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Are garrisons a form of social control?
published: Sunday | January 27, 2008

Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines garrison as 'a body of troops stationed in a fortified place'. However, Jamaican garrisons like Tivoli and Jungle are inhabited not only by 'armed fighters', but also by ordinary citizens trying to live normal lives. Trying is the operative word. For collectively, our garrisons have a higher violent death rate than most places officially at war.

Mark Wignall and Henley Morgan addressed this issue incisively in the January 10 edition of the Observer. To quote Mr. Morgan, "From the crime statistics, subtract the murders that were committed in the approximately 140 communities in some 12 to 16 political constituencies with strong garrison features, instead of the over 1,570 murders committed in 2007 we would be looking at maybe 350 tops."

Last September in Jamaica, population 2.5 million, 134 persons died violently - not including police killings.

During the same month in Iraq, population 25 million, 1,024 persons died violently. ( This translates proportionately to about 102 in Jamaica. Meaning right now Jamaica likely has a higher murder rate than Iraq.

Deaths last year

If you apply Dr. Morgan's roughly 20/80 estimates, last year Jamaican garrisons saw over 1,200 violent deaths in a population of about 500,000. This is a homicide rate of roughly 240 per 100,000, a level seen only in war zones.

Garrisons were created to guarantee victory for the controlling political party. In garrison communities, intimidation or violence forces people to vote for the designated party. In other words, citizens are denied the right to vote freely and fairly. A garrison constituency is one where garrison elements are so significant they preordain the election outcome.

I know persons whose houses were firebombed because rumours said they voted for the 'wrong' party. Is it good governance that garners Mrs. Simpson Miller, Dr. Davies, Mr. Paulwell and Mr. Golding 80 per cent-plus of the vote?

There are nine predetermined garrisons. Six are PNP strongholds - Kingston Central, Kingston East and Port Royal, St. Andrew Western, St. Andrew East Central, St. Andrew South West and St. Andrew South. Three are JLP - Kingston West, Clarendon Central and St. Catherine Central.

St. Catherine South Central used to be 'predetermined'. But in 2007 PNP Sharon Hay-Webster won by only six per cent, a less than 'guaranteed' margin and an indication of electoral improvement in garrisons. Ballot box stealing and over 100 per cent voting are things of the past. The September 6, 2007 Economist report on the Jamaican election was titled 'Change at last: Signs of an end to garrison politics'.

"Rival party workers were laughing and joking," said a woman who has worked at polling stations in inner-city Kingston since the 1970s. "Each election, it gets better."

Garrisons and politics

Yet, garrisons still warp our politics. Our current 32 JLP to 28 PNP-seat Parliament is actually a 29-22 JLP non-garrison majority. A 31-29 PNP win would be garrison- determined - a 6 PNP to 3 JLP 'predetermined' gap, and a 26 JLP to 25 PNP margin in legitimately elected seats. This nightmare scenario of a Jamaican government not freely and fairly elected should horrify anyone who values democracy.

The Caribbean Policy Research Institute should be asked to do a thorough non-partisan study of how garrisons affect Jamaican politics. We can have no higher priority than the preservation of our democracy.

In terms of raw power then, this built-in six PNP to three JLP garrison status quo suits the PNP, but not the JLP. So this new Labour administration has clear realpolitik incentives to dismantle garrisons. Does it have the will?

For despite their evil reputations as dens of iniquity and criminal havens, it's not clear that the majority of Jamaicans want garrisons abolished. Many seem to feel this would let the crime genie out of the inner-city bottle full force into the wider society.

The unspoken question is: are garrisons a form of social control? Are dons the bakra massas of our time, keeping the 'ghetto dwellers/field slaves' under control so the 'rest of society/plantation great house' can go on with business mostly as normal?

Unholy social contract

Maybe it's just another wild theory. But a friend insists that, no matter their origins, garrisons are now part of an unholy social contract. The uptown powers that be - politicians and businessmen - implicitly say "Don man, control downtown and do what you want. Just keep your gunboys from troubling us uptown". So the dons do as they wish, deal drugs and impregnate 12-year-old girls or whatever, but are never touched. Unless they get too big for their britches, when they are either eliminated or jailed - like Burry Boy, Feather Mop, Jim Brown, Willie Haggart and Zekes.

Why does Jamaica, despite being poorer and more violent, have nothing like Trinidad's kidnapping problem? I know Trinidad businessmen who have relocated to Jamaica because of kidnap threat back home and the perceived lack of it here. Prominent businessmen in Trinidad and Tobago don't move without personal armed bodyguards. But even the biggest of the big shots here go about normal life on their own.

Is it that downtown dons don't want uptown big men to feel threatened? For if the 'powers that be' feel the social contract is no longer benefiting them, they might put an end to all garrisons and dons. Maybe that's why uptown upsurges of prominent crimes are so frequently followed by police or army garrison incursions. The message is clear - "Listen don man, get your fryers under control. Or we might decide to clean up the whole mess down there and wipe out your little kingdom with it."

Of the 1,570 Jamaicans killed violently last year, probably 1,000- plus were inner-city males under 30, meaning 1,000 less potential mates for their female counterparts. Which translates to 1,000 extra available young girls per annum for big men of all stripes - dons, businessmen and politicians.

Garrison society

It's unlikely our powers that be deliberately set out to create this diabolic state of affairs, or even consciously see it as such. But when a dynamic creates not only a safer environment for those in charge, but also an excess of potential sexual partners, well, it's certainly not in the interests of those who run things t the situation fundamentally.

Are garrisons how we manage realities like 85 per cent of out-of- wedlock births, less than 40 per cent of children with registered fathers, and 82 per cent of UWI entrants being female? Are garrisons society's way of dealing with our hordes of fatherless, uneducated, rootless young men, either by ruthless don control, or regular culling by police and internecine gang warfare?

When an uneducated teenager who never sees the sperm donor again gives birth, what chance does that baby have of escaping the vicious ghetto cycle? And if the root of the garrison problem is fatherlessness and teenage pregnancy, two obvious remedies come to mind. One is a Chilean- style paternity law that gives mothers the right to put the father's name on the baby's birth certificate, with court-ordered DNA testing where there is doubt. A man whose name is on the birth paper is surely more likely to involve himself in his child's upbringing.

Second, have mandatory reporting, testing and sentencing laws for underage pregnancy. Medical authorities report any under-16 pregnancy to the police, anyone suspected of being the father is DNA-tested, and any match means a mandatory jail sentence for carnal abuse. Exception would be made for 'puppy love' cases. But jailing every grown man who breeds an under-16 girl would almost eliminate underage pregnancy.

You hear many reasons why these common-sense laws, present in most other countries, cannot work in Jamaica. 'They would embarrass the big men. They're unenforceable.' Proof, perhaps, that for all the 'ray ray' talk, no one really wants to change things.

Just another crackpot theory? Maybe. It's certainly an ugly one. Not that ugly always means untrue.

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