Editors' Forum | Curbing Clarendon's crime - Residents point to unattached youths as main fuel for murderous fire
Eight murders in the first 14 days of this year, 168 last year and 135 in 2016, underscore the fact that residents of Clarendon are facing a crisis.
Last Thursday, in the aftermath of the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast and as Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the declaration of a state of public emergency in St James, some residents of the central Jamaica parish lamented the level of crime they face and called for immediate action to stem the bloodshed.
According to Dei Rasi Freckleton, founder of the non-governmental organisation Peace and Love in May Pen, while he accepts the annual prayer breakfast, he does not expect it to have any impact on the crime in the parish.
"The prayer breakfast might have little or nothing to do with what happens at the local level, because the majority of the local people probably don't even know about the prayer breakfast," Freckleton told a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the Juici Patties outlet on Manchester Avenue in May Pen.
According to Freckleton, solving the crime problem in Clarendon is difficult as residents in several communities have little trust in the police or the legislation in place to protect them.
He argued that until the laws are given "teeth" the criminal elements will be unafraid and will feel empowered to continue wreaking havoc on the parish and the country at large.
For Justice of the Peace Damion Young, a programme to engage the high number of unattached youth in the parish is a non-negotiable measure to reducing the crime.
Young told the Editors' Forum fighting crime in Clarendon will need the rechanneling of resources into engaging the youths as well as investing in a mixture of "hard and soft community policing".
"Hard community policing is where persons can know that the man around there causing the mayhem, the police will go around there and deal with that individual.
"I am also talking about a community policing, where the cops are integrated in the community, they are coming to the youth club meetings, they attend citizen association meetings, they are watching the sporting events with them," said Young.
He argued that the police should be so integrated with the youths and the community that they know almost everybody.
"They should also be able to offer solutions to youth pointing them in the direction of available programmes to assist them," said Young.
He was supported by youth activist Donisha Gordon, who added that the focus should be on programmes that target the unattached young people using sports, the arts, or other areas to engage them.
In the meantime, gospel singer Dian Barnett wants the churches in Clarendon to get more involved in the fight against crime.
"The Church can do much more. I think churches must be open all the time. Churches must set up training stuff and connect themselves to places like HEART (Human Employment and Resource Training).
"They need to go into the communities, identify people who are just hanging around," said Barnett as she argued that the religious community needs to push more to impact lives.
The call for the Church to do more was endorsed by Evangelist Sandra Brooks, who told the forum that there is a major spiritual element to the crime in Clarendon and across the island.
"Some of us don't want to believe that there is a supernatural world around us and it is the real thing. The solution is in acknowledging and dealing with it," said Brooks, as she argued that blood sacrifices and other satanic rituals could account for some of the crime.
In the meantime, Vivian Allen, president of the Bushy Park Benevolent Society was adamant that with "the devil finding work for idle hands", there is an urgent need to engage the young people in the parish.
"We can't have youths sitting on the corners while there is a skills training centre (nearby) that is empty," said Allen, as he boasted that his community is one of the few crime-free areas in the parish.
... Action time
With 168 murders last year, a 20 per cent increase over 2016, and eight more since the start of the year, Clarendon is now the second most bloody of the 19 police divisions across Jamaica.
Against that background, participants in a Gleaner Editors' Forum in May Pen, Clarendon last Thursday were asked:
What would you do to impact crime in Clarendon immediately?
I would go on a massive drive to bring all unengaged and unattached youth into something constructive and meaningful.
I would want the church to get more involved spiritually in the lives of people in the community. I believe the church needs to be felt more.
The church needs hands on intervention.
Dei Rasi Freckleton
I have started, and will continue, a drive for younger people - seven, eight nine year olds to be thoroughly engaged from one arts or sports so that if we can capture them from seven, eight or nine, we will not have the problem with 17 or 18 year olds later.
I will continue to join with other youth leaders to ensure that the youths are consistently engaged in order to reach other youth, just using an each one reach one approach.
Community policing. We need at least two district constables in a community like the old fashion style. He is not on a payroll, but he is there in the community as an informer. We have to go back to the informer style.
I use myself as a billboard to capture the youth and go out on the streets and seek resource to assist them and make a better future for them so we can eradicate the crime