Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Martin Henry | Law in hand: where to start clear, hold, build

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If the prime minister as captain for the Crime Zones Act leads as the transformational leader he says he wants to be, the Government should soon be getting requests for special interventions.

The advocacy focus during the debate of the bill, including the interventions of the parliamentary Opposition, which secured 18 amendments in the Lower House in exchange for its support, has been on human-rights issues and the potential abuse of power at the clearing stage of clear, hold, build. But if the intention of the law is faithfully carried out, the other stages should see substantial resources being funnelled into communities designated as zones for special operations.

I'm surprised that in the debate and in the submissions from the public to the joint select committee that there was little, if any, concern expressed that the prime minister parson and his diaconate in Govern-ment would christen fi dem pickney dem fus in directing 'build' resources to their areas of 'special' voting support. The garrisons, 'zones of special exclusion', crime factories, were built that way.

The man in Rockfort, interviewed by Nationwide News last Wednesday after a fresh flare-up of violence in that community, bluntly told the interviewer that there would be no peace in the area until di gunman dem, the purveyors of violence, dead out. He was speaking for a large number of Jamaicans.

 

AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT

 

But not one more gun boy needs to die at the hands of the police or at the hands of another gang with which his gang, is at war. All they need to do is fling down the gun and get ready to pick up the shovel, turning from the criminal gang to the construction gang which the member of parliament for Central Kingston, with its own fresh outbreak of violence, Ronald Thwaites, called for in his last Monday column in this newspaper. 'Clear' will only require tough action executed by lawful means if there is unlawful resistance.

In his 2017-2018 Budget presentation in March, the prime minister was quite clear as he addressed the area of community safety, public order, violence and crime: "The general levels of crime and violence," he said then, "present an existential threat."

Areas with elevated levels of crime and violence strongly correlate "with high unemployment, low incomes, poor infrastructure, unplanned settlements, and generally, a lack of access to state amenities and services. Criminals operate freely in these communities, taking life, taking property, taking your daughters, and extorting tax to protect you from them," the prime minister said.

After all these bloody years of studying the problem as it grows worse and throwing police operations at it, what have the results been? "The history of intervention by the State shows that an overreliance on strong policing measures may attenuate the situation in the short term but does not bring long-term stability and normalisation," Holness correctly concluded. So, "any strategy to address these areas must be comprehensive, sustained, inclusive, and respectful of human rights and the dignity of the people".

The special zones legislation, he declared, "is designed to give effect to a well-established and practised security and community-building strategy termed 'clear, hold, build', which involves displacing criminals, sustaining state control, and establishing community infrastructural and psycho-social support.

The bill has gone the cycle of parliamentary debate in both Houses, including deliberations and public hearings, and is now law with bipartisan support.

But where to begin? Every garrison constituency and community is a zone begging for special intervention. Every scamming community is crying out to be a pioneer for special intervention. Almost on cue, as the bill raced into law, fresh rounds of violence and murders broke out in West Central St Andrew and South West St Andrew. There are at least a couple dozen other 'hotspots' across the country.

As I said in last Sunday's column, the week before was a historic week in the Jamaican Parliament for the come-around bipartisan support for the Crime Zones Bill and the retirement of MPs from two of the three strongest garrisons in the country - Southern St Andrew (PNP) and South Western St Andrew (PNP). The third is, of course, Western Kingston (JLP), which has descended into unrelenting bloodletting following the removal of the area leader in 2010.

What better tribute to pay to former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and former Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies than to provide their former constituencies with the kind of crime reduction and development assistance that 'clear, hold, build' promises?

West Central St Andrew, sharply divided between warring JLP and PNP factions, and seriously lacking development, is also a prime candidate for special intervention.

Even-handedness in SW St Andrew may even open up prospects for a future JLP victory there. Created in 1959, the constituency, Clem Tavares' old seat, was a strong JLP seat up to the 1972 elections when Wilton Hill held it for the party with a respectable 64.36 per cent of the votes cast. His PNP opponent, Jason Gordon, a businessman on Waltham Park Road in the constituency, was shot in the mid-'70s while serving as PNP caretaker and withdrew from politics. A harbinger of the violence that would continue to plague the constituency.

Portia Simpson took the seat for the PNP in the 1976 elections with just under 76 per cent of the votes and has held it ever since, except for the 1983 elections, which the PNP boycotted. The margin of victory kept growing, peaking at 99.57 per cent of the votes cast in the 1993 elections before starting to decline ever so slightly. While the 1972 elections had a constituency voter turnout of 74 per cent, the 1980 elections saw a 105 per cent turnout.

By the cruellest of coincidences, the councillor for the Greenwich Town division, Karl Blake, was shot and injured and his divisional secretary shot and killed by unknown assailants on the eve of Portia Simpson Miller's exit as MP 41 years after she was first elected, underscoring the high-violence nature of the constituency and the need for special intervention.

 

GROWING BY THE DAY

 

St Andrew South has been solidly PNP except for the JLP garrison community Wilton Gardens, aka Rema, in its midst. Eugene Parkinson held it for the JLP when it was created in 1967. Since then, it has been PNP all the way. Housing minister and three-term MP for the constituency from 1972, Anthony Spaulding, built Arnett Gardens, the answer to the JLP's Wilton Gardens, and used housing to consolidate his power base while assisting with the organising of the neighbouring SW St Andrew. Spaulding had first won the seat in 1972 by a mere 102 votes - 3,658 to 3,556 - but in 1980, when the PNP was wiped out, he nonetheless won by 15,030 votes out of 17, 739 cast!

Hartley Jones held the seat for one term and a little piece, winning in 1989 and again in March 1993, but was asked by his party to resign in November and make way for the great man Omar Davies, who Prime Minister PJ Patterson wanted to be his finance minister, to be elected by by-election.

West Central St Andrew, with its sharp division between PNP Waterhouse with 'Moscow' and 'Havana' areas, and JLP Tower Hill, yielded the highest body count of any constituency in that bloody 1980 general election, 39 per cent of deaths by police count. The seat was steadily PNP from its creation in 1959 until captured for the JLP by Ferdinand Yap in that violent 1980 election. A.J. Nicholson took it back for the PNP in 1989 and held it for two terms until along came Andrew Holness in 1997, who won by only 65 votes, but who has held the seat since.

West Kingston, the political home at some time of four of the six JLP prime ministers, but among the most violent and run-down pieces of Jamaica, is an obvious candidate for special intervention.

The Government has plenty of options of places to start, with these growing by the day as violence spreads its tentacles across the country. Law in hand, it's time for decisive action for clear, hold, build.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.