Orville Taylor | More guns, more icebergs melting
On October 22, I penned an article titled 'The iceberg below the gun find'. It was a chilling discussion, and not just because it was in two freezers that the contraband was found. At the Kingston Container Terminal, 19 guns, including six rifles, and countless rounds of ammunition, were well cached and invoiced as other benign cargo. Recently, at a broadcast from the Jamaica Customs Agency, I was given great assurance by the head of the Contraband Enforcement Team that they were stemming the flow of illegal weaponry entering via our official ports, although the 'unregulated' places of landing were more difficult to police.
Last Tuesday saw the encouraging news release that the police had again made a major dent into, and were well under way in dismantling, a superbly coordinated criminal network comprising at least 40 members. Some 25 of these are now in the hands of the cops, and the rest are on the radar, soon to be reeled in like a marlin on a long line. That at least one of the suspects is a serving police officer is sad, but not surprising, because criminals pervade the entire society.
Indeed, it is encouraging that a member of the House of Babylon was not given squaddie protection, thus indicating that the constabulary is not afraid to pursue and eject its own. If this were truer for political parties, the country would be farther down the road in reducing violent crimes.
Anyway, barely having time to scratch our beards or other more unflattering body parts, an even scarier collection of high-powered weapons was found. This time, it was discovered by law enforcement at the Miami International Airport, USA. On November 13, two blue shipping barrels labelled 'personal effects', containing four rifles and 115 pistols, and still unreported but clearly a large quantity of ammunition, were intercepted by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency's outbound enforcement team.
It is not the time to evaluate whether this is an indicator of the overall vigilance, or if it represents the norm as opposed to another small sample of what is sneaked out of that country. What matters is that the CBP did stop this frightening amount of firepower from reaching the hands of criminals here. So far, the information is that the shipment was destined for a Jamaica-based female in Montego Bay, and reprising the song Woman to Woman by Shirley Brown, it was also a member of the 'fairer' sex who had sent it from Coral Springs in the same state.
Let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully, the reciprocity treaty with the USA allows the criminals in that country to be subject to Jamaican laws so that they can get a taste of what it feels like to share accommodation with their local conspirators.
It's a serious wake-up call, except that those of us who have been warning since the Rock of Ages was a pebble are not surprised. That there might be politicians or their affiliates or other 'big' men and women involved is nothing new. The real issue is their ability to recruit an army of young 'shottaz' that Government has done very little to reduce.
Jamaica, in many ways, is defying the logic of what the official research says about crime. We really are not as poor a country as some people think. Haiti has a gross domestic product per capita of US$1,800. Guyana comes in at US$7,900. Jamaica's is at US$9,000, and grew from $8,800 in 2014. We are not getting poorer. However, it is telling that Haiti's homicide rate is just over 10 per 100,000 and Guyana's is around 20 per 100,000, while ours is more than 40 per 100,000.
Follow this closely: our literacy rate is around 89 per cent, with males at 84 and females at 93.1. Despite the evidence shown by the behaviour of our leaders and entertainers, we are not a nation of 'dunces', although 16 per cent of our boys are not able to read. Paradoxically, more of our youth have more CSEC and CAPE passes in English, math, and communication studies than in 2000. We have more smart and informed youth who also 'par with' the minority of illiterate boys, who easily take directions from their more educated 'quengas'.
Importing the guns is only part of the problem. It is the importation of the killing gene that is more worrisome. Between 2000 and 2006, Internet usage grew from 2.3 per cent of the population to 40 per cent. By 2014, we were well over 50 per cent, and by now we should be around 70 per cent. This country has moved from cell phones being a rare luxury and status symbol in the late 1990s to now having more phones than people. Our phone penetration is around 110 per cent. Penetration without protection breeds crime and spreads the disease of murder.
It is a pity that most readers missed the recent Dying to be Beautiful Conference put on by the University of the West Indies' Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work and the Faculty of Medical Sciences. One of the main presenters, Hollywood filmmaker-turned-medical doctor, Professor Michael Rich, demonstrated how the increased access to, and use of, electronic media have led to behavioural pathologies such as sleeplessness, obesity, and poor academic performance.
Importantly, media include video gaming, Internet, social media and simply texting. Each additional hour of cell-phone and Internet use makes modifications to the teenage and young adult brain. It is to be noted that the last part of the brain to be fully developed, and which is still incompletely formed in teenagers, is the section that deals with social responsibility and understanding of higher social norms.
In this country, youth unemployment ranges from 30 to 38 per cent; thrice the national average. The Devil is finding work for idle hands. And let me scare you a bit more. The average age of murder accused has decreased by two percentage points between 2000 and 2016. That is the new tip of the iceberg.
- Dr Orville Taylor is a senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.