Hollow peace treaty highlights Ja's limp resistance to crime
Death, destruction and mayhem from criminal violence have returned to Alexander Bedward's August Town a year ahead of schedule.
The 'peace treaty' of 2008 between the gangsters of August Town did not anticipate a return to arms and to hostilities before next year, 2013. "We the leaders and representatives of the various corners or sections of August Town, in spite of our differences of various kinds," the treaty document reads, "do hereby formally agree to put an end to all disputes and conflicts for a period of five years, and to set out the rules that will govern the conduct of this agreement."
The Gleaner reported then that "the fanfare sparked by the trumpets, drums and cymbals of the St Patrick's Marching Band and ceremonial hand-shaking seemed like a surreal respite from the pall of fear which has gripped the volatile community of August Town.
"Eight leaders of the eastern St Andrew community, which has haemorrhaged from years-long bloody turf conflicts between rival gangs, inked a monumental peace treaty expected to last for five years.
"Despite a controversial rider to the agreement - allowing the gangs to keep their guns," the paper reported, "residents and other stakeholders in the peace process have expressed optimism about the future. The pact bans illegal gun salutes and commits to a cessation of hostilities."
The August Town peace deal said:
1. All persons are allowed to move freely across all boundaries, regardless of reputation or affiliation.
2. No gun salute or any other shooting is to take place in the community for a period of at least five years.
3. Corner leaders have a responsibility to guide and counsel their mentees, urging them to abhor domestic violence, theft, extortion, carnal abuse, rape and other crimes.
Among the attendees at the impressive signing ceremony were Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields; Peace Management Initiative (PMI) board member and UWI lecturer, Horace Levy; principal of the UWI, Mona, Prof Gordon Shirley; Prof Barry Chevannes; and Reverend Dr E. Curtis, chairman of the Greater August Town Ministers' Fraternal.
The question of the culpability of these institutions and of their representatives which facilitated that useless and lawless 'peace treaty' must be raised. I have raised, on previous occasions, the legitimacy of a PMI which seeks to resolve matters of criminal violence with peace treaties outside due legal process.
Despite the presence of then DCP Shields at the 2008 signing of the August Town Peace Treaty, providing the blessings of the Jamaica Constabulary Force which is sworn to enforce Jamaican law everywhere in the country and to protect all of the nation's citizens, current DCP Glenmore Hinds is now saying (as reported by the Observer last Sunday):
"Our view is that peace treaties are signed when there is a declared war. I don't know of any war being declared in August Town. I am not supportive of any such thing as a peace treaty. If citizens have differences that they are trying to resolve, it is a different thing from a peace treaty."
There is no possibility at all that the August Town 'peace treaty' or any other mediated by the PMI outside the law in violence-wracked communities across the urban battlefields of the country can bring lasting peace.
What the treaties do is give residents of these communities a false and very temporary sense of security, guaranteed by armed gangsters accountable to no one but themselves, while suppressing law enforcement and the lawful pursuit of criminal gangsters by the security forces, the only legitimate peacekeepers in the country.
MY 2008 COLUMN
What I said then about the August Town peace treaty in this column (June 29, 2008, 'Peace treaties, detention and human rights'), I say again now with equal conviction:
"Since the police cannot find the men on its most wanted list or among the leaders of the 150 gangs which Kingfish ACP Glenmore Hinds estimates operate in the country, perhaps they should begin by detaining the organisers and participants in peace treaties. These things ... are highly publicised and take place at announced locations and times, so locating those involved should not pose a difficulty, even for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), whose clear-up rate for murder has sunk to 34 per cent.
"Peace treaties are wrong and dangerous - and they have never worked. The pattern is clear: A pretence at peace until there is a reason for the war to resume.
"The warriors of August Town who signed [the peace treaty] have insisted that they continue to bear arms as long as the weapons are not 'brandished'.
"According to their UWI spokesperson, Horace Levy, the gangs had no intention of turning in their guns, "because it is a matter of their own protection, their own self-defence [as] they feel that the police are inefficient and ineffective.
