Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Mark Wignall | Police, public transport and extortion

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Commissioner Quallo has my best wishes in putting together a list of all vehicles in the public transport business that are owned by police personnel. For many years now, it has been the biggest open secret that more than a handful of buses and route taxis are owned by some members of the JCF.

The easiest way for the public to determine ownership is simply by observing the driving pattern of some of these vehicles. They break the laws of driving with impunity simply because they are policed by their owners. Add to that the fact that the drivers of these vehicles, overall, make the road traffic laws to suit themselves.

Commissioner Quallo is no spring chicken to policing, therefore, he must know 'di runnings'. The top cop must also know that while the squaddie mentality is an integral part of operations in the JCF, there is also another element of the cliquish behaviour that will put him firmly on the outside.

He is the big boss, and while there is a valid view that the JCF is top-heavy, and as would be expected, a clique exists at the top, where the rubber hits the road, it is really the tail that is wagging the dog. So I expect a major blowback by those JCF owners, especially if it should be determined that some of them are closer to the commissioner's office than he would like.

Whether it is a 'supe' or a corporal, many will not take too kindly to the commissioner trying to interfere with them 'eating a food'. In the interim, the commissioner needs to ask another question, a most important one.

In the extortion racket, where guns and threats and death are more real than imagined, what is it that sustains this criminality, which obtains at just about every transport centre dotting every parish capital, small town and built-up commercial centre across Jamaica?

Just as how the commissioner has been moved to come public on the allegations of police ownership of vehicles in the public transport sector, it is the perfect time for him to examine the more-than-possible nexus between the criminal network controlling the many points of extortion and certain rogue members of the JCF.

The commissioner would be surprised, or maybe not. After all, he is supposed to be a man who has not become too insular and locked away at the top to the point that he has lost the art of keeping his ears close to the ground.

I know of one transportation centre that on certain days when an official police presence is in operation, the young men who are in charge of collections in the criminality that is extortion are replaced by a young woman who looks quite the innocent.

How did the young men know that an official police presence would be there in time to do a strategic collection shift?

 

Back up words with action, commissioner

 

It is a perverse reality that without murders related to extortion, the effect of extortion would lose its flavour. In other words, what better way to send a message to the transport operators to let them know the young criminals are dead serious than another killing.

The commissioner may find that if he draws a line, he is likely to determine that there are points of intersection with police ownership of vehicles in the transport business, rogue police, aiding and abetting extortionists, and the sustainability of the extortion racket.

Corruption is ingrained in every aspect of Jamaican life, and it is always much easier to bring shortcuts to more power among those who already have the State backing them if not actually endorsing their wrongdoing.

In this country, we are used to officialdom spouting off at the mouth and saying all of the right things but only doing it as a palliative to keep the citizens quiet and less concerned until the nine-day effect wears off.

Many law-abiding drivers have been savaged by route taxis, and we are forced to grin and bear it. A few years ago, while I was in a long line of traffic on my way to Immaculate High School, a route taxi driver decided that a third line was OK for him, so he darted out, forced the oncoming traffic to mount the sidewalk, but as he did so, he smashed my wing mirror.

"I understand, I really do," said my 14-year-old daughter seated beside me as I cussed some choice Jamaican words, to myself, because that was all I could do.

Mr Commissioner, we await the action after all of the fine words.

Corporal punishment and criminality

Not every adult who was beaten as a child developed a criminal mind and became a murderer, but just about every murderer, gunman, and rapist that I have interviewed over the years experienced traumatic beatings at the hands of their 'caregivers' while they were quite young.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has his heart in the right place in wanting to outlaw corporal punishment in schools, but there is a strong cultural component in many Jamaican households that favours corporal punishment.

It is highly unlikely that parents who do not believe in the beating of their children will take kindly to the revelation that one of their children has been flogged in school. Ideally, the change should have been made in the home first, but there are many parents who believe that children cannot be raised properly without the inclusion of a leather belt applied forcefully to the rear end of their youngsters.

As far as they are concerned, that is one right that they do not want anyone to dictate to them about. The real cultural clash is that most teachers in the public and private school system are also parents.

"Any teacher who causes a visible wound on a child while punishing the child should be reported," said a teacher working at a school in a St Andrew inner-city pocket. As we spoke by phone last Wednesday, I said, "And when you use the word 'punish', what you really mean is corporal punishment, beating the child, right?'

"Yes," she said.

"But what about the invisible psychological scars. Surely you know many of us as adults appear to have recovered from the pain of childhood beatings, but some of it does linger, and it may make even some so-called well-adjusted adults introverted and withdrawn," I said.

 

NO EASY ANSWER

 

"It's not a simple matter. At my school, there are some children who respect nothing but the belt or a good caning. I hate to say it, but some of them behave like wild animals. What is the solution to that? What about the other children who want to learn while one or two disrupters are trying to set the agenda for the entire class?"

I had no easy answers for her. As someone who got my fair share of beatings with a leather belt as a child but never did the same to my children, I know it is often a fool's errand to try to convince a first-time parent that corporal punishment has the potential for psychological scars that in adulthood can lead to dangerous places.

There is a regulation at Immaculate Conception High School that states that mobile phones must not be seen, heard, or used. One student I knew had broken the rule and had her phone taken away by the class teacher.

For the three days that her phone was seized, the young student literally went into mourning. I would imagine that many other schools have a similar rule, but what if a teacher says, "Hand it over!", the student refuses, and decides to verbally abuse the teacher? Suspension? Expulsion?

And, what then?

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.