Making a political killing out of murder
Sometimes cock mouth kill cock. Now the utterances of Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness, about the impotence of the Government to handle crime, might have once again opened him up to more attacks and given to the People's National Party (PNP) more fodder for its campaign.
Speaking at a political rally for his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in Hanover, he waxed, "If you keep the PNP in power, the truth is that you could lose your life. If you keep the PNP in power and the crime rate continues to rise, the truth is that the next murder victim could be you," Holness warned.
And in true Holness style, Andrew compared the green apples of road crashes with the oranges of homicides, and revealed that one is more likely to be killed as a murder victim than meeting one's end in a vehicular collision. "It is no joke business, because right now you have a greater chance of being murdered in your own community than being hit by a car, and it shouldn't be that way."
True, more persons are killed violently than in motor vehicle incidents. However, I am willing to bet that there are far more young unemployed and socially marginalised youth in this country than there are drivers of motor vehicles.
Andrew is a very bright young man with still untapped intelligence and truly sounded prime ministerial. Yet, in an earlier speech in July, he made a reference to one of the most violent periods in our history, the 1980 pre-election period. In that calendar year, almost 900 Jamaicans died violently. Under the JLP administration, homicides trickled to 489 in 1989, the year when the PNP returned.
Now, we know that between 1976 and 1983, Jamaica was in a virtual civil war, as both political parties armed thugs, as well as youth, who were friends or amiable rivals. It was a dark period of our history. Parliament had criminals, too, because I can recall now-deceased members on both sides handed guns to people, some of whom knew little if anything, about what it meant to be a socialist or Labourite. Indeed, many of them couldn't even spell enumeration, much less legally vote; but they did.
Nonetheless, Andrew was still drinking from a milk cup in 1980, so he would have to get his history lesson from 'Babsy' Grange, Pearnel Charles, Ed Bartlett and, of course, my friend, Mike Henry, if he can find his antediluvian notebook. His nemesis, Sista P, Bobby Pickersgill and D.K. Duncan can also pull up the records from Jurassic Park for his information.
Jumping past the '80s, Holness noted that crime always seems to rise when the PNP is in power. After all, as soon as Papa Eddie beat the PNP 51 seats to nine, the homicides slid, then plummeted to its 1989 low.
Indeed, the homicide rates did not climb until the 1990s, where, under the PNP, the figure peaked. By 2002, the 1,000 mark had been breached, and in 2005, the year before Portia Simpson Miller took the reins from P.J. Patterson, the then record of 1,674 was set.
After the JLP returned to power in 2007, there was a constant rise from 1,574 to 1,601 the following year, before setting the historic high watermark of 1,690 in 2009.
Admittedly, the year 2011 ended with a relatively low figure. Without adding the 77 fatalities from the Tivoli operation, 2010 had 1,428 homicides. By 2011, when Andrew "call it" and lost it, there were 1,125 murdered Jamaicans.
From 1,097 in 2012, and 1,200 in 2013, the PNP's figures look better than the JLP's. Last year, the number of murders fell to a 15-year low of 1,005. Even as the numbers are at this point 22 per cent above last year's figures, if the trend continues unabated, the figure should stop around 1,220, still significantly lower than all but one of the four JLP years.
There is a sinister conspiracy theory about the role the JLP supporters have played in crime. Holness' unfortunately exuberant utterance, which essentially says that voting for the PNP will increase one's chances of being murdered, can be a damning self-indictment.
Is he giving fuel to the conspiracy theorists that JLP sympathetic gunmen are wantonly killing, in order that the PNP might look bad? Or is it that the JLP has more control over its own criminal elements and thus is able to say to them, 'Hold dawg!"?
Perhaps it is more mundane and closer to the analyses of my colleagues in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work. Despite protestations to the contrary, the ruling party tends to have more going on in its constituencies, and thus maybe the opposition communities get starved of the economic and social assistance needed, in order to break the correlation between crime and social deprivation.
Nonetheless, we perhaps need to look at what was the role of the mother of all garrisons in carrying out the murders over the decades. More interestingly, has anyone looked at the data from the police's Criminal Investigation Bureau or the Major Investigation Task Force to determine where the homicides are occurring or, more significantly, the residential areas of the persons who are suspects or charged with the killings.
Those of us in the academy do not have the time for politicking, especially with the large numbers of young Jamaicans who are being killed and those who are doing the killing each year.
When the politicians start telling us about more of the historical factors during the dark days, Mr Holness and others can speak of the link between voting for any political party and the homicide rate.
My caution to him, though, is that he balances his enthusiasm with the data, because the next murder victim might be his credibility or political career.
- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.