Wed | May 27, 2020

Light on violence | Unwanted chaos versus safety

Published:Wednesday | January 25, 2017 | 12:00 AMHerbert Gayle

Jamaica is in obvious transition. During such periods, there are imbalances between state power and consensus, needs and available resources, and political ambitions and citizens’ wishes, resulting in unwanted chaos, which denies people safety or feeling of safety.

No country can transition without basic social order. Small countries such as Jamaica have very little external physical threats – but they often harm themselves, or retard their development from within. Since the 1980s, Jamaica’s obvious internal threat has come from social violence.

At the surface of this problem is direct physical violence. This form is the most feared and studied because it is visible, graphic and destructive.

Nonetheless, it is often the result of structural violence that is created by a country’s history or culture that includes the legitimisation of structural and direct violence, and institutional violence that allows those with authority to harm selected groups of the people they are supposed to protect.

The core problem for Jamaica is that social violence retards the engines of development, including education, training, business and governance. Without heavy investments in education and training, countries can remain in transition for a prolonged period; and the longer a country remains in this chaotic phase the more difficult it is to achieve the quality governance needed to facilitate business or the economy. Not surprising, countries with high levels of homicide have major development and governance problems. So crippling is social violence that it was estimated in 2006 that if the Caribbean reduced its homicide rate by a third, its income per capita could have doubled (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2006).


The economic cost of social violence taken as a unit of analysis shows the dramatic impact of the problem. Injuries, seen in Jamaica’s five chief hospitals in 2008, accounted for 12 per cent of the budget of the Ministry of Health (Ministry of Health, 2009). The budget of the Ministry of Education could have been increased substantially (up to US$30 per student per annum) if so much money was not being spent addressing violence-related injuries. This would reduce the high cost of education, which is one of Jamaica’s major inhibitors to socio-economic stability. There is a direct relationship between education and violence. Countries with low levels of education usually have high levels of homicide (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2006). World Bank Business Victimization Survey of 400 firms (2003) suggested that Jamaica is an expensive place to do business due to its high violence rate.

- Health care and loss of production – 3.7% of GDP.

- Private expenditure on security – 2% overall but 17% of microenterprises.

- Extortion, fraud, robbery, burglary, arson – 2% of large companies, and 9% SMEs.


Herbert Samuel Gayle (PhD, London; MSc, BA, UWI) is a social anthropologist who specialises in social violence (gangs, murder-suicide, repeat-killers, and domestic violence). His career centres on research and lecturing at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus (Jamaica). He has over two decades of experience living with and studying youth gangs and transnational criminal organisations in the Caribbean, Central America, USA, and Europe and has influenced policies in three Caribbean states to reduce social violence. He has been interviewed by over 20 international media houses, including the BBC and the Associated Press. Dr Gayle is also a methods expert, trained at the advanced level in all four approaches: qualitative, quantitative, integrated, and participatory and action research. As a violence expert and youth advocate, Dr Gayle has done public lectures, motivational presentations, workshops, and seminars in over 30 countries. He has done over 60 major studies and has published a number of books, chapters, and articles.