Orville Taylor | Jamaica – the land I love
Sixty years of independence yesterday and we boast a homicide rate which is the highest rate in the English-speaking world and it places us in the top five globally. And yes, it is the same set of demographics that make our headlines. Young men,...
Sixty years of independence yesterday and we boast a homicide rate which is the highest rate in the English-speaking world and it places us in the top five globally. And yes, it is the same set of demographics that make our headlines. Young men, generally between the ages of 17 and 27, make up around 70 per cent of the killers and victims. On the average, we have murdered around 1,400 of each other annually since 2000, and despite the campaign promises, we still have grilles on our windows. Of course, given that more than 80 per cent of Jamaicans declare that they do not trust politicians, the words of the grandmother of my Chinese classmate ring in my head, “Elections often make men make promises they cannot keep!”
So, homicide is indeed our greatest problem since Independence, and until we drastically and sustainably reduce the number of persons murdered in Jamaica, everything else will be gravy in the pot. I began with the negative, because as we assess the progress or lack thereof, which we have made since Independence, there might not be as many things wrong with this country as one would think.
For all the hypocrisy of political activists when they are in opposition, and I mean both Labourites and Comrades, this is a robust democracy. If this were anything near to unpatriotic extremist depictions of our country by ‘outliars’, they could not even speak in their own communities, much less call radio stations with their partisan diatribe daily. Jamaica’s Charter of Rights guarantees a lot that many other more affluent countries take for granted.
True, the right to life is violated at a rate higher than most countries. However, as regards the State, as long as a case is properly investigated and put before the courts, there is the likelihood of justice. And although counter-intuitive, the evidence is that bench trials result in more acquittals than juries. However, the majority of murder accused who make it to trial do get convicted.
As for corruption, despite a consistent multi-decade corruption perception index of four out of 10, fewer than 10 per cent of Jamaicans have actually experienced or have been victimised by it. Studies by Transparency International (TI), Vanderbilt University and our two largest universities all corroborate this. Most Jamaicans can obtain any government service without having to pay a bribe. Please note that bureaucracy and inefficiency are not the same as corruption.
For all those who like to lie on their country for short-term gain, our human rights records and the access to justice is first world. Most countries have no equivalent of INDECOM, which reports directly to Parliament. Despite the same 1:16 ratio of police officers killed by criminals vs citizens they kill, more Jamaican police officers have been charged for murder/manslaughter in the last 20 years than American cops. And this is in absolute and relative terms. And digest this. The American LGBT homicide rate is three times that of ‘homophobic’ Jamaica. With that population comprising a larger percentage of murder victims in that country than here.
Despite the shameless privileging of Queen’s Counsels by giving them preferential position in trials irrespective of their arrival time, our justice system enjoys strong normative support and belief. On the whole, defence attorneys, prosecutors and the police all give the system thumbs up. Interestingly, when the TI study revealed that six per cent of Jamaicans reported knowing personally of bribes paid to judges, all lawyers, including the four who host programmes on our Radio Jamaica, demonstrated incredulity if not naiveté. Yet, as reported multiple times in this column, the numbers for the USA and UK were 15 and 21 per cent seven years ago when I first looked at the surveys.
Still, given the way in which Supreme Court judges are chosen based on their perceived politics, and the fact that American judges are directly elected in more than half of the jurisdictions, the numbers make perfect sense.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
All Jamaicans have freedom of movement. Many countries do not allow their citizens to go from state to state without governmental permission. In one of the largest economies, citizens cannot be seen in the districts or states in which they work, outside of the designated hours.
Jamaica is the first country in the hemisphere and third in the British Commonwealth to have universal adult suffrage. Canada did it a full decade after us and the USA 11 years after them. We have never had a political coup or assassination. And yes, I remember the 1980 murder of Roy McGann.
It might seem trifling; but I write for the largest media group in the anglophone Caribbean and value my freedom of speech and conscience. Both Reporters without Borders and Freedom House rank our press freedom number one in the hemisphere and Anglophone world.
Despite the failing of both parties since Independence, we are a good place to live. With a life expectancy a bit longer than African Americans, we are among the healthiest black countries on earth. In spite of the horrors of domestic violence, we have had female chief justice, prime minister, head of military, head of corrections, customs, public prosecutions, auditor general’s department, tax administration and many more. Jamaica is the best place for women to be treated as equals or bosses in the world media landscape. Both television stations and this newspaper have female heads.
Doubtless, we have much to do, but there is much to celebrate.
Jamaica, land I love.
Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.