Gordon Robinson | Where have I heard this before?
Here we go again!
Four months after Government unveiled its sweeping new crime plan, including 'preventative detention' and zero tolerance for domestic disputes, the number of Jamaicans murdered in 2017 rose to 628 (19 per cent increase on 2016). That's an average of 125 per month, or four per day, and an annualised figure of 1,500-odd.
New commish, George 'Georgie Porgie' Quallo described the situation as "frightening". LOL. Ya think? Georgie, we frighten long time! According to The Gleaner, he announced that police will "take control" of the most volatile communities by establishing a permanent presence "to protect citizens while we work to flush out criminal elements".
Georgie Porgie said police will rely heavily on anti-gang legislation and special-powers provisions in the Constabulary Force Act. He predicted that "this will allow for cordons and searches, curfews and detentions for preventative and investigative purposes".
Recycling crime plans
More cordons? More searches? More curfews? Now where have I heard this before?
"Police Commissioner Owen Ellington announced a series of new anti-crime strategies, according to JIS. Effective Thursday (July 22). These strategies reportedly include curfews in at least five areas, as well as cordon and search operations without warrants ... ." (See 'Jamaican authorities enforce curfews to tackle crime', Cayman News Services, July 23, 2010).
That was 2010. But 36 years earlier, the Suppression of Crime Act 1974 provided (Section 4) that, in a "special area", a member of the security forces could, without warrant and using such force as is reasonably required: search any premises, place, vehicle, person or thing; or cordon off any area and restrict the movement of persons or vehicles into or out of the area; or enforce curfews, according to regulations established under the act.
How did that go for us? In 1974, one hundred and ninety-five Jamaicans were murdered. By 1975, the number rose to 266 (up 36 per cent); one year later, 367 (up another 38 per cent); and 1977, four hundred and nine (11 per cent more than 1976). When the Suppression of Crime Act was allegedly repealed (many of the oppressive provisions were carried over to the Constabulary Force Act) in 1994, the number of murders that year was 690 (up 254 per cent during the lifetime of the Suppression of Crime Act).
Since then, murders climbed steadily to peak at 1,680 in 2009, followed by declines (let's face it; even gunmen have limits) until 2016, when the numbers have begun to rise once more. In 2010, Commissioner Ellington explained: "The commissioner said police will also intensify their road operations, in the form of traffic enforcement, roadblocks and vehicle checkpoints, in an effort to disrupt the movement of mobile armed criminals.
"The intelligence and the evidence which we've garnered through our series of operations clearly indicate that many of these individuals are on the move. They are moving from community to community as the security forces move at them. Many hardened criminals are caught in traffic stops, and one of the things that we're determined to do is to ensure that criminals don't feel they have the freedom of movement around the country, escaping from law enforcement or moving in directions where they commit serious crimes.'" (JIS, July 22, 2010)
Good people, it's been 43 years. Will we admit this hasn't worked; doesn't work; and won't work anytime soon? Or will we continue with announcement after insipid announcement hoping just to postpone the evil day when we must admit abject failure?
This isn't a JLP conundrum. Remember Peter Bunting, on April 13, 2013, appearing close to tears, asking for divine intervention?
"The best efforts of the security forces by itself will not solve the crime problem in Jamaica, but it's going to take divine intervention, touching the hearts of a wide cross section of the society.
"I'm not embarrassed to say that right now, as minister of national security, I'm going through a kind of a dark night of the soul.
"We're trying very hard as a ministry ... . I see the men and women of the security forces trying very hard; I see the leadership of the police and the military working hard, and so much effort is being made and yet so little headway ... ."
For 10 years, I've repeatedly explained in exquisite detail what's required to solve Jamaica's crime problem. I'm tired. I won't repeat myself here, save to remind all those supporters of 'tough policing' and 'abrogation of civil rights' that the last 40 years prove conclusively these strategies are worthless.
Violence only begets violence. Cut off the head of a vicious Hydra and five heads grow to replace it. It's time for Jamaica to accept that crime won't be curbed this month, this year; or even this decade. Crime is a multifaceted problem. It'll take at least 30 years to corral such a monster in a context where education is ineffective at best, non-existent at worst; literacy rates are embarrassingly low; corruption engulfs the society, including the police force; big men boast of having sex with little girls; and the average Joe jumps the fence to enter a free concert.
I told this Government from as far back as February 12, as soon as its "new crime plan" was announced, that it wouldn't work. I predicted crime would get worse. Then, under that a strange headline, 'Whether gunmen or Government, we're screwed either way', I wrote:
"This is Government's way of applying the Booklist Boyne Solution through the back door, oblivious to the eternal truth (with apologies to Billy Shakespeare) that crap by any other name smells as stink ... .
This monster we spent 40 years nurturing can't be killed overnight. This Jamaican crime monster is like a multi-headed Hydra. Booklist Boyne's Solution seeks to cut off the monster's head, but it only ensures that five more grow in its place. Jamaica's crime monster must be attacked at its root, and our most effective weapons are commitment and patience.
Nobody mentioned one piece of intelligence gathering or analysing applications; or improved police training (or importing of trained officers); or 'investigative capacity'; or reducing police corruption. THAT's how you try to save some lives now. NOT ONE LIFE will be saved by Booklist Boyne's Solution. Many more will have to die while we sweep up and detain dozens of small fry in inhuman conditions for weeks. Big Fish, often tipped off in advance, will still roam free."
It'll take a generation. What I will say is, had Government taken my advice 10 years ago, we would've completed 10 of the 30 years' journey. Still, we must begin.
The first step must be a political one. The political parties must publicly accept that both have failed miserably at curbing violent crime. Both must admit that neither has the complete answer. Never again do I want to hear such a callously calculated campaign claim as "If you keep PNP in power, the truth is, you could lose your life. If you keep PNP in power and the crime rate continues to rise, the truth is the next murder victim could be you," as was uttered on the last campaign trail by none other than Young Andrew Holness himself.
Stop pointing fingers
We, as Jamaicans, must insist on taking crime off the political table. We must stop pointing political fingers on this issue. The parties must get together, form a joint task force on crime to include security experts and wise men from the citizenry, and undertake to continue the eventually agreed policy across administrations.
However, the onus is on the Opposition to make the first move. I hope to see a new approach from a new PNP leader, beginning with eschewing the lazy choice of Peter Bunting as national security spokesperson. No disrespect, but it's an incontrovertible fact that Bunting is attached to past failures. Also, his belligerent approach to the new minister doesn't augur well for compromise talks. There are other important areas of national life to which he can make his seminal contribution.
The PNP's contribution to the national crisis should be a national security spokesperson who isn't as belligerent; who can compromise; and who the JLP can trust. Then the PNP can call for national unity on crime based on an admission that no one party has the answers. That call should come with a commitment not to make crime an election issue so efforts at crime reduction can be genuinely joint.
Could this be part of what the PNP means by 'renewal'? Will we see 'NEW' at the centre of PNP renewal? Let's see.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.