Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Letter of the Day | Long-term states of emergency not the answer

Published:Monday | October 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Preventive social intervention, meaning violence interrupters and social workers in volatile communities, is long term. This does not mean, however, that it takes long for it to have impact.

Within six to 12 months, five of 10 communities around Spanish Town, where it was put to work two years ago, began distinctly to feel its impact and have consolidated it since. In the other five, impact was slowed by Clansman internal feuding, which made policing ineffective.

This is why the time to begin to put this tool to work is now. This is what Health Minister Christopher Tufton is doing in health, going for roots - sugar and lack of fitness - to reduce non-communicable diseases. This is what Minister Ruel Reid is doing in education with PEP, though implementing it very clumsily.

Sources are what South Africa and Colombia tackled to drastically lower their murder rates. They attacked, for example, excessive weekend drinking of alcohol, one of the major cause of their murders.

The murder source in Jamaica is different, of course. It is deprivation of our youth, deprivation in many of our low-income communities. So far, this is not being seriously addressed. The strategy has been to stop the wanton killing in St James and other areas. This was, indeed, the highly necessary first step.

The "community-by-community" approach, the prime minister's own words some months ago and the other key component in Government's strategy, also has value. It demonstrates Government's determination to deal with the problem. In the form of states of public emergency, it gives the prime minister a central role in that determination.

In the absence, however, of any real tackling of the roots or sources of the murder problem, this approach also has disadvantages. Community by community, parish by parish, is clearly going to be a lengthy matter. According to Police Commissioner Antony Anderson, the state of emergency in St James could be kept there until next March, a 15-month period. Is that also part of the strategy for St Catherine North, Kingston, and other crackdowns to come?

This would drag out the process, bringing it uncomfortably close to the next general election. Is this timetable connected in any way with elections? Is this what Jamaica needs, wants?

It is costing us much more than it need to. The alternative is to make an all-out assault: both stop the murders and deal with the causes. This course of action has its risks but the repayment is amply worth it. It would give the country that lasting relief from murder on top of murder for which we all so long.