Myopic CNN! - Jamaicans say crime report lacks context, nuance
Criminologists and sociology researchers say that while Jamaica has one of the world’s highest homicides rates, a more nuanced and contextual approach is needed when it comes to characterizing the spread and nature of the violence in the country.
“Jamaica is currently has the sixth highest homicide rate in the world,” said Prof. Antony Clayton, Alcan Professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. “Though it is, by any definition, an exceptionally violent country, it is also true, however, that most of the homicides happen in a relatively small number of troubled communities. People living in other parts of Jamaica are much less likely to be directly affected by the violence.”
Clayton’s comment is in the face of a raging debate among Jamaica’s abroad over the CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield’s description of Jamaica as “extraordinary violent” in the aftermath of the murder last month of two white American missionaries on the island.
“It’s astounding to think that a lot of people think that Jamaica is a paradise,” Banfield said. “But it is an extraordinarily violent country with a remarkable murder rate.”
In 2015, when murders jumped 20 per cent, to 1,200, the island’s homicide rate was 44 per 100,000 of population, up from the previous year’s 37. But despite last year’s steep incline in homicides, murders have actually fallen by more than a third over the past five years.
However, Banfield’s statement ignited a firestorm of criticisms, especially on social media, from Jamaicans prejudiced and condescending, especially in the circumstance where crime against foreigners and tourists, by global standards, is low.
But not all Jamaicans were angered by Banfield’s remarks.
“You have to call a spade, a spade. Why are we upset? Because a foreigner made the comment?” asked Marlon Scott, 59, a Jamaican living New York.
His views were echoed by Aston Stone, a retiree, who was once a policeman in Jamaica, but now lives in Florida.
“We have to sadly agree, it is true,” Stone said. “There is no doubt we’re a violent country.”
While some say that the situation is deteriorating, blaming gangs, unrest among the lower strata of the society, lack of employment opportunities, a fledgling economy and corruption as the main reasons for high crime rate; others feel not all is lost.
“It is also clear that these problems can be solved, because there has already been a significant fall in the level of carnage,” said the UWI’s Clayton, referring to the drop in the fall in the murder rate since 2009. In fact, even with the recent uptick in homicides, other major crimes have fallen further.
According to Clayton the gains are a result of changes in police strategies and tactics that helped to disrupt organized crime, dismantled gangs and preventing robberies.
“This is remarkable progress, but the process could still be easily reversed,” he said. “So the key question for Jamaica now is whether we have the resolve to continue driving through the necessary reforms.”
Part of the response to Banfield, the experts say, is the negative impact many people fear it could have on the country’s key tourism industry, from, which accounts for over eight per cent of gross national product (GDP) and from which the island earns over US$2 billion a year.
“Jamaica’s tourism brand depends on a perception that the island is at least safe for visitors,” said Prof Clive Forrester, course director, Jamaican Creole in the Department of Languages, Literature and Linguistics at University of Toronto, in Canada. “Unmitigated comments of “extraordinary violence” from CNN disrupt this image.”
Added Forrester: “Unfortunately, most of the responses have come down on sharp lines of differences - one side playing the denial game and saying Jamaica isn’t as bad as the USA, and the other side suggesting the island is essentially an intermittent war zone.”
Dr Carl James of the Faculty of Education and director of the York Centre for Education and Community said there is need for more objective and thoughtful reporting on countries like Jamaica.
“I don’t think we can isolate any society and say it’s more violent than the other without taking into account the context,” James told The Weekly Gleaner. “And to isolate it and make a comment like this - I find it irresponsible actually.”
Clayton, meanwhile recommends the need is to rethink the strategies and implement them. He is proposing to strengthen the capacity to fight crime - much more aggressive use of Anti-Gang legislation, and to strengthen police intelligence and forensics capability and to strengthen the commitment to preventative policing
“We need to place greater emphasis on resolving the underlying social problems and preventing criminality, rather than just responding to crimes,” he said.
For others, divine intervention and protection, will see the country through.
“It wicked still but I am gonna focus on the love,” said Annette Bowen, a hotel worker in New York. “Because the majority of us good and loving people. Fi real!”
Additional reporting from Neil Armstrong in Toronto and Deon Brown in New York
HEAD: Holness Optimistic Ja Will Become Gas Hub For Caribbean
Gleaner Reporter caption:
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is optimistic that Jamaica will become the hub for gas in the Caribbean and promises that his government will be strategic in its efforts to diversify the country’s energy sector.
“Renewables will have to feature in a far greater way in our energy mix. The falling oil prices give us a window of opportunity to bring in new technology, to bring in new investors,” he said on Wednesday, May 4 during an interview with Jamaican journalists at the US Caribbean Central American Energy Summit in Washington, DC. The summit was held at the Department of State.
“The emphasis (will be) on diversification in ensuring that we are the hub that will reduce our exposure to volatility,” he said.
Holness, along with other regional leaders, met with United States Vice President Joseph Biden on Wednesday for a Caribbean Heads of Delegation meeting. He said the exchange has given him some insight into how other countries in the region are using alternative energy for their electricity, water, and transportation sectors.
“I think we will have to look more closely at our transportation sector, particularly the JUTC (Jamaican Urban Transit Company), which are fairly heavy users of oil and heavy fuel, to see how best we can get energy efficiency from diversifying their fuel use,” he said.
BURDEN FOR JAMAICA
The prime minister noted that energy (cost) has been a burden for Jamaica for many years, but he believes that several initiatives implemented by Biden and US President Barack Obama over the years have contributed to finding solutions to the problem. Obama reinforced his administration’s commitment to assist the region with exploring clean-energy solutions when he launched the Task Force on US Caribbean and Central American Energy Security during his visit to Jamaica in April 2015. Just a few months prior to the launch of the task force, Biden hosted the first US Caribbean Central American Energy Summit.
The US has provided clean-energy finance for countries such as Jamaica through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the USAID. The US-owned BMR Energy is also currently building a 34-megawatt greenfield wind farm in St Elizabeth valued at US$90 million.
“What we have said at these seminars is that Jamaica is open for investments in the energy sector,” said Holness.
The prime minister said discussions with Biden went very well as they reviewed progress made in the local energy sector last year and discussed plans for this year. He noted that there are some imperatives that the Jamaican population would have to become aware of such as the strong global movement towards clean energy.
“What is clear is that there is great appreciation for what we have done as it relates to our regulations, making it attractive for investments in the energy sector to come to Jamaica,” he said.