Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Mark Wignall | The politics of guns, gangs and death

Published:Thursday | April 25, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Our home-grown gang leaders and hitmen are not necessarily the fools we would prefer they be, as in the image of a schoolboy not quite grasping his schoolwork and instead making himself more attractive to a life of criminality.

A significant number of them are into computers and scamming, which, on an organised basis, requires the acquisition of guns and formation of small, untrained militias, some of them also specialists in extortion and drug running.

A year ago, many of them were under pressure as the stringencies of various states of public emergency (SOEs) made it easier for the police and army to detain them, disrupt their influence on community violence and control the bark and bite of the gun.

A few months ago when the Government was, by law, mandated to cancel the SOEs because of the non-support in the House by the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), any 10th grader could have seen that it would embolden the gangs and their leaders and give them new reasons to thumb their collective noses at politicians and policemen.

Based on simple logic, some of us saw it as a purely political move on the part of the PNP, who was trying to derail the electoral advantages of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the administration it was managing.

I predicted that with the cancellation, the murder rate would eventually increase, the PNP would be politically hurt by it and the JLP would come out at the other end, looking more positively poised to the electorate.

The PNP stressed that there were significant instances of human rights violations among those detained and used that as its main plank in giving non-support to SOEs. The JLP administration had in its favour huge declines in the murder rates, and senior policemen told me that the detention of men with significant links to violent gangs had disrupted their activity.

Now that the gangs and guns have resurfaced, and this time with the message that they are not just the equals of Government and its security apparatus, but are in fact winners in taking back the streets because they are not constrained by State protocol and processes, the government still knows that its first duty is to provide law and order to its citizens.


The JLP administration cannot use as an excuse the PNP non-support. By hook or by crook, it is the duty of Andrew Holness and National Security Minister Horace Chang to significantly lessen the fear that is once again gripping the nation, as our general social order begins another ripping at the seams.

One way to get the PNP back to the table is to argue one side of the negotiations in private and the other side publicly. The logic of reinstitution of the SOEs has been bought by the public and the PNP needs to be embarrassed in the process to lapping its tail, bowing and hopping back on board the SOE train.

In the meantime, it would suit the JLP administration to examine the proposal of John Azar, the boss of King Alarm, in shopping out some of the more mundane of police duties to registered private security firms and freeing up more policemen to tackle the serious work that is demanded at the moment.

“Breaking the corrupt link between key police personnel and gangs is very important,” said a friend, a retired senior policeman. “We dance around with it, but it has to be cut.”

The JLP administration may have lucked into the successes of the SOEs. Having no other workable crime plan, it must seek their renewal.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator Email feedback to and