Glenn Tucker | The price of murder
A heartbroken Julia Hird, mother of slain 11-year-old Taysha Hughes, bawls in the arms of Inspector Jacqueline Ricketts, sub-officer in charge of the Gold Street Police Station, on June 23. Taysha was a victim of a crossfire near her home on Fleet Street, central Kingston.
The evening television news is usually dominated by information concerning the latest murders. Every evening. We do not see the murder victims. What we see are the grieving loved ones left behind.
The one that remains with me is that of a distraught mother, declaring with finality, "... I not going get over this, you know, I am not going to get over this ... ." That had me thinking. The direct victims are gone. But what about those in the lives of these victims? How many are there, and how will they be affected?
I decided to do some unscientific snooping (friends, relatives, co-workers, etc.) of five murdered men between the ages of 28 and 43 years. Here is some of what I got:
Total number of school-age children: 31
Total number of dependent siblings: 9
Total number of dependent others: 7
Items of value left behind:
A few cows, goats and pigs
Of the number of school-age children, one victim left 11 of the 31. Two of the 31 are disabled and two of the dependent others - grandparents - are bedridden.
It is obvious that these victims did not anticipate death. One reason why they were chosen was because no one knows of them being involved in questionable activities. They were all employed and were engaged in small farming or the occasional taxi job to augment their income. The question that immediately comes to mind, therefore, is, who will take care of these children and others who depended on these men for their very existence? PATH cannot keep anyone in school. And what about accommodation and the guidance and emotional support so critically needed to make it in life?
Crime generates substantial costs to society at individual, community and national levels. Two weeks ago, a Gleaner article reported that - in Kingston Public Hospital alone - the cost of treating gunshot victims was $400,000 per day. What is the daily cost islandwide? Are there other areas desperately in need of resources to which these funds could be better spent?
Metry Seaga, head of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, claims that "loosening the stranglehold of crime on manufacturing could result in a doubling of the 8.5 per cent contribution my sector is presently making to the country's GDP". He adds: "Criminality is affecting productivity in a real way. Manufacturers are having to spend more to achieve the same or less output. Workers are demoralised. They can't make it to work on time, and they must leave work early to avoid area curfews and gunmen. But most importantly, the greatness of our country is being held captive by a minority of criminals."
It is from small businesses that much of the future growth of a country will come. A senior police officer declared on TV that certain businesses in troubled areas will be ordered to close early. The objective is to reduce the number of places gunmen can find potential victims. This is sounding the death knell for those businesses. Apart from the odd, incurable, dipsomaniac, most persons who go to places of entertainment do so in the evenings. Under those police orders, they can do no business.
Some industries are thriving. The private security industry is 300 per cent of what a properly functioning country our size should need. And self-taught morticians are mushrooming.
Alfred Dawes, head of the rural Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, has expressed concern about the number of patients coming to that institution suffering from hypertension and stress. This, I gather, is the case in other hospitals and clinics.
In 2007, I asked a class at a primary school in Spanish Town how many of them had lost a friend or relative to violence. Every hand went up. Suspecting that they misunderstood me, I repeated the question and explained what I meant. The hands remained in the air. I later sought to confirm this with their class teacher, and she did, pointing out two who had lost both parents and one who had last two brothers. I spoke to the mental-health officer in the area and suggested, maybe, additional resources. This is what she said: "Mister, if the allocation for the entire island was given to Spanish Town, it would not be enough ... ."
No country can grow and prosper under this dark, thick paralysing cloud of fear, uncertainty, persistent grief, the decreasing quality of life, and psychological distress. Proper planning is also impossible. I find it interesting - revealing, even - that the IMF is as pleased as punch with our performance and is encouraging us to continue moving in the same direction.
I think the time has come for a comprehensive, scholarly, multidisciplinary study of the true cost of crime on this country. Special effort should be spent in properly quantifying the intangible costs because therein lie many of the mysteries that continue to mystify us. I have good reason for stressing that the availability of quality data sources plays a fundamental role in developing and implementing a comprehensive estimation strategy.
I suspect the results of this study will shock all well-thinking Jamaicans into seeing this problem as not just a police problem - which it isn't - but a national problem requiring all hands on deck.
- Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and