Ian Boyne | Crime, corruption and culture
Just when we thought crime was really bad, it got really, really bad. The Corporate Area, cool for a while now, suddenly became very hot again, with violence breaking out across inner-city communities, claiming many lives and plunging the country into further fear and terror.
The question at the end of the week was not whether zones of special operations should be declared, but whether we have enough security forces to go into the many areas where they are sorely needed. We might not want to call a spade a spade, but we are facing a national, not just regional, emergency. (This does not mean I am calling for such a declaration by the Government.)
People in affected inner-city communities held hostage by criminals are themselves calling for the special zones of operations as a means of protection, thoroughly rubbishing the claim of those who say they would see the law as oppressive. Many are seeing the law as a means of liberation. The Gleaner, in its lead story on Wednesday, 'Ready for action: PM's constituents want special zone clampdown after multiple murders', quotes one resident: "I definitely would support that move. I think it would make good sense to set up one here. The murderers law must stand and they cannot win the fight." These people have no KingAlarm to help them or gated townhouses.
The lead story quotes one lady who lost her daughter as saying, "Drastic measures are needed to curb crime ... ," adding that the zone of special operations would at least give some peace to the beleaguered residents." This is what the fear-paralysed, oppressed inner-city residents are saying. We must listen to them.
It was a resolute, decisive, and tough-talking East Kingston MP Phillip Paulwell who called on the security forces to lock down certain areas in Rockfort and deal with those who he openly called "terrorists" who had been on a murder rampage. He knows there is corruption in the police force, but in a crisis, we either have to call on them or live under the terror of criminals.
Another man with deep roots in East Kingston is Paul Burke, with more than 40 years of social and political activism under his belt. He recently backed the zones of special operations while urging safeguards. He echoed the sentiments of those residents who are seeing the recent legislation as a release from criminal oppression.
"I wish to conclude," Paul Burke told the joint select committee of Parliament "that our rights and freedom of movement have already been taken away from many of us. I do not feel free to visit friends in certain communities again either in the day or in the night," Now if Paul Burke can be cautious, who the hell would not be!
Said grass-roots man Burke: "I would not be sitting down on the roadside again, playing dominoes or just hanging out to chat. We don't go to many of the community sessions again."
He had more to say to parliamentarians: "I dare say much more than anyone else in this room, I have witnessed the paralysing fear, the morbid fear of citizens living under the hand of violence perpetrators; what it does to them, their families and their children. The cost to them psychologically, physically, and financially ... ."
The zones of special operations, as Burke said, are "absolutely necessary". But let us not see them as a panacea. If zones are declared and the significant reforms and social intervention measures mentioned by human-rights activists are not effected, crime will continue to spiral out of hand. The zones of special operations will contain murders immediately, but if we are to have a sustainable impact on crime, we have to tackle the underlying problems and causes.
The PNP made some excellent points in its minority report to Parliament. The party said, "Insufficient diligence in case preparation by the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force), which often contributes to the delay in the court system and sometimes leads to violence producers being granted bail", is a major constraint in crime fighting. This is a major point. If you detain people and can't gather the intelligence to put them away, you are putting a Band-Aid on the problem, though you might have lengthened some innocent people's lives. But these criminals are going to go back on the road to kill later.
The sloppy, incredibly incompetent work of the police is a major contributor to crime. I hear the horror stories. The Government has to urgently shake up the force and get out the incompetent and corrupt ones. The PNP is right that "a lack of focus on gathering credible intelligence and admissible evidence for tackling serious crime" is a major constraint in crime fighting.
We also need more boots on the ground and more police vehicles. "Insufficient use of technology" is another problem cited by the PNP. So, too, "the message of impunity that results from the low conviction rates for serious crimes (only 50-60 per cent in the Circuit Courts and a shocking 30 per cent in the Gun Court) in which the delays and inefficiencies in the court system are a substantial factor."
The Ministry of Justice, under Delroy Chuck, is making a commendable effort to deal with the problems of the justice system. Chuck's effort at plea-bargain reform will help considerably, along with other initiatives. Resources must be found to speed up and sustain all these efforts.
The PNP also pointed to the issue of inadequate resources to address deep social deprivation. The PM has pledged to do something about this. We need, as a country, to unite around pumping more money into the social sector and to send a clear signal to the International Monetary Fund that a narrowly economistic approach is inimical to development. IMF representatives themselves talk about crime being a binding constraint on growth. Well, they need to understand that unless the Government's hand is freed to deal adequately with poverty and social deprivation, the cherished macroeconomic targets and 'reform measures' will be through the door.
Nationally, we must insist that our Budget reflects social priorities while seeking to safeguard our macroeconomic gains. We have to address inequality if we are to deal sustainably with crime. Hard policing methods by themselves are grossly inadequate. Zones of special operations cannot be sustained without significant investments in people and communities.
The PNP also commendably tackled some cultural issues in its report: "High levels of teenage pregnancy (children raising children), poor parenting skills, and high levels of domestic violence, including child abuse in its various forms", were cited. We have some deep cultural problems. High sexual irresponsibility, large numbers of promiscuous men impregnating girls and not taking care of their children are problems that contribute to crime. I am happy to see the political class highlighting this issue.
Also, the PNP needles a "culture that features poor anger-management skills and a quickness to resort to violence in response to perceived disrespect". Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in our dancehall culture. Those who are viscerally defensive about dancehall music completely miss the point: It is not that dancehall music causes crime.
It is that certain artistes like Alkaline, Vybz Kartel, Masicka, Aidonia, and others glorify and glamorise violence. (Incidentally, why are the police taking so long to severely punish those bastards who corruptly used police vehicles and who themselves appeared in that despicable 'After All' video promoting criminality? What are they investigating so long?)
The asinine point that dancehall merely reflects the violence that is in the society is simply a lie, and only people who don't listen to dancehall can be fooled by it. Murder music in dancehall promotes hate, bigotry, and senseless violence. It glorifies and celebrates violence, not merely reflects it. It reinforces our penchant for violence in this culture and idolises revenge. That is objectively bad and we can't be ambivalent about it.
Our glorification of bling, which so easily feeds our corruption, and our promotion of nihilistic violence in the dancehall contribute to a culture of crime. Zones of special operations won't solve our deep-seated problems.