Anti-gang law, not divine intervention

Published: Thursday | December 5, 2013 Comments 0

By Jaevion Nelson

W
e know an awful lot about crime and violence in Jamaica but are resigned to a haphazard, ineffective and reactionary way of addressing it. It is too disjointed for the kind of organised anarchical rut that crime is! The proposed Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act 2013 seems to be a repackaging of failed-misguided strategies. Wi jus a do di saim ting ova an ova an expek 'divine intavenshan'.

Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates globally, as we are all so well apprised. According to Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington in a presentation on September 18, 2013, between 1981 and 2012 there have been 28,689 murders, 40,879 shootings, and 115,063 armed robberies. In 2011, Jamaica had the second highest rate for gun murders worldwide; 80 per cent of murders are gun-related and a significant portion is reprisals. Between 1999 and 2008, the police made 22,000 arrests for gun-related crimes. Police intelligence shows there are more than 250 active criminal gangs (but some persons refute the lumping of "corner crews/gangs" with "organised criminal gangs"). A large portion (80% of gang members, are males who dropped out of school. Criminal gangs are "responsible for over 70 per cent of murders, shootings, and all gun attacks against members of the security forces [and...] are involved in most armed robbery, extortion, contract killings, kidnapping, drug trafficking and gun-running activities."

The police commissioner has proposed a 'Six D's Strategy' to:

Disrupt organised crime and gangs

Deny criminals freedom of movement and freedom of action

Disarm criminals by taking their guns and taking them away from guns

Defend the communities from gang influence and violence

Dissuade persons from involvement in organised crime and gangs

Deprive organised crime and gangs of the proceeds of their crime.

It appears this will be done through the 'anti-gang law', but does it empower the police to do so and effectively reduce crime? We must also ask the ministers of national security and justice to explain the seemingly slapdash way we are proceeding when other crucial aspects are seemingly forgotten or ignored, and how this will contribute to reducing murders from 41 per 100,000 ratio in 2011 to 12 per 100,000 (or 321 per year) by 2017 as the security minister proposed in last year.

COMMUNITY PROBLEM

According to the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and Jamaicans for Justice in a joint presentation to Parliament in October, "Ineffective policing, coupled with the failure of the State to adequately address the socio-economics and politics of many lower-income communities, is [...] chiefly responsible for the current crisis of violence and murder. The crime problem is not a gang problem, but a community problem. The social problem of crime is only a symptom of the deep-rooted manifestations of neglected underdeveloped communities and neglected underdeveloped people (my emphasis). There is no clear means to attain the lofty goals set by mainstream society. There is no ladder to pursue happiness for these communities and, as a result, they have developed their own value system, norms and way of life as a survival mechanism to deal with the hand they have been dealt." DJ Ricky Trooper said something similar on CVM TV's 'Live at 7' earlier this week.

If we are serious about arresting crime, then we must ensure state institutions function so the currency of criminality is reduced, do more than talk to fix the justice system, including significantly increasing the budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Justice (there is enough money in project overruns to do this); make DNA legislation a reality; improve/enhance the Witness Protection Programme; and urgently address the antipathy far too many citizens have for the police.

Suspend Standing Orders

The Parliament should suspend the Standing Orders (or whatever proceedings that dictate when and how they can do so) to facilitate a conscious debate about all pieces of legislation needed to curtail crime and the CRITICAL role of the State in mitigating the likelihood of involvement in crime. This is important if we are to reduce crime to 321 by 2017. If we can pause to salute former leaders, then certainly we can for something that is holding our development and people hostage, literally! It's time we take a more preventative rather than reactive approach to fighting crime. We don't have enough prison space -Tower Street now houses more than it was built to accommodate during slavery.

On another note, why is 'Clause 15' all we are talking about? One would think it is the focus of the proposed law. It's important that we remember that, although "hate speech/music" might be used by criminals (as well), it isn't unique to gangs. Anyone can be guilty of this. The use of music to incite violence shouldn't be in this anti-gang law, it's much broader.

Lastly, I am concerned about the ongoing banter. I encourage dancehall proponents, including parliamentarians, not to pretend dancehall has no impact whatsoever on people. Have we forgotten the famous Gully-Gaza feud already? A body of scholarship on the impact of music and media, including Dr Marcia Forbes' Media, Music and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, is readily available at our disposal, so there is no excuse for our ignorance. The fact that dancehall is often blamed for society's misgivings should not be used to rubbish the need to critically examine its impact on society. Everything we see and hear has some kind of effect, good or bad, on people.

Let's end the clash and decide on a way to move forward. It's in our best interest.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.

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