Garth Rattray | How to address crime and violence – Part 1
Recently, in responding to parliamentarians expressing their concerns regarding crime and violence in Jamaica, the prime minister briefly spoke to the various ways that we are fighting the vexing problem and to other ways being explored. He went on to suggest that there be a new government ministry specifically created to focus on crime and violence.
On the surface of it, there is the allusion that his administration, and specifically the Ministry of National Security, has failed, is failing, and will fail to stem the tide of crime and violence that is drowning this nation in the blood of our many victims. Frankly (I use that word for emphasis), I do not expect the Ministry of National Security to significantly control our crime problems; and I do not expect that any new ministry [created to focus on crime and violence] will succeed in producing needed results.
For the Ministry of National Security to significantly reduce crime and violence to the degree that we all feel free to walk about and do whatever we want, whenever we want, and wherever we want, it would need to be militaristic … that is not only unconstitutional, but also dangerous and unsustainable. I remember the time when Tivoli Gardens appeared to be attempting secession and Christopher (‘Dudus’) Coke had gone underground. There was a necessary incursion, by the security forces, into Tivoli Gardens. Members of the security forces were deployed almost everywhere across the island to maintain law and order and to search for Dudus. Peace and quiet reigned supreme. As a regular citizen, it felt wonderful to be that safe, but it was temporary.
It has always been my belief that crime and violence are the manifestations of a ‘societal’ disease. It will take the involvement of every government ministry to solve this serious problem. Heavy dependence on the security forces cannot solve our crime problem. The police are already doing far more than policing; they are engaged in fighting crime through community-based activities and through the involvement of our citizens. Fighting crime requires focusing on families, communities, and the wider society.
Last week a friend telephoned me seeking my opinion/guidance on a matter. Someone borrowed a piece of equipment from him, kept it much longer than promised, damaged it and gave it to a relative to return it. There was no explanation or apology for destroying the borrowed equipment. The borrower is a ‘young buck’ who feels above reproach and encourages others to fear him. This is a civil matter, so my friend would have to litigate to be compensated; that is impossible when the cost of the equipment (which he needs to earn a living) is taken into account and when the cost of legal representation is considered.
My friend is from a depressed community, and could only think of confrontation as the only way of reacting to the unfairness, disrespect and seeking redress. If he had approached the problem in that manner, violence would certainly ensue. I was very happy that he had the forethought to seek my counsel. However, he is the very rare exception. Most people living within depressed communities who are wronged or insulted by others would have resorted to confrontation and violence.
We need ‘community elders’ who are ‘foundation members’, trusted, respected and chosen from among the members of the community and tutored by the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Justice in ways to de-escalate and resolve conflicts. I know that justices of the peace are asked to play that role; however, justices of the peace are so aligned with relevant government agencies that they may not be made privy to some interpersonal problems that citizens consider so sensitive that they need to remain below the government radar.
I know of councillors from certain political divisions who have to play the role of supportive parents, loving siblings, and financial benefactors to entire communities. They sometimes find it necessary to use their personal resources to assist the very needy. Some have to arrange everything from antenatal care to the funerals of the dearly departed. Without people like them, our level of crime and violence would be astronomical.
Unless we involve every government ministry, we will not see a significant reduction in crime and violence. Most citizens mistakenly focus on the punishment aspect of dealing with criminals although the real problem is the creation of criminals and monsters who carry out despicable and unfathomable acts of violence upon others.
The involvement of the Ministry of National Security, and of the Ministry of Justice is obvious, but Finance and the Public Service is essential, so too are the ministries of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Health and Wellness, Labour and Social Security, Local Government and Community Development, Education and Youth, Industry, Investment and Commerce, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Mining, Transport, Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport, and the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs. All have crucial roles to play in how they impact the lives of every citizen. Each should assign individuals to ensure that part of their resources goes towards the moral and socio-economic development and support of vulnerable and disenfranchised communities.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, and the Ministry of Tourism also have roles to play by lobbying overseas agencies and businesses to assist our underprivileged citizens. More next week.