Mon | Jan 18, 2021

Ian Boyne | Pressure criminals, liberate communities

Published:Friday | January 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this September 2007 file photo policemen attached to the Montego Bay Police prepare to enter the community of Flanker, a hotbed of violence for many years.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness

The firestorm generated by my column last Sunday is still raging. Unfortunately, but predictably, there has been more heat than light and a surfeit of shadow boxing, shallow thinking, and strawman argumentation.

It has been emotively characterised that all Jamaicans enjoy untrammeled civil liberties and Boyne would take them away, safe in the knowledge that his won't be affected.

The prime minister announced in his New Year's message that "we will be creating ... 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".

I expressed strong support for that, encouraging the prime minister not to be deterred by opposition from the usual suspects among the defence bar and other human rights fundamentalists who ignore context. In these high-crime areas under the domination of gangsters and dons, you don't have freedom of movement as you can't pass certain border lines. Despite our constitutional guarantee of freedom of movement.

Because of crime, students have to reach home early rather than doing group study at university because 'shottas hot up the place'. Their freedom to stay out late is curtailed. Underage girls are summoned by dons and shottas, and , in democratic Jamaica, parents have to 'send them on' or get burnt out or killed. Dances can go on all night until daylight and no resident dares call police. Their freedom to have a good night's sleep is eliminated, not just curtailed.

Some are deprived of their freedom to run their business without extortion. Because shottas run things, business would come to their communities is driven away, robbing them of their economic freedom of employment. You go and visit your girlfriend on a weekend and you can't even get a taxi to carry you home because of the reputation of the community. You can't go to late-night prayer meeting for too much 'shot a fire'. These civil liberties normally enjoyed by defence attorneys and civil society activists uptown are routinely denied thousands of Jamaicans in these high-crime areas that need liberation.

Yes, that's what going into these communities must be about: Liberation. To restore law and order and make those of our fellow Jamaicans who have been denied rights that others of us take for granted finally enjoy them. Let them be free to visit their lovers across the border. Man from 'Africa' in Spanish Town can go check his girl freely in 'Dela'. Granny from Dela can visit her long-time church in Africa, which she has not been able to attend because of the internecine feud in the Klansman gang.

This is the reality on the ground and people are saying I am the one wanting to curtail Jamaicans' civil liberties? Where are these people living? I know it's uptown, but do they have no knowledge of what is going on in high-crime communities?

Stop this nonsensical strawman, diversionary argument about my proposal taking away Jamaicans' civil liberties! The poor people in criminal-controlled inner-city communities already have their freedoms taken away by criminals. There are many old people trapped there who are living in fear every day that gunmen will kick down their doors to kill them just to send a message to other gangsters.


Shot three times


I know one 85-year-old granny who wakes up every morning at 3:00, remembering when gunmen invaded her board house recently and killed a girl under her bed. Fortunately, the gunmen didn't see her. It's the third time she has been shot. She would be happy for Holness to send in police and soldiers in her community so that those brute beasts who shoot babies and old ladies can't come back to kill her. She wants liberation. But human rights fundamentalists will raise alarm and create hysteria to frighten away the prime minister from demonstrating the guts and courage to do what he needs to do. (The Gleaner is doing a wonderful series about how crime is affecting real people. First-class journalism.)

The prime minister should listen to the people and not to the criminal lawyers and human rights fundamentalists who put legalism over humanism.

There is the nonsense argument being used that what I am calling for is unlawful and unconstitutional. The Jamaican Bar Association issued a statement on Wednesday that it should be ashamed of. It was a model of illogical, non-sequitur, sloppy thinking. It lectures me that "the Constitution of Jamaica, which includes the Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, remains Jamaica's supreme law".

But the association should be ashamed to have me as a layman quote them the section which says most clearly that "subject to sections 18 and 49 and to subsections (9) and (12) and save only for as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society ... Parliament shall pass no law and no organ of the State shall take any action which abrogates, abridges, and or infringes those rights".

I should not have to school attorneys about logic or sentence analysis. If the Constitution says once the State can prove that it is "demonstrably justified" to abrogate, abridge, and infringe rights, how can it be necessarily unconstitutional to do so?


State's responsibility


The State's primary responsibility is to secure its citizens. No constitution could ever take away that obligation. Human rights advocate and attorney Clyde Williams was flawless in his reasoning on All Angles on TVJ last Wednesday. If every human rights advocate argued as surgically and as sharply as he did on that programme, there would be no necessity for this column. Clyde himself quoted that section of the Constitution, though I went armed with it. His argument, unassailably made, was that the State has an obligation to provide safeguards in situations where it curtails civil liberties and that the State has to be accountable. Absolutely!

But this silly argument that a democratic society cannot abridge civil liberties enjoyed in normal times without slipping into totalitarianism is unworthy of people who are attorneys. France and the United States have enacted detention laws that waive normal civil liberties for what they deem special security exigencies. Is the Jamaican Bar Association prepared to declare them undemocratic states?

My point is simple: When you have 1,350 murders in 2016 and 35 by January 11; when the most fundamental human rightthe right to lifeis so egregiously trampled, you are not in ordinary times. Except we want to normalise deviance. You have to adopt short-term measures to cauterise the mayhem.

I agree with the human rights advocates that these short-term measures have no chance of working if they are not accompanied by the things they are calling for. We have to transform a police force that has too many elements that are corrupt, criminal, and incompetent. Our police force has a history of abusing poor people's rights and of being oppressors of the people. So why give them the right to search without a warrant? Because I live in the real world and can't entertain Cliff Hughes' fantasy of disbanding the force and starting over when I need them to fight criminals today. Hundreds more will die before we get to Cliff's righteous police force.

I agree with Cliff: Short-term measures have not worked over 50 years, for we have refused to do the necessary reforms of the police, justice system, and our classist economic system and exclusionary social structures. We have too much inequality, too much underdevelopment, too much poverty. Our family life structure is dysfunctional; our values are destructive of wholesomeness. We need massive investments in social services. The human rights people are right: Unless we address the underlying causes of crime, going into communities and using hard policing will only alienate decent people.

I am for everything human rights activists are proposing. My method can't work without them. But ask them, if every morning this week we wake to 30 people dead overnight, what would they propose we do right away while we tackle the necessary long-term things? Or should we do nothing until we can do all the things necessary? Ask them that one question that Susan Goffe could not answer on All Angles.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and