Wed | Feb 8, 2023

Gordon Robinson | Crime-fighting squabble

Published:Sunday | December 4, 2022 | 12:05 AM
In this April 2021 photo members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force conduct a special ops training exercise at the waterfront in downtown Kingston.
In this April 2021 photo members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force conduct a special ops training exercise at the waterfront in downtown Kingston.
Police patrol James Street in central Kingston after two masked attackers shot two men, one fatally.
Police patrol James Street in central Kingston after two masked attackers shot two men, one fatally.

What was to have been a serious national crime-fighting debate descended into scattered semantic squabbles akin to prep school playground scuffling.

The squabbles didn’t end with the Opposition’s blinkered blockage of the Government’s attempted SOE extension. Those were all about superficial statistics, who could deliver untested opinions regarding SOEs constitutionality loudest, and whether gunmen or police were winning the Jules Rimet Trophy.

Nobody seemed interested in multifaceted, sustainable, targeted, integrated crime-fighting strategies. There wasn’t a word about reforming and resourcing the JCF or a whisper about radical educational reform to include mandatory civics, sex education, music, parenting, and other life lessons. All were intent on a senseless war of words over a short-term crime-fighting strategy of dubious legality and doubtful effectiveness.

It escaped tribal JLP trolls that the very fact of SOEs’ repeated usage was proof of its ineffectiveness. Why wouldn’t it? It’s a perfect political distraction so that twits (oops, sorry, twitterites) can wax lyrical about how safe we all are once SOEs are in place and how many lives SOEs “save”. How many of these enjoying “safety” in their gated communities and behind burglar bars would volunteer a family member for the dreaded list of 300?

How many of the infamous 300 were detained during the past 14 days based on targeted “intelligence packages”? HOW MANY? How many of the notorious 300 are still at large? Or as Horace Chang reportedly said, “went into hiding because they heard the SOE was on”? HOW DID THEY HEAR? Didn’t the Government know where they were and how to grab them before they could flee?

Effective? Schmeffective!

This is just pandering, posturing, pathetic popularity seeking. How many mealy mouthed JLP political sycophants or private-sector bosses issuing grand statements supporting SOEs would volunteer their children to be detained for smoking a spliff or cussing a bad word? HOW MANY?

Did I mention civics? This brings me to the next infernal Twitter squabble that only proved that many don’t understand civics. So political shepherds and their sheep embrace Jamaica’s totalitarian governance system disguised as democracy and strive mightily to take charge of it.

The next semantic struggle of monumental irrelevance started when the PM’s Twitter account decided to use the 2010 SOE as a whip to beat the Opposition for blocking the latest extension. There it was written: “I recall having to declare” the 2010 SOE.

Well, as the great Paul Keenes-Douglas might exclaim, who tell him say so? PNP sycophants leapt at the opportunity to correct him and insisted that Bruce Golding had called it. But all civics-challenged clowns in that sideshow were wrong. The governor general declares every SOE. PM/JCF/JDF can only advise.


The worst consequence of this potpourri of ignorance is that it misleads citizens starved for decades of education in governance. Tribalists blindly follow the leader no matter how much they must tie themselves into irrational knots trying to do so.

So silly me. I tried to educate the Twitterverse about the constitutional rule of law regarding declarations of SOEs. My foolhardy attempt was met with this (from @MarleneHinds1):

“No, the GG does NOT declare SOE. He merely announces it, as directed by the PM.”

See what I mean? Totalitarianism wins the day over rule of law every time! Any basic civics student would be forced to read the Constitution and learn (probably by rote) that [Section 20(1)(b)]: “‘period of public emergency’ means any period during which ….

(b) there is in force a proclamation by the governor general declaring that a state of public emergency exists;”

Holy three wise monkeys Batman! Whenever PM Holness announces an SOE, he specifically credits the GG as declaring it. But his Twitter account and PNP followers attribute different PMs. Sigh.

The Constitution also provides that any such proclamation shall not be effective unless “it is declared that the Governor General IS SATISFIED (my emphasis) …

(b) that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety or to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of supplies or services essential to life”.

