Mon | Jul 13, 2020

Mark Wignall | Will murders threaten the JLP in 2020?

Published:Sunday | December 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM

In a few days, 2020 will come around and many Jamaicans will greet each other and give thanks that they made it to see another year. Overall, I do not think that we will change our priorities in any radical way.

The elderly, and especially the indigent, will get much closer to God and make a plea to a society that is caring less about those most exposed to long years of socioeconomic hardships. Children will want to grow up overnight, and some of their parents would wish that could happen.

Young people will speak of the hopes they have for the immediate future, but good sense and ignorance will often have to contest for space.

As an example, just last week, I was speaking to a young man hanging out near to a car wash.

“A States mi want reach next year. Mi hear sey if you go a (he calls the name of, fancy, new church) yu get a key. When yu tek dat key to US Embassy, yu mus get through,” he shared.

The next day, I was outside of a hardware store, and I was in conversation with a 22-year-old university graduate who told me that he had been working on a special app for over a year now.

“That app will have the potential to change Jamaica,” he said.

I came close to begging him to give me a hint. Nothing.

Many business people have had a good 2019, and in 2020, the signs are once again good. The excessively high murder rate will be an important consideration, but so will economic and political stability. Those working for them, the eight to four brigade, will get the opportunity to live over the lives they lived in 2019 in 2020.

Jamaica’s high-income inequality will increase. Those supported by the US-dollar remittance will continue to add that room to the side of the house. The politicians on both sides of the aisle will struggle among themselves in trying to define a message for young people that is workable and can last much longer than sweet words from an election podium.

“Most of what we want now,” said the 22-year-old to me, “is less murders and more opportunities. A whole lot of us still believe that some employer is going to save us by giving us a safe job, paying $20,000 per week. If we think smart, we can be realigned to see ourselves making $20,000 per day. But that takes new thinking.”

WHAT IS THE WINNING MODEL?

“If the politicians want our interest and our vote, we must be convinced that they are telling the truth,” said a 32-year-old operator of a small pest-control outfit. “Many of us believe that stuff like murders and controlling the rate is not a political matter. It is a national matter. If a politician lies to us on that, we have the power to punish him.”

“And how would you do that?” I asked.

“Simple. Just vote for the guy who tells the least of the lies. If they both continue to lie, then we will remain outside not voting.”

The last quarter of the year has seen a unified message from the JLP hierarchy on murders. Although some of us believe that the government has been blindsided by a murder rate that refuses to respond to various states of emergency (SOEs), much of its focus has moved to impelling its citizens to take the high road and see it as a national matter.

This cannot mean that the security minister and the commissioner of police have forced themselves into retirement until the next great idea hits them. Our high murder rate had always been a factor from which we the people and our politics cannot escape blame and responsibility.

But even with that understanding, we the people enjoy that luxury every five years or so when we get the opportunity to pass on the full responsibility to government as we vote. At that point, it is a government matter. And, of course, it doesn’t matter even if a well-known murderer and rapist lives and exalts himself on the avenue where you live.

The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has seemingly lost the battle on corruption as quite a few embarrassing scandals has not led to any erosion among Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) support. The PNP has little choice but to attach its main message to the runaway murder rate and the inability of the JLP administration to impress its stamp of authority on it to bring it down.

In early next year, the SOEs are likely to come to an end without the support of the Opposition PNP. The PNP knows that with the SOEs failing to maintain their fear factor in many areas in St James, it has to go all in early next year in mercilessly hammering away at the JLP’s perceived failures in any significant denting of the murder rate.

THEY STILL WON’T TALK

I was just nodding off to sleep after midnight on Christmas when I heard the far-off sounds of gunfire. Four heavy rifle bursts and seven others. Then my phone rang, and he told me. It was close to his area, but he had no further information.

On Boxing Day, I drove past the area at about 7 a.m. There were two police vehicles but nothing out of the ordinary. Then I visited an early morning joint where all the alcoholics and news carriers gather.

He pulled me aside.

“If yu ask anything, di whole a dem gwine sey dem nuh know nutting,” he said.

“So what happened?” I asked.

“Can’t tell yu right now,” he said as I walked away.

He pulled me back.

“It look like di man dem jus a pop off. Dem have dem tings and dem just want some bwoy and some police know sey dem well strap. Whole heap a man get fraid inna dat.”

BADNESS AS FUN AND FROLIC

A few weeks ago, in an area situated about 300 metres away from where we were in a well-known inner-city pocket, a dance was kept. At that dance, too, about 10 shots rang out. The next morning, some men who were at the dance or who just lived close to the area told me the same thing.

“Man want boast off and leggo nuff shot,” a mechanic from the area told me.

His friend added: “Is bout four different crew end up a di dance. A nuh war. A just man a lick off fi mek man know sey dem ready anytime, anywhere.”

With that sort of defiance, I am made to wonder just how significant an impact can conflict resolution and mentoring make on these misguided young men. Those young men will show up in 2020, and it is likely that they will fully declare their war as they increase their ‘worth’ in the underworld.

One well-known policeman, who is now retired, told me last week: “I think the people know that murders is not politics, so I cannot see the murder rate working against the JLP government next year. Where me and them differ is that I know some gunmen can only be dealt with in a certain way.”

“You and I have had this argument many times. I don’t believe in hit squads because they always grow out of control,” I countered.

“Well,” he said. “Any argument yu hear from any political administration must include a death squad. I don’t care how much they make impressive speeches about upholding the law, there are just certain cold-blooded killers operating in some gangs that your safest bet is to take them out because if they get the chance, they will kill you.”

It will be an uphill task for many in 2020, but we are a tough people, and we always bounce back.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.