By Garth A. Rattray
All hell broke loose in West Kingston recently. Guns - in the hands of gangland youths frenzied by the smell of blood, driven by hate for others of their ilk and in the same predicament meted out to them by life's misfortunes - barked as they spewed suffering and death, sometimes indiscriminately.
Of course, as usual, members of the constabulary force were deployed to lay down a heavy "police presence". Sure, call on the police when there is trouble. Call on the police to work at the community level and with citizen's groups. Call on the police to right the plethora of social wrongs. Call on the police to put their lives at risk to clean up the social mess created years ago by inept and greedy politicians and perpetuated by various administrations that fail to invest the time, money and effort needed to fix our ailing society.
I happened to be en route in the vicinity of Half-Way Tree on the Sunday morning following the heated battles and retaliatory strikes the night before, when I heard the faint, "pop, pop, pop-pop-pop, pop...pop, pop" of small arms (high-powered rifles) fire far off in the distance.
Although muffled by miles of still, humid air, buildings and vegetation, the sound of distant gunfire brought back those funny, familiar, unforgotten feelings reminiscent of the seventies, eighties and to some extent, the nineties when inter-gang warfare was the order of the day and we were on the periphery of several ugly battles. Innumerable innocent people became the victims of collateral damage. Blood splattered the walls, fences, sidewalks and ran down storm drains. Entire communities of people were internally displaced and the deep scars of those days are as visible now as they were back then.
This new violent upsurge should not come as a surprise to thinking minds. Just as in any place on Earth where powerful men gain and maintain control of lesser gangs or tribes or people, once they are ousted, the cohesive force is lost and the gangs, tribes or people compete for dominance. So, too, it is with Mr Coke's domain; once he was removed, there was bound to be serious consequences.
With Coke gone, petty crime rose in west Kingston. Many go unreported to the authorities (the police). There is no longer anyone to protect and support the victims. Some residents even related that rape and robberies have risen, but fear keeps some victims from coming forward. With no One Order gang to organise the business of crime, splinter gangs are at one another's throats.
Whenever a leader who used to house, feed, school, adjudicate over and protect entire communities (albeit by nefarious means) is removed, anarchy will prevail unless society takes over the functions of that deposed leader. And, the anarchy will come from a multiplicity of emerging gangs.
Our current economic crisis is only going to get worse. Jobs are getting scarcer. The sole income earners for many families are now unemployed. Remittances (once the stalwart support of our economy) have declined significantly. Among many other things, the International Monetary Fund stipulates that we must reduce public spending. So more jobs will be lost and more people will be destitute.
The number of mendicants on our streets is rising noticeably. Many young men are now resorting to overt begging for money to feed themselves and others. Some of those young mendicants will become mercenaries and turn on us with a vengeance, fuelled by years of helplessness and hopelessness in a loveless society that looked the other way.
Police and military operations are only temporary bandages used to quell violence. We need serious and concerted social intervention if we are going to enjoy any degree of sustained success in our efforts at reducing crime.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com