Therein lies the flaw in the PNP’s holier-than-thou attempted pre-charge detention of the moral high ground with a simpering assertion that it is upholding its parliamentary oath. This, THREE YEARS AFTER it received an opinion that SOEs were unconstitutional but hasn’t taken a single step to test it in court.

I, too, believe that these SOEs are unconstitutional because SOEs were never intended as crim- fighting tools against island-wide inter-gang violence endangering communities. It isn’t “action … taken or immediately threatened by any person or body of persons” when the action is taken by hundreds of bodies of persons (gangs) over decades. Gang warfare affecting themselves and community members isn’t “the public safety”. The reason SOEs are declared for 14 days is that they should deal with emergencies fixable in 14 days!

But I acknowledge that once the Government persuades the GG to say “I am satisfied”, no court is likely to intervene. So the PNP needs to either grow a pair and sue, as it did for NIDS, or stop using wobbly, “unconstitutional” crutches to block government policy. Absent a settled court decision, this is simply a governance issue.

That this is all about governance was confirmed after the PNP won the parliamentary semantics battle. Goaded by PNP senators (playing zone defence in the political football game) to call back-to-back SOEs, Horace Chang dismissed that as bad governance. But then the PM threatened that back-to-back SOEs were “under consideration”. He said:

“We’re going to do our best, in addition to keeping track of those we didn’t get into custody, to keep this murder rate down this Christmas season, so that every Jamaican can enjoy the season ... “ .

Faced with this internal conflict of Corleone family proportions, Chang responded on radio by saying: “You have to do what you have to do.”


So there it is. Yet again, this is all about political gamesmanship. For a happy Christmas, let’s use temporary ne- fishing tactics. Never mind that the nets have holes too big to catch the targeted 300 or deter any “violence producer”. Those same nets will produce campaign friendly statistics for Christmas, thus garnering enough votes to win the next local government elections.

So the PNP, under pressure to say how instead of habitual how-nots, comes up with another rehash of a tried and failed strategy called “Pre-charge detention”. Facing accusations of flip-flopping, the PNP insists that it is different from previous strategies because it would be ordered by a court.

So flipping what? Jamaica has been detaining without charge for decades while violent crime increased exponentially. Why would the insertion of a judge make a difference? This is another political vote-buying trick. It’s a renamed SOE. With apologies to Billy Shakespeare, crap by any other name smells as stink! All these SOE-type detention plans, apart from the unnecessary abuse of rights, ignore the reality that “detention” (presuming a significant number of the 300 can be detained) has never prevented organised crime from operating with leaders behind bars.

For crying out loud on a rainy night, Jamaica’s political leaders should try thinking instead of frantically pointing fingers and sniping. In particular, I recommend thinking outside of the box for real solutions instead of persistently proving Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Jamaica’s high murder rate isn’t a mathematics exam. The past 40 years should’ve taught, as one of my bridge students would say, “You can’t maths this out”. Do we truly expect SOEs to be a magic elixir that cures entrenched societal dysfunction? Or are we saying that SOEs are our last hope?

If that’s so, hope is missing in action presumed dead.

SOEs allow tribalists to hide behind illusion and kick the can to the other side of the road to please blind, cheering toadies. The way forward begins with reforming and resourcing the JCF and correctional services. Reformation means decorruption, retraining to include emphasising community policing, and realistic compensation packages. Hyped “intelligence packages” are worthless until police morale can resist temptation. Resourcing includes providing technology, working motor vehicles, ballistic vests, and body cameras.

The way forward also includes social intervention in schools and communities to instill respect for life, discipline, and law. The Government should rely more on partnerships with the Church and less with private-sector lobbyists only interested in their bottom line. SOEs are good for corporate profit. Don’t expect a private-sector majority to look beyond SOEs. Corporate greed, every private sector’s raison d’être, won’t permit it.

Take off the blinkers. SOEs aren’t cure-alls. SOEs are distractions. If, as the PM asserts, violence is an epidemic, let’s find medicines that work even if we must wait a few election cycles for fevers to come down.

Peace and Love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Sendfeedback to