Mon | Nov 20, 2017

Ian Boyne | Will ZOSO be just so-so?

Published:Sunday | September 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Residents of Mount Salem, St James, interact with a soldier at a security checkpoint in the community, which is under the watch of the military and the police.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness declaring Mt Salem a zone of special operations two Fridays ago.
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It had been confidently predicted that any zone of special operations (ZOSO) would inevitably be "another Tivoli". Police and soldiers would be abusing people, kicking down their doors, ransacking their houses, killing innocent young men, and shamelessly trampling people's rights.

Instead, the biggest complaints in Mount Salem, our first zone, were some delays at checkpoints and some citizens frustrated at being required to show IDs. Journalists had descended on the zone early to catch any exciting footage for television, any sensational clips for radio, and some juicy quotes for newspaper front pages. The reporters kept asking questions about possible problems and inconveniences, hoping to unearth something that was headline-grabbing. Cho! Nothing to literally write home about.

In fact, when the people were allowed to expand, they were full of praise for the police and soldiers. The security forces were courteous, cooperative, and generally respectful, residents were saying. Dionne Jackson Miller, the RJR Group's star journalist and president of the Press Association of Jamaica, spent her weekend in the west. She produced an excellent and balanced edition of All Angles last Wednesday, where she carried several residents in high praise of the presence of the security forces.

People were expressing relief that they could sell in peace, go to church in peace, and sleep in peace. In other reports, people were saying that it was the first in a long time that they were able to sleep without hearing gunshots. Even when no one was killed, gangsters would regularly raise their machines to show that they were still in control. Then other gangsters from neighbouring communities would give their 'answer', saying, in effect, we are still here, too. Meanwhile, old ladies would tremble with fear, and good, decent people would be worried about when those big guns would be turned on them. Those guns have been silent since last Friday, thanks to ZOSO.

 

Any inconveniences?

 

When asked about some inconveniences in Mt Salem, one young man told All Angles, "We haffi sacrifice something." Another said of the security forces: "Nobody nah give we nuh trouble. You follow the procedure and yuh good." An old lady coming from church told Dionne that she wished the soldiers would stay "a long, long time". She saw them as a godsend.

I had been telling readers for years - and raised the ante at the beginning of the year to the consternation and condemnation of human-rights fundamentalists - that it is largely disconnected uptown people who are opposed to security forces' intervention in these communities; that these people who are under criminal control and oppression want liberation. Once the security forces don't abuse them, inner-city people have no problem with their presence. I had been saying that these people's civil liberties and human rights are already abridged, infringed, and abrogated by criminals and shottas.

Everything that has happened since Mount Salem has been declared our first zone of special operations has proven me right. I am glad that members of the press have been given unimpeded access and have been free to talk to whomever they want and to go where they want. No social media footage of security forces abusing people. Critics are confounded and are now to be shifting their focus to other issues, their apocalypse having failed to come through. They are now engaging in bait and switch.

Now, they are bewailing that no large stash of arms has been found, and criminals have not been caught as they have all fled. The person hiding under the nom de plume JaRistotle (whoever he/she is) in his Jottings in Thursday's Gleaner, 'Folly on the Mount,' exhibits some of this folly in the opposition to ZOSO. He(?) says in the column: "It is asinine to have uniformed and easily identifiable members of the security forces operating within the prescribed areas searching for faceless wonders."

 

Major objective

 

But that is assuming that the first major objective of ZOSO is to catch criminals. The first and most immediate goal is to stop the murder mayhem in a zone. To save lives. To achieve precisely the objective of chasing the crazy bald heads out of town or from the streets. That is how I have always put my own support for a ZOSO-type intervention. I have challenged the bleeding-heart liberals to come up with a solution to stop murders tonight and this weekend. ZOSO achieves that.

A man might still murder his woman in a zone. But gangsters can't roam the streets, creating mayhem.

I have always talked about liberating these crime-infested, criminally controlled communities from these leeches and freeing residents to have a life that we uptown are accustomed to. The people in Mount Salem have that now. They can sleep at night. They can have their prayer and fasting meetings, and lovers can enjoy their ecstasy without having to end prematurely because of gunshots.

In situations of galloping murders and escalating fear, you need, first of all, to stop the murders and restore calm. You catch criminals and get the guns after. Some people are very likely alive today without their relatives planning their funerals this weekend just because of ZOSO. The fact that their would-be murderers have not yet been caught is secondary. They are alive today. So this argument about oh, the criminals are all gone, so ZOSO is a failure, is high-grade nonsense. Or folly on stilts.

There is also another major point that critics of ZOSO overlook: Don't underestimate the power of displacement. When you push criminals and gangsters out of their comfort zone, their familiar territory and their base, they are easier to make mistakes and be caught. Displacement makes them highly vulnerable. Yes, these bastards have more than one base, but there's nothing like their home base for ease of operation. And this is why I believe we need at least three zones of special operations simultaneously. I am very disappointed that the prime minister has taken so long to declare a second zone.

I understand his starting with one and evaluating things. I know he is very is cautious and methodical. I get that, and I appreciate it. But I think it is time enough to declare a second zone and keep criminals on tenterhooks. Criminals must be worried.

You can't give the criminals too many safe havens. Remember, they have their cronies in other areas, and, in fact, while many are operating independently of the politicians these days, this is where their traditional garrison links help their criminal operations. These criminals have their political territories where they can gain asylum. The more areas you shut off, the more you destabilise them and make them vulnerable. Please, Prime Minister, declare another zone as soon as possible! Delay is danger.

Criminals in Clarendon, Rockfort, Spanish Town, Westmoreland, and other parts of St James already expect a zone to be declared, and some, I believe, have moved out already. That's good. Keep them unsettled. That's part of the plan. The security forces should expect that criminals have fled by the time they reach a zone. No problem. In fact, that's good for the security forces' PR, for if criminals are there and engage them in a fight, media and civil society will automatically assume that if criminals are killed, they were executed extrajudicially. They are always cynical about the security forces. Good for the security forces when they go in and the bwoy dem run like scared cats. For dem know soldier nuh skin up.

Let them run all over the place and then capture their territory and allow people to inform on them and get the $100-million bounty. Then you have car searches to capture them on the run. ZOSO has to be supplemented with the police operating with maximum efficiency and intelligence outside the zones. It is outside the zones when the criminals are displaced and disoriented that you capture them and get the intelligence to put them away.

ZOSO has brought liberation and peace to residents. That's an important goal in itself. It was good to not start with the most challenging zone so that the right lessons can be leaned. Now that you have your case study, Mr Prime Minister, please liberate more citizens!

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.