Don't normalise state of emergency - Scott-Mottley
Seventeen members of the Upper House yesterday voted in support of extending the state of public emergency in the St Catherine North Police Division. While the resolution received the two-thirds majority backing for its passage, some legislators demanded answers from the Government on its plan to tackle crime on a sustained basis.
Arguing that a state of emergency was never crafted by the framers of the Constitution to be a long-term crime-fighting strategy, Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Donna Scott-Mottley expressed regret that it appeared that the Government was using this extreme measure on an ongoing basis. "It is unfortunate and an admission of failure," she said.
Warning against the "normalisation" of states of emergency, Scott-Mottley said that if the strongest measure of last resort becomes normalised, the security forces might have to impinge further on people's rights in order to succeed.
"What real measures have we put in place to ensure that gangs are being decimated? What kind of data do we have that would convince us that we are succeeding?" Scott-Mottley argued.
She made it clear that the Opposition would not withhold its support for any measure that would lead to a reduction in crime. However, she said that many businesses were suffering, owing to the state of emergency. "What we are calling for is balance in how we do things."
She argued that following the recent killing of seven persons in Grange Hill, Westmoreland, the police moved in and apprehended the alleged perpetrators and restored calm to the area "without a state of emergency. It shows that it can be done".
Leader of Government Business Kamina Johnson Smith, in piloting the resolution, said that the heads of the security forces had advised the prime minister that the state of emergency in St Catherine North should be extended.
Since the measure was introduced in St Catherine North, the murder rate has declined by 26 per cent. Johnson Smith said that while this was not sufficient lives, have been saved.
According to Johnson Smith, the state of emergency has also led to a reduction in illegal activity such as extortion. Additionally, she said that the activities of gangs have been curtailed in the area.
Excerpts from debate on extension of state of public emergency
- Government Senator Ransford Braham
"While I would have preferred that we don't have states of emergency ... it is an appropriate remedy for such a time as this. Therefore, even though I understand the negatives of states of emergency, I feel in my heart that it is the right thing to do."
- Opposition Senator Lambert Brown
"Mediocrity cannot be the measure of success. We can't say because we are less than the third worst year [for crime] we are making progress. Progress is when you compare it to your best year of 2014, for example. That's how you measure it."
- Government Senator Charles Sinclair
"I listened to the comments of the leader of opposition business (Donna Scott-Mottley) to say that we should test the success of it by just lifting it. This administration, led by Andrew Holness, is dealing with this in a strategic, holistic way. It can't be that we are just going to be putting in and taking out for the purpose of a test."
- Opposition Senator K.D. Knight
"The days of dealing with crime fighting with brawn... are gone. You have to fight crime with brain, and one of the things that would be needed is a plan."