Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Martin Henry | Crime prevention and abortion

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:14 AM

While visiting the UWI Research Days last Thursday, I stumbled upon a ‘Crime Plan’ panel discussion. It was a heavy panel, with a variety of meanings of “heavy”. The current Minister of National Security, Dr Horace Chang, spoke. His announcement of a new approach to fairer police promotions was the only point that RJR considered newsworthy in the five o’clock evening newscast.

Former Minister of National Security in the last PNP Administration, Peter Bunting, was on. So were former Police Commissioner and former head of the army Hardley Lewin; Director of Public Prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn; and INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams. Horace Levy of the Peace Management Initiative had a seat on the panel.

If murder is the measure, all of these public officials and anti-crime actors, present and past, are miserable failures.

A couple ofbona fide researchers rounded out the Crime Plan panel. But there was the country’s leading criminologist, Professor Anthony Harriott, standing on the fringes of a corked undercroft. He said he’d been invited but was unable to. This being a research event, one would have thought, and I expressed that, that these anti-crime actors would have been accorded VIP front seats to hear the researchers address the crime problem. But as I heard Rear Admiral (Rtd) Hardley Lewin loudly put it as I wandered back to viewing real research in the Research Village, we really need no new research and formulations. The place is littered with study after study and plan after plan.

Actually, I was more than pleased to see The Five-Pillar Crime Strategy, which had been promulgated under Bobby Montague at the security ministry before he was unfairly hounded out of the job, serving as a platform for the forum. Just to remind readers, the five pillars are: Effective Policing, Swift and Sure Justice, Crime Prevention through Social Development, Situational Crime Prevention, Rehabilitation and Redemption.

But like I said, I didn’t visit Mona to endure another crime forum and one so heavily populated with heavyweight failures on the job. The event, however, provides a useful backdrop to my recent cogitations on a potent anti-crime measure that has received too little attention and support.


Recent events in Bull Bay have triggered the thinking. But let’s start with August Town, a close neighbour of the University of the West Indies (UWI). Up to when I made the ascent to Mona as a student, and for some time after, August Town was little more than a sleepy village of Alexander Bedward fame on the edge of the capital city. And this was at the height of the political tribal war being waged in other places across Kingston.

How did August Town become organised for crime? Why did nobody in authority see it coming? And why was nothing done about it?

We can go to Bull Bay now. If the media had not finally picked up the cry of Bull Bay residents cowering under the guns of gangsters and extortionists, it is doubtful that the recent one-off police-military intervention would have taken place when it did. The people were bawling for murder. And nobody was listening to them. Not even media. Now, “Police swarm Bull Bay to quell violence” is a big headline in this newspaper. Gang activity, including the murder of a key employee on his way to work, has forced the closure of the Carib Cement gypsum mine in the area.

How did Bull Bay come to this? How did any of the communities organised for crime come to that? From the same St Thomas across the country to Hanover, quiet, peaceful, little backwoods places have become, and are becoming organised for crime.

Herbert Gayle, crime anthropologist at the UWI and who was on the panel, can do a cross-country map of emergent crime areas, advise the authorities about how communities get organised for criminal enterprise, and, if they don’t know, tell them how to take pre-emptive steps to crush the crocodile in the egg. And this doesn’t have to mean brute force.

We know the pattern and progress of organising communities for crime: unattached male youths, leadership emerging, guns injected, extortion for a steady supply of financial resources, enforcing silence … This pattern and progress can be disrupted. Two of the five pillars in Montague’s very bankable crime strategy are Crime Prevention through Social Intervention and Situational Crime Prevention. A third is Effective Policing, which says, “A community-based approach to policing is essential”.

And when the horse done gone through the gate, the rescue plan has to be the Zones of Special Operations – Clear, Hold, Build strategy – which right now is being implemented only quarter-heartedly. In fairness, citizens will have to help more and better. But it is still the responsibility of the public authorities to build the conditions for greater (and safer) cooperation of citizens with law enforcement.

Thursday gone, ‘Scared Resident’ of Havendale had a bawl-out letter in the press, ‘Havendale under siege!’ “The normally peaceful middle-class residential area of Havendale has come under siege with a spate of gun attacks and robberies,” the writer wailed.


Today, I have to continue the combo like last week.

The news cycle has been dominated by abortion concerns triggered by the start of parliamentary deliberations on MP Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn’s motion to decriminalise/legalise abortion. But in a way, my earlier crime discussion is still running since, under current Jamaican law, abortion is a crime in virtually all circumstances.

The usual hard-line positions have been drawn.

When I teach critical thinking, academic writing, and simple research skills, I absolutely forbid my students to do papers on abortion, since as beginners, they are not very likely to be able to add anything much of significance to a tired debate, which is older than they and which they will largely regurgitate uncritically.

The Gleaner has proposed that chairman of the parliamentary committee to hear public submissions, the Rev Ronald Thwaites, a Roman Catholic deacon, should make “a statement of his stance on the matter and how he intends to proceed with the chairmanship of the committee.”

Which member does not have a view and should so declare? I had to commend my old column colleague who started with me and then dropped out, Byron Buckley, for his rebuttal, ‘Mr Editor, remove the lumber from your eyes’.

Reductio ad absurdum, onThe Gleaner’s premise, Parliament would cease to function and newspapers to publish as a tabula rasa of opinion exists in no one. And, in fact, we expect both Parliament and papers to have opinions.

The Seventh-Day Adventist world General Conference President, Pastor Ted Wilson, visiting Jamaica on quite other matters, was hijacked into the local abortion debate right at the airport.

Wilson argued for the sanctity of life and stated, as the church he leads does, that abortion would only be permissible under certain limited circumstances.

“Most Seventh-Day Adventists would be very supportive of the sanctity of life and not in favour of abortion unless the mother’s life was in danger or perhaps there was incest or rape involved ...,” he told journalists at a press conference on his arrival at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.

In fact, abortions would be rare if there was general social acceptance of the sanctity of life, the debate on when human beingness begins notwithstanding, and if human reproduction took place within the perimeter of loving marriages.

Abortion is hugely a values and attitudes issue with the allegedly autonomous self at the centre.

If the precautionary principle, which has gained such prominence in the global warming/climate change movement, were to be applied to the debate on when human beingness begins, foetuses of all stages would enjoy great protection.


Doctor Charles Royes, an anti-abortionist medical doctor, in his submission, told Parliament’s Human Resource and Social Development Committee, which Ronnie Thwaites chairs, that “inconvenient pregnancies” account for up to 95 per cent of abortions islandwide. Rape, incest, foetal abnormality, and risk to the mother’s life, all of which would be permissible as reasons for an abortion but not an absolute necessity by many anti-abortionists, account for only five per cent of national abortions, in Royes’ estimation.

Now, all of these ‘permissible’ factors would have to be validated by the public authority for lawful abortions. How do you establish rape when a woman presents with a growing foetus and claims rape?

Rape is best established immediately after the event when evidence can be collected and established. And at the same time, medical actions for the prevention of pregnancy taken. Were this course of action to be pursued, pregnancy from rape would fall close to zero. How far are ‘abnormalities’ to be taken? What is to be the trigger point for risk to the mother’s life?

Not an easy road.

We live in a secular democracy, and at the end of the day, the national Parliament, balancing a range of interests and hard positions, and reflecting global trends, is likely to craft a new abortion law that will make some allowances for legal abortions but not open the floodgate for abortion-on-demand for inconvenient pregnancies, like getting boob and thigh plastic surgery done.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com