Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Without tackling other priorities - Special Zones law doomed to fail

Published:Sunday | July 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM
File A soldier detains a man during a joint military-police operation.

Poor Booklist Boyne worked himself into such a lather (June 25,' Ignore critics, pass anti-crime bill now') that I feared for his health.

He was particularly disturbed about contributions to the national debate from what he alternatively called "chattering classes" and "human-rights fundamentalists". Booklist ranted: "The utter unreasonableness of human-rights fundamentalists and bleeding-heart liberals is exposed by their opposition to the Government's zones of special operations bill ... ."

I know of nobody who opposed the bill. Even the PNP voted for it. My view was, and is, that the bill, by itself, just won't work. It's an illusion. Many, including the PNP, suggested amendments to try to make it better. Many, including Mark Golding and me, felt that the bill, as drafted, was vulnerable to constitutional challenge. The attorney-general repeatedly argued that if the Constitution was breached, it was a breach "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". My oblique response ('Constitutionally speaking', July 2) was, if so, the act must state specifically that it was passed for that purpose: "It would seem straightforward enough that if I give you the right to break my rules for a particular purpose, you must state that you're doing it FOR THAT PURPOSE if you're breaking my rules."

There's no harm in including in the bill's preamble that it responds to a national security crisis and, accordingly, its provisions are "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". A court faced with a constitutional challenge can then point to evidence of Parliament's pre-meditated purpose rather than having to infer purpose ex post facto. The presence of those words won't make a constitutional Act unconstitutional but can help to rescue a prima facie unconstitutional Statute from being struck down.

So, everybody was trying to help and expressed varied opinions. This is called freedom, a concept upon which Booklist apparently frowns: "One hundred and sixty-three persons had their lives snuffed out last month. This month, we're on target to offering up 180 more lives to the Moloch of crime. For the first six months of this year, we're projected to feed the graves with 720 fresh bodies.... But that's not enough to shock some members of our chattering classes... They are unperturbed. They are asking us to wait for another few decades to solve this problem, for they don't want to be guilty of any "knee-jerk reaction"... .

"We must fix the police force, justice system, education, family life, poverty, our Constitution, corruption, all social problems, our intelligence-gathering deficits. Take our time. Don't rush things. There's no emergency. For the last 50 years, we've been using stopgap, Band-Aid measures. It's time to take a few decades to do it right... . So what if we have to sacrifice tens of thousands of lives for a permanent solution decades from now?"

Despite Boynesian hyperbole, let's calm down and recognise reality: "Unperturbed" people don't make public comment. They, like Trump supporters, retreat to their safe zones to enjoy the company of their pet goats and shotguns;

Nobody is asking anybody to wait for "another few decades" or even for a week. Jamaica is still a free country and there are five flights a day to Miami. Speaking for myself, I'm TELLING you that, especially if government continues to approach this crime reduction crisis assy-versy, it'll take us three decades to rectify the situation like it or not. It took us 40 years to get here. We didn't rush.


Scare tactic


This scare tactic of persistently quoting body counts and projecting exaggerated future murders may make Booklist feel clever, but it has zero relevance to clearly thought out policies to prevent violent crime. It's facile, tedious, tendentious and puerile.

The simple reality is the Zones of Special Operations Bill, however well-intentioned, is premature, over-ambitious and clearly a knee-jerk reaction.

Most of us, especially our politicians, don't like to hear or read this but

- JCF is terminally corrupt;

- JCF is woefully underfunded, under-equipped and under-trained;

- Jamaica's presumptuous policy permitting citizens to own licensed firearms only creates another, simpler source of guns for criminals.

Until these priorities are addressed, this ambitious law is doomed to failure and no crime reduction policy, however brilliant or appropriate, can succeed.

When Government summons the political will (and funds) to deal with these three priorities, the Zones of Operations Bill can be an effective crime fighting tool. Until then, government is spitting in the wind and shameless government suck-ups like Booklist Boyne will always contemptuously characterise careful, constructive critique as a personal affront and resort to name calling which is the final refuge of the irredeemably irrational.

Booklist finds many provisions in the bill that, in his tormented mind, address the arguments of "our chattering classes". For example;

"For those concerned about corruption in the police force ... while noting the superior discipline of the JDF, the bill provides for a member of the JDF not below the rank of a Major to work along with a superintendent of police as joint command."

Good God Almighty, Booklist, did Tivoli 2010 teach you NOTHING?

"People keep talking about the Suppression of Crime Act and the various squads and special operations forces over the years. Read the darn bill!... This bill recognises the weaknesses of what went before and seeks to address those deficits. It's not the Suppression of Crime Act under a new name. A written report shall be given to the National Security Council every 10 days."

Well, thank Booklist for pointing out this sturdy defence against corruption running wild; yanking young men from under their grandmother's protection into the streets and slaughtering them with impunity. Not to worry, folks, that policeman MUST deliver a WRITTEN REPORT to the NSC in its air-conditioned office every 10 days. Whew!

"There are strict rules of accountability ... 'A person shall not be arrested or detained unless the person in charge of the operations is satisfied that there is (sic) reasonable grounds for the arrest and detention ... 'An officer can't just arrest someone because that person dissed him or is sleeping with his woman".

Yes he can. There's a "new" law but same old JCF. Only incorrigible believers in faith-healing like Booklist could ever read this provision (which exists already) through such a roseate chimera of a fog of idealism. If I say I am "satisfied" who can say otherwise? Does Booklist not know that superior officers WILL support their men on the ground? Jeez!


Government apologist


Anyway, we already know Booklist will write and say anything to burnish his aura as a serious public commentator and to obscure the fact that his work always appears to be that of a government apologist. Only two Sundays later the following flowed from Booklist's pen: "We owe a major debt of gratitude to human-rights and social activists who have insisted we take the rights of inner-city people, particularly inner-city youth, seriously. Through their vociferous and strident advocacy, these activists have pushed to the top of the agenda concerns about how the security forces treat inner-city people and how those citizens' rights have often been brutally trampled and abrogated... .

"My issue with human-rights activists has never been with the substance of their arguments ... ."

LMAO!! Really, Booklist? So, it wasn't you who wrote "The utter unreasonableness of human-rights fundamentalists and bleeding-heart liberals is exposed by their opposition to the Government's zones of special operations bill ... ."? Or "The utter stupidity of some of the responses to law-and-order measures is nauseating"?

Only two weeks later, Booklist had retreated mournfully:

"That's a big part of our problem today. The ideals of our politicians and elites don't have one darn appeal to many young people or many adults either. We've bred a people indifferent to traditional values. We're now reaping the whirlwind. We think the solution is hard policing, plus respect for human rights and then social intervention ... .

"But it's more than that. It's about giving them a sense of purpose beyond narrow economic interests. How can we rebuild that sense of caring about other people? How can we get more people to see that a life in service of no one but oneself is a deeply impoverished life? How can you influence a youth who has a gun or guns to put aside his gun and learn a trade that can only pay him $5,000 a week? How?"

Ah, Booklist, that's the question. The first answer is "not for now". If we take a canape approach beginning with my three priorities, continuing through the Zones Bill and social intervention and focus on developing values and attitudes through joint parent/children classes in civics and humanities, I estimate we can achieve the total objective in 30 years. If we take the knee-jerk route, it'll never happen.

Peace and Love

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law.

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