Tue | May 21, 2019

Don't blame peacemakers for August Town violence

Published:Saturday | February 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Contrary to your belief as espoused in your editorial of February 22, 2018, titled '', it is not the peace builders and violence interrupters who are ceding the State to criminals. It is the State itself, as run in turn by the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party, which is the culprit. It did it before and the result was Tivoli Gardens, a state within a state. It did it again and we got last year's return to nearly 2009 and more than Tivoli.

Is it now once more doing it by not trying hard enough to understand what is the right course of action and not taking it? Is what happened last Monday in August Town, with a fatal shooting and injuring of two others, as well as earlier in this year, an example? Local leaders have pleaded with the authorities that the police there, for all their goodwill, could not cope. The pleas were ignored. Higher-up leaders have to learn to listen in order to understand.

Your mistake, Mr Editor, is dividing the country into just two categories - good citizens and criminals like Dudus. This grossly oversimplifies. This fundamental mistake leads to the further error of regarding efforts to reach those in-between your two categories as bowing to criminals. An in-between is the reality. Not lily pure, it is also not criminally minded, but at risk of going that way. It can be reached and mainstreamed.

This is the preventive path taken by peace builders and violence interrupters.Their work, to be effective however, has to be complemented by a truly national thrust (State, private sector and civil society) against poverty and unemployment. This has not happened.

Criminals behind bars who may have directed the hit on the young prison warder in August Town last Monday - a failure of the State if that was the case - are not the category that peace builders and violence interrupters are trying to draw into a current of peace. And it was not that set that signed the peace agreement 10 years ago. The value of that Agreement was palpable in the uplift that resulted: August Town people took charge of their community. The value was demonstrated in the town opening up to input from the University of the West Indies, Mona.

In 2008 when that agreement was reached, the context was one of five corners fighting one another over identity(of political party origin) and turf. That is not today's situation.

Intolerance of neglect and inequality has grown. A more seriously criminal element has appeared nationwide because of the State's failure to tackle poverty and unemployment aggressively. The criminal element feeds on those like school dropouts without opportunities, the ones unable to enter the excellent educational avenues offered by the UWI and the University of Technology, Jamaica.

More concerned with competing in elections, our two main political parties pay insufficient attention in their budgets to needs at the low-income level. The outcome is the 540,000 (20 per cent) below the poverty line. And for these, there is a shameful pittance called minimum wage, a welfare programme providing a child a lunch two or three days a week, unemployment two or three times the national average, no help to single parents, pressures that result in and build the domestic violence responsible for 25-30 per cent of homicides, and communities like August Town.

Leaders have to do better. So must civil society in holding them accountable.