Raymond Pryce | Finally you see this is an emergency
When on January 8 a Gleaner headline alerted us that there were already "38 murders for the first six days of 2018", one wanted to reflexively declare: Fake news! Except this was a Jamaica Gleaner headline and report of more than six murders per day since the start of the year was factual.
This is a reality that did not occur overnight and which, undoubtedly, has myriad root and additional causes. Part of the problem has been the repeat description of the causes without a sufficient commitment of resources (emotional, financial and otherwise) to begin to seriously stop the bloodshed.
A review of Gleaner headlines alone over the last decade illustrates the situation in striking terms. There was the August 14, 2010 publication that cites retired Superintendent of Police Reneto Adams declaring, "Kill them before they kill you," or a series some years ago that tabulated the murder statistics as a banner on the front pages - and even more recently, the 'Anarchy' series of editorials that includes the November 12, 2017 missive 'On the cusp of anarchy', and the apt 'Deliberate action needed, not more talk shops and research' published on January 11, 2018.
But then what action exactly is needed? For much of 2017, the parliamentary schedule included the debates regarding the ZOSO crime bill. This was also the case a few years ago with the anti-gang legislation. Both were described by the ministers who piloted them and members of the law-enforcement community as critical tools to better outfit the authorities to achieve successes in fighting crime.
Without being detained (for now) on the efficacy of any of these interventions - it is noteworthy that again we have reverted to the often-derided provisions in law for the declaration of a state of public emergency.
Announcements Live via Instagram
As I watched the prime minister outline the reasons for this latest use of those provisions with respect to the parish of
St James on Instagram LIVE, one of my many responses was: "Finally." Not for any great desire for the inconveniences that can come with a state of public emergency but rather an understanding of the additional authority and responsibilities that the leadership and members of the security forces can now utilise in addressing the crime epidemic, beginning in St James.
The question also arose: What took him so long? The situation had necessitated such an intervention well in advance of January 18. I had earlier suggested that ZOSO was unnecessary and that we should have used a state of emergency even then. Others who shared that unpopular view at the time included former St James MP Clive Mullings.
I clearly remembered the arguments proffered by government members during the ZOSO debates in Parliament and thought openly that the outcomes being sought could already be achieved from existing legislation. A new law was unnecessary and could lead to legislative clutter.
So when in the January 18 press briefing, the PM said, "The parish of St James is now under a state of public emergency," and went on to describe the situation that lead to this development, intrinsic within his statement was confirmation that ZOSO was unsuccessful.
Many will say that discussion is premature or even inappropriate. Suggestions may even come that such a conversation has no place, while ZOSO is still effect in both Mt Salem and Denham Town. Yet this is part of the problem that has become Jamaica. Many have become afraid to think and those who do and dare to express an opinion are quickly labelled and accused of colouring the situation.
To be clear, the only colour I have been seeing with respect to the murder statistics is red. The red of weeping eyes of the mothers and other family members at the loss of loved ones; the red in the images of peeled or severed heads that are strewn across social media; the red of the marrow that leaks from heads blown open by bullets or the red of blood drained from bodies ripped to pieces by gunfire.
Standing with PM Holness
I truly empathise with Prime Minister Holness in these moments. After all, he is my prime minister, too.
While I support and anticipate success from the state of emergency, there are matters arising from ZOSO that need to be addressed concurrently. For clearly, had ZOSO been successful, it would have been declared for the entire parish of St James in lieu of the state of emergency. Why revert to the pre-existing powers and protocols afforded by the Public Emergency Act, as Clive Mullings and I, as well as parliamentarians currently serving, had advanced? Could lives lost since ZOSO have been spared if we had gone the root of a state of public emergency from then? Could the funds deployed for ZOSO have yielded better results if they were spent post the successes of a state of public emergency as now declared.
The argument that ZOSO permitted social intervention still needs to be reviewed, especially against the background that the Government needed no new corollary legislation to pursue social development within communities.
It is arguable that ZOSO was a misuse of the Parliament's time and that of the Parliamentary Counsel - when other legislative matters related to strengthening the criminal justice system need to be urgently addressed.
These matters go to the core of understanding the Holness Doctrine or, put differently, determining the metric that will be applied to the Holness Era - whether it is a foray in costly experimentalism or one typified by bold and pragmatic leadership.
Counting on success
The security forces and related agencies and agents of the State have my full support in the carriage of their responsibilities during the operations that have been rolled out in St James. I anticipate that they will be professional, respectful and responsive in their interactions with citizens.
Similarly the citizens should be supportive, responsive and respectful to the security forces, recognising that, ultimately, we are all relying on them to protect and secure our homeland and our future.
It is hoped that the business community in St James will also be supportive and understanding as employees may be delayed in getting to work as a result of the necessary security checkpoints that will be erected. Curfews may be a feature for some areas, so students and employees may be absent at times.
This is a national crisis, and though, for the time localised in St James, I expect that other areas may in time be placed under emergency powers.
- Raymond Pryce is a media presenter, social commentator, and former parliamentarian. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.