Light on violence | 'We pass on the gene to effect war'
The primary problems related to social violence in Jamaica are gangs, organised crime, and domestic conflict. Jamaica suffers immensely from the feuds that are created from these interrelated structures of violence. While there are many frames of explanation for our problem, focus here will be on six planks of contributing factors.
HUMAN SPECIES HAS RELIED ON VIOLENCE TO ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
1. Jamaica has a well-documented history of violence. This is of critical importance to the construction and maintenance of feud or continuous warring. Anthropologists of social violence are usually concerned with two broad sets of impact caused by a history of violence: adaptation to violent environments, and socialisation and social organisation around the effectiveness of violence. The ability of the human species to adapt to environments is well documented; but the work of Dawkins (Selfish Gene, 1976) is critical to our understanding here of how aggression is critically necessary for our survival, and how each group of persons pass on the variant gene that has the greatest advantage for survival in a specific environment, including violent ones. In other words, we pass on the gene to effect war – in order to survive in violent settings.
Throughout history, the human species has relied on violence to establish boundaries and for necessary predation. Hunting is a primal chemical act and is built on the need to survive. Yet violence goes beyond immediate survival. Humans are always concerned about survival in the medium and long run. When gangs or any group attack others, it is not always about an immediate goal, but for the future. For instance, a physical threat from a group cannot be taken lightly by males because once beaten it encourages the victor to repeat the act. Retaliation is prudent. Mothers and other socialisation agents will always teach the males of a battered group to be aggressive. People who are oppressed or preyed on usually organise their lives around the violence that is used against them with the aim to become the victors one day.
TRANSITION CREATED A POWER CRISIS IN JAMAICA
2. Jamaica’s segmentary factional politics which surfaced in the 1970s was rooted in our knowledge of the effectiveness of violence. Slavery also damaged our family structures. After more than three centuries of slavery and colonial domination, Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. This transition created a power crisis. When power crises develop, sooner or later the political field becomes an ‘arena’ in which the contenders are arrayed in two camps or factions.
According to Nicolas (Segmentary Factional Political Systems, 1966), in settings of rapid social change – be it independence or attempts at democratisation – factions emerge or become more clearly defined because the setting allows for increased competition. Based on degree and quality of political manipulation, factions may become the dominant form of political organisation for the purpose of securing votes. When universal adult suffrage elections were introduced in rural India, factional organisation proved to be the most effective way of bringing in votes. In Jamaica, politicians constructed ‘garrisons’ to secure the votes they mobilised.
About a third of all the inner-city communities of the Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR) are garrisons to varying degrees, and they guarantee the member of parliament repeat victories. A garrison community is usually created by the development of large-scale housing schemes, where houses are allocated to supporters of the political party in power; and the homogenisation by the dominant party activists push out the minority and guard against invasion from outside.
A hard-core garrison community exhibits an element of autonomy; it is a state within a state. In such communities, disputes are settled, matters tried and offenders sentenced and punished without reference to the Jamaican State. The Jamaican State has no authority or power except in so far as its police and military forces are able to invade to enforce order, which can prove disastrous (Ministry of National Security, 1997). Inner cities make up a mere eight per cent of Jamaica’s population; but they have enough power to decide the results of a general election for the other 92 per cent.
‘OUR GOVERNMENTS HAVE BEEN WEAK. THEY DO NOT SEEM TO ACT IN PUBLIC’S INTEREST’
3. Political divisions created a weak central political authority, and hence perpetual problems in governance, making successive governments weak on legitimacy that is needed for consensual power and the legitimate use of force. Feuds thrive in settings where there is a weak central political authority (Black-Michaud, 1975). The central political authority includes the legislature, judiciary, security forces, and civil society (media and faith-based groups included). While the discussion may seem to focus on the face of the state (security forces), it is understood that without effective legislature (parliament), and visible justice output from the courts (judiciary), as well as endorsements of state power and policies by civil society, the work of the security forces cannot effectively reduce the murder rate, especially after it surpasses 30 per 100,000. Policing efficacy is the most visible and easily measured aspect of the composite; but it is also an indicator of the state of the entire central political authority.
In order to govern, an administration must be able to get the compliance of its citizens. One of the most effective ways of controlling people is to take advantage of their fear of violence. This implies that governments must show some police and military might. Having developed the capacity of violence, governments have a second and greater challenge: legitimacy. The government of a group is considered legitimate when the members or its public believe – on the basis of experience – that the government will produce decisions that are in accord with the public’s interest. It is easy to mobilise the urban poor to violently block the path of governance in Jamaica because our governments have been weak on legitimacy – they do not seem to act in the interest of the public. The four-day shutdown of the country to protest against the government’s policy to hike the price of petrol in 1999 is a good example. Many Jamaicans do not identify with the ‘ruling clan’, they identify with their political party, their community and other discrete groups.
INNER-CITY FATHERS MISSING FROM HOMES
4. Jamaican gangs are fed by problems within the family created by slavery, and the cultural acceptance of the effectiveness of violence, including the torture of inner-city boys as part of socialisation and control. Caribbean scholars have largely agreed that the practices of slavery eroded the role of men as fathers; and this has impacted the social stability of countries such as Jamaica. The National Census (2011) and Survey of Living Conditions (2012) provide data to show that over two-fifths (41 per cent) of Jamaicans of early-childhood age have their biological fathers in their households; and over a quarter of other children have active extra-residential fathers. However, father presence varies based on socio-economic setting. In stable social settings, almost three-quarters of children are likely to have quality interactions with their fathers; but in the inner city, less than a third have a father in their homes – and less than a half have active fathers.
TORTURED BOYS QUICKEST TO LIVE ON STREETS OR JOIN GANGS
5. Missing fathers (dead, in prison, abroad, those suspicious of being ‘jacketed’, or the irresponsible) create yet another problem if the mother has no extended family to support raising the boy. We describe these mothers as at-risk. These mothers have been found in several studies to torture their sons (beat unconscious, tie in ants nest, urinate on them, burn them with hot clothes iron, poison them) in order to control them.
In the past 22 years, I have studied over 200 repeat killers; and the easiest way to know if a killer was tortured by his mother is to find out if he felt numb towards the victim at the first kill, and/or if he finds it easy to rape. According to Bowlby (1951), the connection between mother and son is the strongest attachment among humans. Boys severely abused by their mothers can trigger immense feelings of rejection and hatred for people overall, especially women. Repeat killers account for over 50 per cent of Jamaica’s murders. Tortured boys also drive up domestic violence; and are the quickest to live on the streets or join gangs.
6. The environment created by our civil war-level violence makes policing a very fear-washed area of work. Fear factor within the police force contributes to the maintenance of our two sets of wars: one between gangs and another between State agents and gangs. The police here are 50 times more likely to be killed than those in developed countries such as England or New Zealand. Jamaica’s homicide rate keeps security officers in necessary war-readiness mode – and this mode keeps the cycle of violence going in the inner cities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 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.