Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Murders rise, Bunting falls?

Published:Sunday | January 11, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Ian Boyne, Columnist

Just when the National Security Minister Peter Bunting was drawing attention to the 16 per cent reduction in murders last year, provoking Opposition criticism that he was involved in an orgy of celebration, there has been an unsettling and dramatic spike in murders in only a few days of the new year.

My column last week praising him as a game-changer drew an unusually large number of responses, with some saying I was praising mediocrity in a context of a still unacceptably high murder rate, and that it was just too early to start giving out bouquets.

My biggest disappointment as a Jamaican columnist is that the comprehension levels are so low. I don't have a problem with disagreement. I crave a good debate. I am simply starved of it. Oh, for another Damion Crawford! People don't understand what they read and you can't debate people who don't understand what you are saying. I engage in some apologetics training on a Monday night and the first thing I teach my students is that they must never misrepresent their opponents, but must be able to explain the opponents' arguments so well and so forcefully that they will be stunned that one could still disagree with them after so thoroughly digesting their views.

But we are often so blinded by ad hominem, vulgar personal attacks and questioning of people's motives that our analytical skills - indeed, even our comprehension ability - become severely impaired. There was an amusing case recently when I wrote about marital rape and there were several letters to the editor staunchly attacking me for allegedly taking the very position I was condemning in my article. It was several persons who had to write to the editor to say you guys completely misrepresented Boyne.

Not just statistics

In my piece on Bunting last week, I made it absolutely clear that it was not on the weight of the crime statistics that I was concluding that he was a game-changer. I wrote clearly (or so I thought): "It is not just that the statistics make the unassailable point that Peter Bunting was an outstanding minister of government in 2014". But I noted that if crime had actually increased last year, it would be felt by almost everyone that it was unassailable that he was a failure.

Ironically, those who are saying I have no basis for praising him for the reduction in murders for one year have no qualms about proclaiming him a failure for the spike in less than 15 days. Those who say it is the police only or INDECOM, in the case of the reduction in police fatal shootings, which should be praised, not the minister, would have no difficulty in calling for him to go if crime and police fatal killings increased under his watch. Their logic escapes me.

In my piece last week, I was pellucid (or so I thought) when I wrote further that: "But it is not just because the facts actually establish Peter Bunting as a high achiever in his portfolio. It is because he brings to his job a game changing perspective and takes a holistic approach to policing ..." My assessment was never based on the quicksand of crime statistics but on his approach and paradigm. Then there have been others who have made the point that because our murder rate is still too high for a country our size (and they are absolutely right), then that means the minister deserves no mention for any reduction. (A non sequitur).

If they were acquainted with the literature, they would know what social anthropologist and researcher in criminology, Dr Herbert Gayle, said on All Angles last week and that is that usually a three per cent reduction in crime is considered good and, therefore, a 16 per cent drop in one year is extraordinary. Mark Wignall, who lays no claim to scholarship, and who is certainly not in the pocket of this PNP administration, admitted in his Observer column last Thursday: "It is not like he (Bunting) is patting himself on the back for a five per cent reduction. Small numbers - shut your mouth ... Bunting has just recently celebrated a 15% reduction" (It's actually 16%) Wignall adds, "To me this is significant". And to anyone who is thinking it is. As to whether or not it is a trend is irrelevant in assessing 2014.

All truths not equal?

We know - and let's not be hypocritical about it - that there have been times when just one week of brutal murders has been enough to have the Opposition and media calling for a security minister to resign - I mean of both parties. If the spike is reason for condemnation and a justified call for a man's head, why not reduction a cause for some commendation for saving some previous, priceless lives? But it's not just that. The fact is, I also said in that column - again with crystal clarity (or so I thought) - that, "there is a lot more Bunting and his ministry need to do. He hasn't solved all the security problems and crime is still not at a tolerable level". You read that? "Crime is still not at a tolerable level." So why would readers lecture me on that when I have conceded it? Of all the areas in which I read, I value my grounding in philosophy the most. It has taught me skills of reasoning and analysis. And debate. There was one reader who seriously sought to engage me with crime statistics from 2009. It was a refreshing attempt , but the fact is murders last year were the lowest in 11 years. And murders declined along with other major crimes including rape, robbery and break-ins, while police fatal shootings also declined by over 50%. Gang-related murders declined from 932 in 2013 to 600 last year. This combination of facts is significant.

But again my assessment of Bunting was not based on that primarily. It was on his smart-policing approach, his deep engagement in violence-prone communities, his engagement of the culture, his deep understanding of the combination of factors driving crime . The man is devising the right mix of policy approaches . I maintain his paradigm is game-changing. And I am prepared to debate it.

Questioning my motives is a lazy cop-out. Remember, I could be completely partisan and corrupt in my motives and still be completely right in my position. As they say, the fact that you are paranoid does not mean they are not really out to get you. I could have a bias but be right. (The value of studying philosophy is that you can easily spot logical fallacies.) A lawyer is clearly carrying a brief for his client. He is not neutral or unbiased. He is paid for it. He goes to court to defend a particular position. The judge and jury know that. That's taken for granted. Do they discount what he says because he is bought, hired, if you prefer? Does his evidentiary arguments amount to nothing because he is bound to defend his client's interests? No. His arguments and evidence have to be assessed rationally on their own terms.

Not ad hominem

When I am engaged in theological debates, for example, I know the particular position my opponents are sworn to defend because of their creedal commitments. But that's irrelevant to the debate. Attack a man's ideas and arguments, not his character or motives.

This is what we must do rather than the coward's way out of caricature, ridicule and personal abuse, usually a substitute for intellectual rigour. Readers must engage my arguments rigorously and debunk them.

If anyone really believes that we are going to reduce our murder rate to 200 annually anytime soon in this austerity, International Monetary Fund-squeezed economy; in this society where political tribalism and garrisonisation have held sway and where there is such a high tolerance for violence and aggression; this culture where our dancehall music glorifies violence and savagery; this country where there is so much corruption, cronyism and classism, then I have rights to King's House lands to sell you.

I leave you with an assignment: Go and read Peter Bunting's 2014 sectoral presentation and then read Professor Anthony Harriott's brilliant 2009 Grace Kennedy Foundation lecture on crime, both available online. You tell me, statistics aside, whether Peter Bunting is not on the cutting edge of the best scholarship and thinking on crime fighting and security and whether he does not embrace a game-changing perspective.

You can panic because of the recent spike in murders and simply call for drastic measures. Don't get me wrong. We have to go after the gangs and destroy them the way we destroyed the Shower Posse. Bunting must go after gangs in PNP garrisons and crush them. We must hold him to that and ask for his resignation if he is seen as soft on that. But do that assignment and then debate me.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to and