"And the gangsters are, unfortunately, right. The shameful failure of the Jamaican State to enforce law and order and to protect citizens from each other is lending legitimacy to militias and their peace treaties.
"Dissing someone at a 'peace' dance, or chatting up the wrong girl, disagreement over spoils captured by the combined forces from the rest of society, or just sheer lust for blood influenced by drugs and jobless boredom will, in due course, terminate the peace. That has been a recurring decimal.
"Peace treaties legitimate the state within the state. They convert criminals into soldiers and gang leaders into statesmen. But even more perniciously, peace treaties leave communities captive to criminal forces and deny justice.
"[But] perhaps, the most important reason why peace treaties do not hold - and cannot hold - is the fact that unless justice is provided to the victims of crime and their families and friends, mere boys with guns at their disposal will continue to carry out reprisal killings, a leading motive for murder in Jamaica. Violence is intergenerational and intertribal, and peace treaties haven't broken that cycle."
This has been the story of August Town.
THE CANCER OF CRIME
Crime has become deeply embedded in the August Town community, as in many other urban neighbourhoods. And over the 50 years of Independence, aided and abetted by political tribalism and garrisonisation, crime has become deeply embedded in the country.
There were all of 60 murders in 1960. For the last several years, we have been exceeding a thousand per year. The murder rate has escalated from four per 100,000 to as high as 60 per 100,000.
Jamaican professor in the diaspora, Obika Gray, points out in his book, 'Demeaned but Empowered - The Social Power of the Urban Poor in Jamaica', in the chapter discussing 'Crime, Politics and Moral Culture', that "in the 20 years between 1940 and 1960, there was no major increase in violent crimes, yet between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, the violent crime rate doubled." Gray's explanation: "As rival [political] militias fought each other in the 1972-80 period, there can be little doubt that their mayhem contributed to the increasing level of violence in the society and to its destructive effects." All the studies and reports on crime and violence draw the same conclusion.
So, one of the outstanding achievements of Independence has been the proliferation and entrenchment of crime and violence in the society, leading to what our top criminologist, UWI professor Anthony Harriott, in his editor's overview of the book 'Understanding Crime in Jamaica', labels the "normalisation of crime". It is really quite hard to imagine a similar outcome with a couple of British regiments in the country backing up a colonial police force conscious of its duties.
For many reasons, August Town is divided in its relationship with the police on one hand, and the gangsters on the other hand. While some are bitterly complaining that the police are not making use of the intelligence provided by crime-weary residents at peril of their lives in an 'informa-fi-dead' culture, others are providing intelligence and regular meals, especially Sunday dinners, to their 'man dem' camping out in the surrounding hillside bushes. The police have solemnly advised the people of August Town that they do not have the training to tackle the paramilitaries camped out in the hills.
At Independence, August Town, famous for Revivalist leader Alexander Bedward's base there earlier, was a sleepy rural village on the edge of the capital city of Kingston with the University of the West Indies as neighbour. How did such a place come to be controlled and ruled by rival gangs committing dozens of murders over the last few years and growing powerful enough to be publicly signing with impunity a peace treaty facilitated and endorsed by State, Church and academia?
How did such a place come to slip outside normal policing and law enforcement? How did so many of its citizens come to tolerate, accommodate and even embrace crime and violence as a way of life?
Too much of Jamaica 50 is concerned with the party, having a good time, and with celebrating our achievements in sports and music without the hard reflection of 'how wi come to this' on the downside. The next 50 years cannot be better than the first 50 years of Independence if we do not fix the fundamental problem of crime and violence.
We are not short of studies of the problem. We are woefully short on applying known solutions. As one courageous citizen in August Town publicly said in the face of the renewal of hostilities, a containment strategy will not work: 'jus' hol' down di thing' through sporadic raids and curfews and killing of alleged gunmen - and peace treaties.
The police have to push back the crime problem through strategic apprehensions of gang leaders and securing convictions in the courts. And the State has to denormalise crime and create alternatives within criminalised communities.
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.