Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor
From May 23-25, 2010, the Jamaican populace cowered as armed gangsters torched police stations and attacked large swathes of the capital, while the security forces struggled to regain control. There was a real fear of violence exploding across the island and the very foundations of the state seemed at risk. Who could have imagined then that murders would fall by roughly 40 per cent over the next year?
Yes, we must lament the 74 lives lost in last year's incursion, though the police have shown most were armed gangsters trying to prevent state forces from upholding the law. But from June 2009 to May 2010, 1,794 Jamaicans were murdered. From June 2010 to May 2011, that number fell to 1,113. This means 681 Jamaican lives have been saved over the past 12 months. Only a stone-hearted undertaker would not rejoice at such news.
So while the media may obsess about WikiLeaks, Manatt enquiry and Cabinet reshuffle sideshows, the greatest question facing this country must be: 'How can we make sure the murder rate not only stays down, but falls even further?'
Many who think crime is our main problem feel Bruce Golding's biggest blunder was not his Manatt misspeak, but his reluctance to reimpose and extend the state of emergency last July after the parliamentary Opposition caused it to expire. Why he refused to do what 71 per cent of the populace was crying out for is beyond me. Not only would he have 'owned' the drop in crime, but think how many lives might have been saved in the Spanish Town war zone - including, perhaps, the eight massacred in Tredegar Park last August.
Mr Golding can still demonstrate his commitment to keeping Jamaica safe by pushing through the upcoming organised-crime and anti-gang bills. And if they are shown to be working, Parliament should renew the two 'temporary' special anti-crime bills passed last year - the Bail Act, allowing 60 days remand for certain crimes, and the Amendment to the JCF Act, allowing detention for 72 hours for certain crimes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Even if we maintain the current 40 per cent murder decline, Jamaica will still be one of the world's 10 most murderous countries. To get to Brazilian and Bahamian rates would require another 40 per cent decline. A Costa Rica safety level would mean a 70 per cent drop. So anyone who thinks we can start easing up because the crime problem has been solved must not live on planet Earth. As for the human rights issue, well, is there any greater right than the right to stay alive? (See table at right)
To successfully combat crime, you must crack down on current criminals while preventing new ones from being created. As the old saying goes: tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. The fifteen-fold murder rate increase this country experienced between 1962 and 2009 was the result of many national failures. Our fractured family structure and inadequate education system produce hordes of emotionally scarred and functionally literate young men who feel respected only when holding a gun. A dysfunctional justice system causes many to seek their own vigilante-style satisfaction when wronged. Pervasive societal corruption has both funnelled money to criminal gangs and compromised our police force at the highest levels. Immoral politicians have built garrison strongholds of armed and dangerous supporters. Unregulated squatting, again often facilitated by power-at-any-cost politicians, produces communities with no sense of self-policing communal loyalty. The problems are not simple, nor are the solutions.
There are signs of hope, however. Legislation for the compulsory naming of fathers on birth certificates - if ever actually passed - should produce more active fathers and fewer rootless young men, if accompanied by laws making fathers more financially accountable. The new government emphasis on basic-school education should reduce the incidence of illiteracy. But these will only have an effect over time. So more programmes like the Private Sector Organisaton of Jamaica (PSOJ)-sponsored Youth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE) are sorely needed. As PSOJ President Joe Matalon says, YUTE will help empower unattached youth by improving their employability through mentorship and skills upgrading, and providing opportunities for gainful and lawful employment.
In Henley Morgan's words: "Any celebration of the dismantling of political garrisons on the basis of the events of May 2010 would be premature. Dismantling, in social and economic terms, is ... creative destruction ... in which jobs, education and opportunity - not guns and bullets - are the chief armaments used to wage war against poverty and hopelessness. Until we see evidence of this, the garrison phenomenon and the crime and violence it breeds will remain. To think otherwise is but an illusion."
National Democratic Movement (NDM) General Secretary Michael Williams' excellent recent article, 'Time to tear down garrisons', called on Bruce Golding - who used to foment endlessly against garrisons in his NDM days - to set up a garrison truth and reconciliation commission of enquiry. Professor Trevor Munroe's National Integrity Action Forum (NIAF) is running some powerful ads emphasising the dehumanising effects of this 'institution'. All sectors of civil society must join in these efforts to make 'garrisonism' as obsolete in Jamaica as apartheid is in South Africa, and as communism is in Russia.
Christie stance necessary
A crucial component in dismantling garrisons must be stricter oversight of government contracts, which are often channels by which politicians funnel money to gangster henchmen. Contractor General Greg Christie may sometimes seem a bit overzealous, but in a country like Jamaica, it's better to go too far in applying honest rules than not going far enough. Let's hope Mr Christie can be persuaded to stay on. Your country still needs you, Sir.
One issue not being properly discussed is squatting. Yet any credible crime plan must include regularising squatter communities by the formalisation of tenure and upgrading of infrastructure, with the caveat that the owners must bear some of the cost.
Polls show the country is mighty frustrated at how Bruce Golding's actions consistently fall short of his fine words. It certainly would be nice to see him embrace more openly the corruption-fighting suggestions of the contractor general and the NIAF. But when pressed, his supporters insist that - often against the wishes of some in his own party - he is driving through a raft of legislation intended to make Jamaica safer, more honest, and more orderly.
The six anti-crime bills, plea-bargaining legislation, and the whistle-blower act have been made law. In process are the JCF strategic reform, DNA database and anti-gang legislation, an expansion of CCTV networks across the island, a national ID system, the special prosecutor act, political party-financing rules, and new public-sector procurement procedures. Let's hope the institutions charged with enforcing such laws are provided with adequate resources and the requisite independence.
Why the electorate is not being regularly informed on the status of all this planned regulation is a mystery. But then, any 12-year-old with an Internet connection could communicate more effectively with the public than this JLP administration, and the ultimate blame must lie with the party leader.
If the prime minister really can get laws in place designed to reduce murders, strengthen families, educate the youth, weaken garrisons and cut corruption, he would have made a legitimate case for re-election. But how can voters endorse measures they are not told about?
Kevin O'Brien Chang is author of 'Jamaica Fi Real: Beauty, Vibes and Culture'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and Kobchang365@gmail.com.