Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Byron Blake | To kill a dead man – tackling the crime monster in Jamaica

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2023 | 12:08 AM
This file photo shows a policeman standing guard at a crime scene at the intersection of North and Regent streets in Kingston, where a man travelling on a motorbike was shot at.
This file photo shows a policeman standing guard at a crime scene at the intersection of North and Regent streets in Kingston, where a man travelling on a motorbike was shot at.
 Byron Blake
Byron Blake

Another triple murder. Another killing of multiple children. Another season of righteous indignation from Gordon House through street corners to every social media outlet. “Create harsher penalties”. “Hang them, kill them by whatever means”. “Eradicate them”. These, and worse, we scream every time we have our fit of panic. We need blood to feed our own “demons” and create the mirage that we, the innocent, are in control and on top of things.

The truth is, we have created a society in which life is cheap, brutish, and short. It has neither value nor purpose. We punish, dehumanise, and brutalise the weak and disadvantaged. We have made our people insensitive and uncaring. “Shatta don’t live to see 40”, they say of themselves. So, why should they care about others living long lives?

Further, many of these killers and orchestrators of the killings know that we are not serious. They have heard us before. They know that in a matter of days, we will move on. They also know that we are unlikely to apprehend either the “triggerman” or the “mastermind”. And, if we did, we are unlikely to secure a conviction as they know how to delay trials, silence witnesses, and move evidence. And, if we secure a conviction, we cannot execute our threat. We have not hanged a single convicted murderer in Jamaica since 1988 and a woman since 1891, and we never will. The UK Privy Council, our final court, has seen to that. Those we give long sentences we simply make secure.

Yet we continue to shout for hanging, for life sentences, or multiple life sentences.

I cautioned the United States and the international community at a panel discussion at the University of Miami Law School shortly after 9/11, and I caution Israel and Jamaica today, “You cannot kill a dead man by killing him”. You simply breed martyrs and heroes. President Biden has now acknowledged that the United States’ “hunt down and kill them” approach after 9/11 was not an appropriate strategy.

If Jamaica had accepted that reality in 1963 or even in 1974, we would, in all probability, not be in this predicament today.


But here we are. So, how do we deal with a situation that, left to itself, will get progressively worse?

First, we must:

1. Dial back official violence in word or deed. Violence begets violence.

2. Recognise that this is a structural or societal, not an individual or sectional, problem.

3. realise that a life birthed under adverse circumstances or going in the wrong direction is not a useless life, it is a life that needs to be rescued and redirected.

4. Accept that these challenges require long-term, society-wide, concerted, and consistent actions accompanied by short-term actions which support them and do not reinforce negative behaviours.

5. Systematically reduce opportunities for replenishing the pool of the dead.

How can we do these? We offer 11 sets of action for consideration.

1. An unacceptably large proportion of our children are undernourished in the womb and during the early years of life. This predisposes them to physical, psychological, and intellectual underdevelopment, and inattentiveness, and victimisation in the school system. National policy must put increased focus and resources on pre- and post-natal care, including regular attendance at clinics, access to recommended foods and supplements, and training to care for infants. Policy must also facilitate access to appropriate early socialisation and educational experiences.

2. The focus on early childhood education and on facilitating programmes like PATH must be strengthened. The provision of two meals for three days does little to address undernourishment and poor school attendance.

3. Many of our parents are themselves children with no, or very poor, parenting skills. National policy must give serious attention to parenting. In addition to State action, it must encourage complementary arrangements such as care centres and youth and other social clubs in, and by, communities to share in the parenting, guidance, leadership, and other training responsibilities. It must give greater weight to the involvement of trained social workers and experienced violence interrupters. Given the vulnerabilities of, and sensitivities in dealing with children and young adults these facilities, including our youth centres, juvenile facilities, and foster care programmes must be carefully monitored, and their practical workers, teachers, supervisors, and directors appropriately trained and constantly evaluated and upgraded. We must protect the dignity of all who benefit from any special assistance, for many, it is the only asset they have.

4. Withdrawal from the labour force is dangerous. These human beings exist and have needs. They can see and hear the boasts of “historic” levels of economic growth and prosperity and the need to import workers. Accept Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck’s advice for businesses to move away from the thought of importing workers and spend more on the training, remuneration, and facilitation of local workers. The government should support this.

5. Equip the security forces, by, among other measures, specialised training, technology, and analytical facilities, to track, apprehend, and successfully prosecute perpetrators of crime on a timely basis. Most serious crimes in Jamaica are committed by persons who move on our roads in motor cars, or on motorcycles. Roads can be monitored by strategically located technology. Make the security forces agile and mobile to conduct strategic roadblocks and searches rather than stationary. Give them specialised technology, including cameras and tracker dogs to quickly detect weapons and ammunition, record the evidence, and apprehend persons of interest.

6. Encourage greater community participation in crime-fighting by, inter alia, greater community policing and by the preparedness of citizens to report actual or suspected criminal activities and, where necessary to become witnesses. Address the current lack of trust in the system, and reluctance to cooperate by (a) Strengthening the Witness Protection Programme, and (b) Removing “Crime Stop” from direct reporting to the police and putting it under civilian control.

7. Establish an “Analytical Capacity” consisting of multidisciplinary teams of experienced specialists, drawn from specialised institutions, who would voluntarily study past and present cases to develop scenarios, establish patterns, and provide advice.

8. Appoint a deputy commissioner of police to be responsible for the matters under 5, 6, and 7. Until confidence and trust are built in the system, this position should be filled by a qualified and experienced officer from outside the jurisdiction, preferably from the DIASPORA and paid by the DIASPORA.

9. Join and fully subscribe to the security cooperation arrangement which has been in operation in the Eastern Caribbean for decades.

10. Establish a new relationship with the United States of America. An overwhelming percentage of the guns in Jamaica are produced in, and exported from, the United States of America. Jamaica expends a disproportionate amount of resources to prevent the movement, largely transshipment, of drugs to the United States. While the United States has maintained that it can do nothing to stem the flow of guns and ammunition into Jamaica. Jamaica has shouldered this one-sided arrangement; it must now negotiate a more mature and balanced arrangement or, gradually shift the focus of its resources from cargo and persons leaving to those entering its territory.

11. Reassign the minister of security and change the commissioner of police. A new approach requires new leadership. The new minister would be required to present to the country, within three months, a short-term plan, and a long-term vision, with targets on how to bring the crime monster under control. The commissioner will be recruited based on proven competence and experience and a detailed two- and five-year vision, plan, and strategy for the development of the Police Service and for dealing with the crime monster.

Byron Blake is former Jamaica deputy permanent representative to the United Nations and former assistant secretary general of the Caribbean Community. Send feedback to