Thu | Jun 21, 2018

Under 40 & under threat

Published:Sunday | June 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Young men on the corner. Statistics show that over 11,000 young men in Jamaica have been killed in the last nine years.-Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Philip Hamilton, Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's killing fields have claimed the lives of over 11,000 men in less than 10 years. Between 2000 and 2009, a large spread of men, many of whom were young inner-city fathers, under the age of 40, lost their lives to violence. Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, St James and Clarendon are the parishes that are most affected by this phenomenon.

According to data provided by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the majority of these murdered men were between the ages of 20 and 39 years old, a period when they are deemed to be at the most productive stage of their adult lives.

In 2009, the number of men killed reached an all-time high of 1,512, a significant jump above the previous year's figure of 1,453. There were 850 deaths recorded of men between the ages of 20 and 39 years old. The highest number of murders recorded for this particular group was 930, in 2005.

While these figures are extremely alarming, the issue of urban violence among young, inner-city black men is not confined to Jamaica.

Investigations by The Sunday Gleaner reveal that similar scenarios exist among young men of the same age group living in depressed urban areas in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Common profile

The Sunday Gleaner understands that most of the murdered young men from these inner-city communities share a common profile: they were poor, uneducated, usually employed as labourers, or were unemployed.

Many of the victims, as well as their perpetrators, were in the same age group and often came from similar communities. Several of them knew each other.

Local law enforcers link the majority of the murders to gang acitivities or reprisals, with guns being used in over 75 per cent of the incidents.

Dr Herbert Gayle, lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, says Jamaica has one of the worst under-age-40 mortality rates in the world.

Gayle, who has done extensive research on gangs, says the rate is even higher in garrison communities, where as much as 25 per cent of young men living there will not live to see age 40.

"The average homicide rate for Jamaica since 2000 and 2009 is 51 per 100,000, which is the highest in the world, while El Salvador runs a close second at 47 per 100,000 persons," Gayle told The Sunday Gleaner.

He likened the situation to that of a full-time war where males were the dominant targets.

"There is a gender component to why 90 per cent of everybody who gets killed in this country is a male," said Gayle.

"If you look at other countries, it really is between 70 and 80 per cent, but if you are at war, you're going to go to 90 per cent. If the male is big enough, he is going to be killed."

Gayle says there also exists a strong link between gangs and political parties, the large gangs being politically aligned, with the smaller ones aligned to the big ones.

Figures from the JCF show that there are 250 gangs in Jamaica. However, Gayle believes the actual figure is much higher.

Dr Kadamawe KnIfe, lecturer in strategic planning and entrepreneurship at the UWI, says murders among inner-city males can be traced back to their early involvement with gangs, some from as young as nine years old.

youth at risk

"These youth have engaged in activities which have put them at risk at getting involved with crime," said KnIfe. "Once they're involved with crime, they're at risk of being killed, and that is what is happening,"

He pointed out that many of the conflicts between youth in inner-city communities were anchored within politics, and usually became more organised during political campaigns when persons involved in gang activities could be seen supporting political parties.

KnIfe said the situation requires formal intervention programmes to engage youth with a view to preventing them from turning to gangs.

"There is no shortage of institutions out there who want to help. The reason things are not worse is because of the programmes that exist in some of these communities. Many of these exist with little or no access to financing, and are, therefore, not as effective as they could be," said KnIfe.

He said what was needed was the development of an entrepreneurial policy by the State which would create high-growth entrepreneurs in inner-city communities, thereby discouraging persons from engaging in informal illegal activities.

Although the situation for young Jamaican men may seem grim, Gayle believes it is not a lost cause.

Gayle suggests that Jamaica look towards countries like South African and Colombia, which previously experienced mortality rates up to 71 per 100,000, with a view to encouraging dialogue as a step towards identifying solutions.