Ian Boyne | Is Holness tough enough?
I am tired of writing about crime. I keep saying the same things over and over. The majority of Jamaicans have no need to be convinced of the commonsensical things which I say, but our elite dominates traditional media discourse on the issue, and our politicians are in terror of them the way ordinary citizens are in terror of gunmen.
The politicians don’t have the guts and courage of leadership to take the tough decisions which they need to make to send a signal to criminals because talk-show hosts, articulate, well-spoken defense attorneys and other human rights fundamentalists will clobber them if they dare to act decisively and tough. Every prime minister and minister of national security knows that once he starts talking tough or takes strong action to make life harder for criminals, defense attorneys will be on every talk-show and every prime-time television newscast to make hysterical, histrionic claims of repression and denial of human rights.
Yet our journalists, columnists and civil society activists have the gall to be making calls for the Government to 'do something now' and to 'act decisively' to deal with crime and to “tame the crime monster. They talk about a whole menu of things which need to be done to fight crime. But examine them carefully. Not one would have any effect on murder today or next week. Listen to their recommendations again and ask, 'which one would make criminals think twice about killing today?'.
Yes, I agree with all the human rights activists about the social and structural changes which are needed to fight crime sustainably. But what strategies can halt the horrific daily spate of murders? When will we have all the money to effect all the grand social and economic transformation needed to do all the things which the social justice model demands?
What irks me is not that these human rights fundamentalists are stressing the long-term things which need to be done. I have no disagreement with them. My problem is when these same persons harshly criticise the Government for not doing something now, when nothing they are proposing can have any practical effect on crime now. Nothing. Only one bleeding heart columnist has had the honesty to say plainly that there is nothing that can be done right now to halt crime, and we just have to invest the time and resources to get it right.
I respect that kind of forthright admission. He does not annoy me. But it is those who are writing editorials, columns and who are on talk shows demanding that Government 'do something about this crime now!' whose reasoning repels me. The only anti-crime measures which can have an immediate effect on crime deterrence must involve some curtailment of civil liberties enjoyed in normal times. We are not in normal times.
It seems that that is dawning on our prime minister. In his new year’s message he said something very significant. I just hope he has the courage to carry it through, after the predictable voices in the defense bar get on early morning, mid-morning, afternoon and night-time talk-shows and newscasts to blast him.
He said: “I believe the Jamaican people are now prepared and expectant of firm and decisive action in breaking the neck of the crime monster once and for all.”
Mr Prime Minister, they have been ready for a long, long time. It is our elite which has not been ready, using sophistry and obfuscation to escape the crystal clear conclusions: We are at war with criminals and we have to craft anti-crime strategies to fit that war.
The prime minister has now told us that, “I have been around the country and everywhere I go the cry is the same, deal with the criminals. I no longer detect an ambivalence.” There was never any ambivalence with the people, Mr Prime Minister. The problem is with our elite, who are as out of touch with the people’s everyday realities as the American elite was with working class and grassroots people in in their country, resulting in that shock defeat to their Democratic candidate.
Our traditional media, like the American traditional media, are out of touch with grassroots fears, concerns and views. These ordinary Jamaicans are seen as just 'panicking', after 'revenge' and not being sophisticated or enlightened enough to understand the intricacies of human rights issues.
We have a prime minister who is social media savvy and who is directly in touch with multiple tens of thousands of people through those platforms. His thinking is not just influenced by what traditional media discourse is. While I know he remains sensitive to that, he is acutely aware of a broader constituency; a constituency whose interests don’t converge with those of the defense bar.
I was happy to hear the prime minister announce that “we will be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured.” He went on to say: “We will be creating under this framework, zones where the security forces and other Government agencies will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high crime areas, including extensive searches for guns and contraband.” Excellent!
Expect to hear defense lawyers on every talk show and to see editorials and columns inveighing in Manichean terms about an approaching Apocalypse and the end of democracy and human rights in Jamaica. If the prime minister is not prepared to press ahead despite that; if he displays the fear which has crippled others from decisive, tough action, he will back away from whatever he announces as soon as he does.
The power of the media/defense bar elite has to be resisted. The courage of Andrew Holness’ leadership will be severely tested on this issue of security. Peter Bunting used to boast about how curfews had declined under his watch. There must be more curfews, searches and detentions in areas of high criminality. Certain people who nobody dares testify against and who can afford the highest-priced criminal lawyers must be taken off the streets and detained. You could say until you are blue that it is because my children will not be scraped up. That diversionary argument won’t detain me.
People in inner-city communities know that there are certain criminals who are well-known but whom nobody can testify against in a court of law. These guys can hire the best attorneys to defend them or to get them on bail where they can kill more people.
Let them and their attorneys protest; let all the editorial writers, columnists and commentators come out in unison against the measures you are coming with, prime minister, have the guts to implement them in the interest of Jamaica and its future. Don’t be intimidated by elite lawyers with uptown diction and impeccable media connections. The people are not listening to them. The people know better. They don’t have safe uptown houses . The prime minister said in his new year’s address that he was confident that this year “will be the breakthrough year in bringing the crime monster under control, while respecting the human rights of every citizen” . I am for respecting human rights. I am not calling for extra-judicial killings or police abuses.
But I am calling for locking down certain communities, locking away certain known crime perpetrators; going into homes without search warrants and stopping vehicles on the road. Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can’t have human rights if there is not a viable state. We cannot allow Jamaica to become a failed state and to let our prospects for economic growth evaporate before our eyes because our politicians and chattering classes are cowards. Enough is enough!