Mark Ricketts | A turning point for crime
"Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can't have human rights if there is not a viable state."
- Ian Boyne
Societies change when language, leadership, and legislation coalesce to say enough is enough, we can't take it anymore, something different must be done, regardless. Hopefully, this is where Jamaica is at the moment.
In a frank, forthright, no-holds-barred column, veteran Jamaican journalist Ian Boyne threw out a challenge to Prime Minister Andrew Holness to not back down from his hard-hitting announcements to finally contain crime, especially when, as is inevitable, "talk-show hosts, columnists, civil-society activists, well-spoken defence attorneys, and other human-rights fundamentalists will clobber him if he dares to act decisively and tough".
Maintaining his theme, Boyne said, "Every prime minister and minister of national security knows that once he or she starts talking tough or takes strong action to make life harder for the criminals, defence attorneys are on every talk show to make hysterical, histrionic claims of repression and denial of human rights and of an approaching Apocalypse and the end of democracy in Jamaica."
Boyne should be applauded for his intellectual insight and analysis, his gall, his gumption, his willingness to stand up and be counted in this seemingly impossible battle between rights and responsibility, between individual freedom and public safety, and between entitlement and the rule of law.
He should also be commended for using his platform, the media, to galvanise public thought and to take on an amalgam of some of the most powerful and entrenched lobbyists who have shaped our history and directed our development, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, and other times for ugly.
As Boyne had anticipated in his column, the sources, intensity, and rebuttals were swift, coming in less than 24 hours, and the abridgement of rights he proposed was rejected as unlawful. Other opinions were just as acerbic and unfavourable: "nonsense", "absolute rubbish".
Now Boyne is just a messenger, an emissary trying to suggest change without having executive or legislative powers. If he is taking that kind of flak, can you imagine the "powwow, bangarang, the autoclaps" that will take place if the political directorate attempted to enact such legislation.
Yet Boyne's impassioned plea to the prime minister might prove to be a watershed as far as the recent upsurge in the number of murders each year. It might give the PM the much needed fillip to know that despite a powerful opposition of civil activists, there is a measure of support out there being choreographed by one of Jamaica's most respected media personnel. It might also heighten and sharpen the overall discourse on priorities and how best to deal with some of the intractable challenges to combating crime.
Unfortunately, an added boost for doing something bold and urgent would be the numbers, as well as the gruesome murders, which have continued unabated. In just a few days since the start of the New Year, the figures suggest that 2017 could even be worse than 2016 if something radically different is not done. An average of more than four people have been killed every day this year.
Righteous indignation about the curtailment of freedom and rights by civil rights advocates and lawyers is not confined to Jamaica. Surely, we can remember the outrage and disbelief from the articulate minority when constitutional lawyer and presumed darling of liberals President Barack Obama signed a four-year renewal of the Patriot Act on January 2, 2012, an act that included the controversial Section 215 for the government to continue spying on its citizens, as well as provisions allowing for roaming wiretaps and government searches of business records.
The president's justification for abridging rights and freedom was: "We shouldn't surrender the tools after 9/11 that helped to keep us safe. It would be irresponsible, it would be reckless and we shouldn't allow this to happen." Contrast this with the speech he made as a senator a few years earlier. "I condemn the Patriot Act for violating the rights of American citizens." He argued that it allowed government agents to perform extensive and in-depth searches on American citizens without a search warrant.
Consistent with President Obama's reversal on privacy protection, the unmitigated horror of all the murders around the prime minister is telling him, 'Uneasy is the head that wears the crown'. Boyne is telling him as well that the courage of his leadership will be severely tested on this issue of security, "but there can be no human rights if there is no viable state".
Interestingly, as one is reminded of 9/11 and the Patriot Act, it is the view of former commissioner of police Owen Ellington, under whose watch crime declined 40 per cent during the years 2010 to 2014, Jamaica's crime rate is tantamount to us having a 9/11 every week. Taking the analogy a bit further, UWI's Professor Anthony Clayton, while acknowledging that 9/11 was terrorism from outside, as against our crimes, which are domestic, said, "Notwithstanding that, if we do a comparative analysis - population size, demographics, murder rate, casualty rate - it is as if every week, based on our levels of criminal violence, we would have far more reasons for instituting a Patriot Act than the US."
It is clear from all this that our Government has to respond appropriately to our crime and violence problems by enacting the necessary legislation to strengthen law enforcement and criminal-justice administration. As former commissioner Ellington says so forcefully: "The deterrent effect of law enforcement has not visited the Jamaican landscape. What is important for us to remember is that no commissioner of police can deliver on a sustainable crime-reduction strategy because effective policing is dependent on an efficient criminal-justice system that guarantees fast trials, severe punishment for those deserving it, and the protection of the innocent."
Elaborating, Ellington points out that "in order for us to deter offenders generally and specifically, there have to be speedy trials of persons charged with a crime, and where people are convicted of a crime, the punishment must reflect the seriousness of the crime and society's abhorrence of the crime.
"But that can't happen if there is a 400,000 case backlog in the system and when murder cases are taking up to 10 years to come to trial. The long hiatus results in witnesses migrating or losing interest or some even dying.
"The net result from this kind of arrangement is that accused people, or people who committed crimes, are walking free, and they have a disregard for law and order because they think the entire criminal-justice system is a joke. A negative by-product from this is that otherwise decent law-abiding citizens, failed by the system themselves, end up taking the law into their own hands. There is then jungle justice involving generational killings, reprisals, and revenge killings."
Those of us as innocent bystanders reading, hearing, and looking at the sad, painful, and tragic murder scene wonder how long! Those grieving from the cruel loss of a loved one are in disbelief and asking rhetorically, why me, why us? Ian Boyne, in obvious frustration, impatience, and defiance, began his column, "I am tired of writing about crime. I keep saying the same things over and over." He ends, "Enough is enough!"
For Owen Ellington, investment in security and safety must be considered primary investment. "Our murders can't keep climbing. It's too much for our society to bear."
What I have observed, which has been an inhibitor for the country really moving forward over the last 70 years, is that we have a legal system with an overriding emphasis on the protection and defence of rights and entitlement, not a criminal-justice system.
- Mark Ricketts, economist, author, and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; and assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.