documentaries showcasing, in far greater detail, the lives of these young Jamaicans, as well as the roles played by supportive families and mentors to help them overcome the challenges they face everyday on the road to success.

"Most of us need an ideal ... to rouse one's spirit to a realisation of the greatness in mankind and the latent powers within oneself ... . A man's resolutions are made of ... dreams and hopes ... [that] can stiffen the backbone and exalt the heart."


Don Robotham: Crime and Public Policy, 2003

Tony Harriott: Controlling Violent Crime, 2009

- Arnold Bertram is a historian and former Cabinet minister. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and redev.atb@gmail.com.