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Editorial | Kingston under barrel of a gun

Published:Saturday | April 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Mayor Delroy Williams' grand vision of Kingston as the "pearl of the Caribbean" is a laudable ambition, but is likely influenced by wilful deception or naive delusion. We believe it to be the latter.

The Jamaican capital, as we pointed out in these columns on Saturday, is in a mess. From the sewage-flooded streets of central Kingston to garbage heaps dotting the markets, to sidewalks teeming with unlicensed vendors and the urine-soaked boundary wall of Coke Methodist Church, the city is a hodgepodge of decay, disorder and deprivation.

But listening to the University of the West Indies intellectual, Dr Herbert Gayle, it is evident that entrenched metropolitan socio-economic dysfunction is the greater threat to Mr Williams' dream.

In the series of articles in this newspaper by Dr Gayle, he magnifies the gravity of crime, and particularly murders, in Kingston, beyond the dilution of the Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR), which includes St Andrew and St Catherine. Population density matters. For even though Kingston trails both St Andrew and St Catherine in raw homicide numbers, deeper introspection, on a per-capita basis, reveals striking data of just how dangerous it is.

Kingston, with a population of 90,000, has a homicide rate of 156, almost twice that of St Andrew and St Catherine combined. Those parishes have populations topping 500,000.

The female homicide rate of Kingston, at 32, is double the cohort of St Andrew and St Catherine combined, while the capital's male murder rate, at 274, is almost three times higher than the KMR average and 50 per cent greater than St James, which has garnered more public interest because of lottery scamming and concomitant graphic reprisal killings.


damning canvas of catastrophe


These figures convey Kingston as a damning canvas of catastrophe and one of the most dangerous cities in which to live. Both its male homicide rate and male combatant homicide rate are well above civil war and Iraq War benchmarks, emphasising just how little control the authorities have over the capital.

Bluntly speaking, Jamaica cannot achieve its intended goal of four per cent growth in five years if it does not seriously tackle crime, and especially murders, in the capital. The Holness administration should tackle this matter frontally and proactively. It has long been established that it is the toxic cocktail of poverty, unemployability, and vulnerability to gang conscription that has transformed Kingston into a macabre mosaic of blood and gore.

Kingston might not be Jamaica, as many rural folk like to say, but it is a major hub of commerce and can set the tone for national growth and development. While Commissioner Quallo, when he takes office on Tuesday, will bear much pressure to rein in murders, the weight of greater responsibility falls on the Government.


Social intervention programmes


Under its HOPE initiative, the Holness administration has fashioned a network of social intervention programmes geared towards unattached or at-risk youth, including the newly constituted Jamaica National Service Corps, which will have an intake of 700-1,000 youths annually. We commend the prime minister on this move. However, we have one issue: that the programmes, targeted at offering skill training and resocialisation, are not as expansive as they need to be to tackle the scale of the problem.

Mr Holness needs to, at least, double the numbers of the youth he proposes to incorporate into the JNSC, the HEART Trust/NTA and the Citizen Security and Justice Programme, all arms of the State which could re-engineer Jamaica's social landscape. A better trained, equipped and smarter police force is crucial to solving Jamaica's crime woes, but we believe that proactive social intervention would cut the workload of the police and contribute more to national productivity and societal stability.