Dennie Quill, Columnist
The Gleaner's Page A3 headline 'Gold hunt on' (Tuesday, December 11, 2012) caught my attention because I have heard of so many incidents lately where persons have been robbed of gold jewellery.
But the headline was referring to prospecting for gold, a legitimate business venture. Gold-hunting, which reached its peak in California in the 19th century, has seen a worldwide resurgence in the 21st century, and even though previous attempts to mine the precious commodity in Jamaica have not been lucrative, it is understandable that with new technology at their disposal, investors may want to make another bid to see whether there is gold in them thar hills of St Catherine and St Andrew.
However, the headline could aptly describe a gold rush of another kind which is now taking place in many Kingston neighbourhoods. Break-ins and jewellery theft have always been a feature of urban living, but the phenomena have escalated in proportion to the soaring price of the precious commodity on the world market.
LOOKING FOR BLING
The key driver of jewellery theft is not the high cost of gold; however, I believe it is more the yearning for the glitzy lifestyle as shown on cable television. What are unemployed youth to do? They must have the latest designer bling, but they have no money. So they must look to remittances, robbery or other illegal activities such as the lottery scam.
Burglaries usually spike during the festive season when consumerism is at an all-time high, so it is not surprising that these reports have escalated in the last few weeks.
Some of the victims have described a blue motor car with three men on board, while others complained of being held up by four men in a silver car. In one case, a woman was doing some gardening chores in her yard in Barbican. She observed a silver car cruising by and suddenly a man pushed through her gate, knocked her to the ground, and snatched her chain. He ran to the waiting car and they sped off.
In relating the incident, she described the chain as an inexpensive overlay which her child had given to her from his first paycheque. That chain had great sentimental value and she had been wearing it for two years. The thugs will likely throw it away on discovering that it is not gold, she surmised.
In another incident, workers walking along a busy street in Beverly Hills were accosted by armed men in a blue car who grabbed their gold chains while threatening them with knives. The brazen-faced thugs reportedly announced that "is cash-for-gold time now".
Yesterday afternoon, the police warned us to be on the lookout for a stolen Mitsubishi Cedia used by robbers to wreak havoc on the St Catherine North and South divisions.
The cash-for-gold trade is, of course, providing an outlet for these thieves. In the same way that the scrap metal industry spiralled out of control so that even householders' electronic gates were being stolen, so the theft of jewellery has reached alarming proportions. Just yesterday, sister tabloid THE STAR reported a $50-million jewellery heist in downtown Kingston on the weekend.
JAMAICA NOT LIKE UNITED STATES
As hard times take hold, the cash-for-gold trade has flourished in the United States. There, the trade essentially attracts persons who want to convert unwanted jewellery into cash. The transaction is fairly straightforward, as the seller is fingerprinted and must submit valid identification. Everything is recorded and the seller gets a receipt and leaves the store with hard cash in hand. The transaction can also be conducted via mail.
It is the lure of hard cash that is creating this aggression by local thieves. Persons have been held up in Portmore housing schemes, in supermarket parking lots, and while walking on the streets.
So next time you are out on the street and see a young man eyeing you, it is not necessarily a look of admiration; he may simply be sizing up your jewellery and thinking how to pry it off your neck or hand.
What is urgently required is greater vigilance of cash-for-gold establishments. The police should make regular checks to see that sales are properly recorded. They should go further and examine these transactions to determine what a legitimate sale is.
Dennie Quill is a veteran media practitioner. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.