Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Lennie Little-White | Why crime flourishes on our plantation

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Lennie Little-White

After 55 years, independent Jamaica is still a plantation state in a permanent struggle to shed its colonial cocoon. No Jamaican is born with badness in his DNA, but the social environment in which we are raised is the crucible that creates either decent social beings or heartless criminals that see no alternative to their vicious lifestyle.

The existence of the sugar estate fuelled the birth of our coastal towns from where sugar was shipped to England. Later, Kingston would become the mother of all towns, bypassing Spanish Town to become our capital city. For obvious economic reasons, our political governors collaborated with entrenched capitalists to transform the designated townships into urban concrete enclaves with Kingston as the largest.

However, rather than being a Mecca for industrial growth and social betterment, the capital city allowed inner-city pockets to develop and decay - providing fertile soil for decadence and crime.This is the social canvas that was so aptly described by Bob Marley and the Wailers in their seminal piece Concrete Jungle:

"No sun will shine in my day today

The high yellow moon won't come out to play

I said darkness has covered my light

And has changed my day into night."

Our urban planners created minuscule towns across Jamaica without the social amenities to soften the harsh reality of the concrete jungle. Somebody forgot to tell them that there are five basic needs to be considered in any social matrix - if you are to maintain a positive holistic environment for people to thrive.

It was the American psychologist Abraham Maslow who first codified the "hierarchy of needs" necessary to fulfil innate human needs - culminating in self-actualisation. To ignore these basic needs is to create a blueprint for a society which will descend into crime and anarchy. According to Maslow, the most primal needs are physiological - which include air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex and sleep.

We must ask ourselves how many of these are readily available in any urban landscape, and if they are not, what is the consequence?

Man's instinct makes us survive, no matter what - even if in the process, we have to destroy our new-found urban cocoon.

"Where is the love to be found?

Won't someone tell me cause

Life must be somewhere to be found.

Instead of Concrete Jungle

Where the living is harder."

These are the ingredients that create de facto social stratification between the uptown (those who have) and downtown (those who have not). Edward Seaga put the spotlight on this great divide when he wrote about the haves and the have-nots. Fifty-five years after we hoisted our own flag, the conditions that Seaga bemoaned have become worse - hatching inner-city crucibles that are ready evidence of social decay. This provides "dry firewood" for the spiralling crime rate that continues to soar - in competition with our flourishing stock market.

When our African brothers and sisters disembarked from the slave ships, there were jobs ready for them on the plantation with dilapidated wooden barracks to house them. This was by no means a desirable social environment, but 'Backra Massa' gave them a job, a place to live and food to eat - along with some of the other basic needs described by Maslow being met.

By the time the Indians and Chinese came as indentured labourers, Emancipation had freed the slaves and left a 'living space' for the new immigrants to tolerate. In that environment, the Church provided the balm to ease the pain of the cruel plantation existence.

In our current urban Concrete Jungles, there are very few jobs for people without skills. There is limited or very poor housing, which is often overcrowded, with no proper sanitary or social facilities.

This was the perfect scenario for Jimmy Cliff's Ivan in The Harder They Come - a film about a 'star bwoy' that was loosely based on the original urban gangster Rhygin. Vincent 'Ivanhoe' Martin, who became known as Rhygin, is arguably the first glorified gunman who wreaked havoc on the society as a murderer, robber and rapist until he was cut down by the police in 1948. After this, the gun became entrenched in our criminal landscape.

We are now producing more Rhygins than farmers, teachers, mechanics, nurses, scientists, carpenters, to name a few, with the skills that a modern society needs. One of the most common street slangs is 'man haffi eat a food'. If there are no jobs or welfare subsistence, the 'massive' has to find a way to survive.

What is the immediate solution? Is there a solution on the horizon? If there is none, it is one of the reasons that the feisty President Trump can give countries like ours the moniker "sh**holes" because we are in deep doo-doo with our current crime dolly house, where nobody seems to be in charge.

Yes, it is not a simple algorithm that has a ready answer or a quick-fix solution, but successive governments continue to mouth shibboleths without matching policies and actions to effect change and temper crime with its attendant bloodletting.

"In this Concrete Jungle, what do you got for me?

Concrete Jungle, won't you let me be.

Sweet life must be somewhere for me to be found.

Instead, its Concrete Jungle - collusion, confusion.

Concrete Jungle - what do you got for me?"

Time come for the new Backra Massas on both sides of Gordon House to understand that we need creative and practical long-term plans that transcend five-year election cycles. We must revisit Maslow and start addressing all the hierarchical needs if we are to temper the crime that is now spiralling out of control.

We better realise that there is no tomorrow if we continue to pussyfoot today. Of course, there is no instant fix that will make us sleep with our doors open. The plantation is ripe for burning like our National Hero Sam Sharpe's rebellion showed us.

- Lennie Little-White, CD, MA, is a Jamaican filmmaker and writer. Email feedback to and