Shirley Richards | Taking a hard line on crime causes
For most of us, the crime statistics have become unbearable as daily we hear of gruesome murders. Victims are not limited to any particular description. Men, women and children have all been victims of this horrible monster.
I recall that after a long-time friend and now pastor Rawle Tyson was shot and permanently paralysed in 1997, I started reading studies on crime in the search for answers. My interest waned after the murder of a colleague, Guy Jones. That Friday afternoon, as I was at Swallowfield Chapel attending Guy's funeral, I saw a government official who I knew worked then in the prime minister's office. I asked him, "What is the prime minister doing about crime?" His response was most disappointing: "Crime is everybody's business," he responded.
I understood what he meant, but my takeaway from that conversation was that the Government had no answers and that it was every man for himself. The problem, too, was that the conversation reminded me of a few lines from the Wolf Report on crime - words that have lived with me over the years:
"... Numerous studies have been done on crime and violence in Jamaica. ... There is no lack of information on the subject. What has been lacking is the political will to implement the recommendations of previous task forces." (1993 report of the National Task Force on Crime, p. 7)
Years ago, a well-known and respected public servant, having retired, decided to establish a business on King Street. Before he could open shop, he was told by emissaries of the need for security. His response was that he had already arranged for security. The retort from the emissaries was that the security men would need security. With that, the retiree cut his losses, deciding to live on his rather frugal pension rather than risk his life. There are countless such stories all across this island while we at the same time bemoan unemployment.
Fast-forward to the present: We are now back at another crisis point. Again, one does not get the sense that the full weight of Government is being placed behind a sensible crime-fighting plan that is both long-term and short-term. Instead, we now hear of laws coming to fight gender-based violence when it is clear that violence affects all in society.
We hear calls for Values and Attitudes programmes, but will these programmes have maximum value without also teaching faith in God, who commands us all to love our neighbours as ourselves? Our children are not being taught to live virtuous lives, so, for example, we tell them to avoid pregnancy instead of teaching them to avoid sexual involvement until marriage.
As far as the man in the street is concerned, there is no longer any penalty for using ganja. As one youngster told me, "It cheaper now, so we can buy more." The 2015 amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act was passed in spite of the scientific evidence that ganja contains THC, which is linked to aggression. "Cannabis has tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which brings out aggression in people," said Dr Winston De La Haye, chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health.
But then, others would cynically point out that the Parliament, in passing legislation, did, in fact, take the scientific evidence into account, as there is provision for the use of a portion of licensing fees to strengthen our "mental-health institutions and services". (The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) 2015 Act, s. 7 (12)). The litany could go on.
For many of us, what has been distressing over the years is that successive administrations have failed to make crime reduction a foremost priority. It makes no sense for us to be pursuing paths to prosperity if people cannot live to enjoy what they have earned. What may be of assistance is a comprehensive programme, driven by the prime minister, that involves the entire Cabinet, not only the Ministry of National Security. Our national security actually demands cooperation and planning with Justice, Education, Health, Youth, Social Security, Labour and Finance, among others.
The rest of us would have to be willing to play our part in cooperating with the programme (hopefully, the programme will be one that will be able to attract the support of the majority). Such a programme must tackle root problems and causes, e.g., the glaring absence of stable family life and the accompanying fatherlessness experienced by many of our children.
Most unfortunately, speaking about, and promoting, the intact married family has nonsensically become politically incorrect. A very instructive study done in 1995 by sociologist and researcher Dr Patrick Fagan, then of the Heritage Foundation (USA), found that regardless of race (black or white), the real root of crime and violence was not poverty, but "the loss of the capacity of fathers and mothers to be responsible in caring for the children they bring into the world. This loss of love and guidance at the intimate levels of marriage and family has broad social consequences for children and for the wider community".
In the end, we cannot afford to be despondent. Former Prime Minister Michael Manley many times used the words of Marcus Garvey, grounded originally in the Scriptures: "A people without a vision will perish." As we once again celebrate Emancipation and Independence, let us, with renewed strength, press towards the vision: "Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business."