Sun | Sep 27, 2020

Leadership – the fix for crime and culture

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Driving from Edgewater to Spanish Town on an unfamiliar road one day in the 1970s, I was astonished, in the midst of cane fields near Gregory Park, to suddenly come upon an abandoned cricket pavilion, pristine in its majestic isolation. Abandoned, not because it was a Saturday or Sunday, but because no cricket had been played there for years.

It was a fairly large building and looked like any other of its kind, the familiar dark green paint now fading from the sunlight and neglect. Fading, like the sugar industry and the 307 years of British influence and culture that is (still) the foundation of the Jamaican.

Going some time later to play a cricket match at the Kaiser ground in Discovery Bay, I noted that it, too, had a pavilion. But this one was different. Absent were the trappings of British influence, tradition, and culture, replaced in an open-air structure of concrete and aluminium by an emerging matter-of-fact blend of late-20th century Jamaica and the USA.

Things had been changing.

But we do not notice the change. Fifty-seven years after we tossed the British (or the British tossed us!) is too short a time for most people to notice the difference. Forty years after we dispensed with the pound for the dollar – and made it stronger than Yankee Doodle’s! –we do not notice the change except that our dollar has plunged and continues to plummet perilously, taking large segments of the people and their behaviours with it.

Nowadays, and for much of the time since Independence, the official government stare is at the economy. Not the people. The economic development. Not the social development.

At the UWI, Mona campus, there is a unit that deals with these two foundational concepts. Notably, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies places the social development first. The principal architect of today’s Jamaican, the real Father of the Nation, the man who built three community centres in Porus, Guy’s Hill, and Llandewey before 1940, Premier Norman Manley, also put social development first:

“I say that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica and to win political power, which is the final power for the black masses of my country from which I spring. I am proud to stand here today and say to you who fought the fight with me, say it with gladness and pride, ‘Mission accomplished for my generation.’ And what is the mission of this generation? It is reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica.”

But that is not what we have been doing. Nor is that HOW we have been doing it. We have been putting economic independence first. And hoping in vain to build a peaceful nation on it.

Some people do not like talking about slavery. But the detritus of the 527 years of Spanish and English rule and slavery remains malignant in maladies such as:

- Land capture.

- House capture.

- Squatting.

- Banditry.

- Petty theft.

- Robbery.

- Money disappearing from government offices.

- Disappearing files from government offices.

- Disappearing documents from government offices.

- Murders.

- Contract murders.

- Gerrymandering.

- Garrisons.

- Lottery scamming.

- Drug trafficking.

- ‘Swallows’.

- Firearm trafficking.

- Tribalism.

Every one of those all too common elements of Jamaican life today flows from the fact of total neglect of the population immediately after slavery. And when in 1981 Jamaicans were told that they had to catch as catch can because the Government was not going to look after them anymore (suddenly, after more than 500 years), it just made bad things worse. You could say the people were handed an official prescription for squatting, land capture, petty theft, robbery, and gun crime.

Even while many have solidified consensus around the economic need to maintain fiscal discipline, there is minuscule focus on social deprivation, which feeds into poverty and crime as evidenced by so-so ZOSOs. Yes, there is talk about social intervention, but it is anaemic and does not seem to have muscle.

Social intervention must be upgraded to social development. It must be a basic, fundamental, inescapable core element of any and all national development plans because it is on social stability that economic development can take root and prosper. (Ahhh … there is that word). No matter how good the boat, the fisherman won’t catch any fish if there is no water to sail it on. No matter how good the saw, the carpenter cyaan crass it if someone had not felled the tree to make the lumber.

In the meantime, we have to stop accepting directives external to our history and culture. Prescriptions that seek to tell us how to develop can only go so far if they do not take into consideration the history of a people who, after 300-plus years of enforced labour in a country they did not know and a language they did not speak, were thrown out of the estates with no housing, no education, no employment. And we can’t tell them about it either, because we do not know our history! Most of our history was never taught in schools, and – if truth be told – was never intended to be taught.

The energetic, happy music that greeted Independence (think Freedom Sounds, Musical Storeroom, Eastern Standard Time, Occupation, Trotting In, and Latin Goes Ska, to name a few) has in less than 50 years given way to a completely different vibe. In very real terms, the change in popular music reflects a dearth of societal mores occasioned by the mass migration in the late 1970s and early 1980s of a strong and vibrant middle class that fled a depreciating dollar, political gun terror, the imposed structural adjustments that ravaged health and education, security forces weakened and corrupted by politicians, and the extended failure of successive administrations to do much about the situation.

This differed from the earlier pre-Independence wave of emigration to England in that the UK-bound emigrants were drawn heavily from the salt-of-the-earth farming communities – the rural working class. This later exodus was more urban middle class, including doctors, teachers, dentists, professors, technologists, midshipmen and captains of industry and commerce – the very people who set examples and create living standards. It was a virtual handover of the society by the middle classes to others who were quite ready to create their own standards, sometimes with the help of criminals.

In such a vacuum, a new urban ethic emerged, an ethos that paid little respect, if any, to the constituted authority of laws and the court system, an ethos of overturned values in which blatant gaudy displays of bling and a dancehall culture replaced the mores that had been so carefully nourished in social-development efforts such as Jamaica Welfare.

Into this vacuum rushed extensive tentacles of gun and drug traffic presided over by dons.

Yet, even after the US-forced extradition of the most notorious don, the Government’s failure to announce the laying of any charges in Jamaica, and to take advantage of the lull in crime by imposing a strong hand, produced the amazing spectre of a police commissioner writing, not to his minister of national security or the prime minister, but to the country through the media, setting out precisely the kind of strong hand that was required. One could only read out of this a message that the Government was not taking the crime-fighting steps as seriously as it should.

Yes, we need more police. Lots more. Especially on the streets. But we must find a way to take police oversight out of the hands of governments in power which change every so often, and return to a pre-Independence situation where, regardless of election results, the police had the same boss.

But we also need to develop an army of social workers – with full backing from the finance ministry. Yes, we have some social workers but, again, we need tons more if we are to really begin the social development of dealing with the issues of grass-roots people, zinc-fence people, and ‘govament yards’. It will be the firm foundation of the Jamaica, land we really love. It will, of course, take leadership.

- Ewart Walters is an author, journalist, former diplomat, and former member of the Justice of the Peace Advisory Committee of Ontario. Email feedback to and