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Wrong on gangs - International criminologist urges Jamaican police to rethink their approach to gangsters

Published:Friday | February 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson

With more than 200 gangs said to be operating in Jamaica, British-based criminologist Craig Pinkney is arguing that it is pointless for the security forces to try to disrupt them as they will inevitably replenish themselves over time.

Pinkney, youth advocate and founder of the 'Don't Get Gassed Campaign' aimed at stemming knife crimes in the United Kingdom, said efforts should be about stamping out the crimes being carried out by the gang members as opposed to separating them from those persons they have come to see as family.

"You are looking at it wrong. Maybe it is not about them leaving the gang but what you are talking about is reducing violence and not gang membership. Personally, I have no problems with gangs, my problem is with violence," Pinkney told The Sunday Gleaner.

"Gangs are what we call surrogate families. If mommy can't look after him and daddy can't look after him, and it is his friends that look after him, who am I to tell him to leave his family?" added Pinkney, as he noted that it is difficult for a youngster to walk away from the gang which has offered him shelter from other predators.

"If you look at it from a public-health perspective and not a criminal-justice perspective, you would understand. If you are a man that lives here, we went to the same school, our parents went to the same church ... how can a person tell me don't talk to you?

"So you can't tell a 14-year-old to leave his friends, because his friends are all he has. What we do is that we criminalise them with their friends, we tell them that it's wrong, instead of trying to reduce the violence by the group," added Pinkney.

He pointed to the notorious 'Crips' and 'Bloods' gangs which originated in Los Angeles in the United States, and argued that law-enforcement agencies there did not attempt to stop persons from joining them.

"You can be that (gang member), but guess what, there can be no shooting between you," said Pinkney, who was the guest speaker at an international restorative justice conference put on by the Ministry of Justice last week.

Local police have repeatedly argued that disrupting the criminal gangs is a key crime-fighting tool, particularly now that they seem to be targeting younger and younger children to be members.

These young gangsters have been linked to some of the most horrendous murders across the island.

"Those are the people who the gangs find attractive because they are young and very impressionable. They want to get a stripe, and they try as hard as they can to get status within the gangs," Assistant Commissioner of Police Ealan Powell told our news team last month.

'Anti-gang' law

In April 2014, the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Bill, popularly called the 'anti-gang' legislation, was passed into law.

It provides for the disruption and suppression of criminal organisations; and for related matters. Its preamble provides the justification:

"Whereas the activities of criminal organisations present a danger to public order and public safety and the economic stability of Jamaica,

"And whereas the existing laws of Jamaica fail to adequately disrupt, suppress or otherwise deal with organised crime arid the activities of criminal organisations effectively,

"And whereas it is necessary to target the leaders of criminal organisations and criminalise the management of, and related conduct in connection with, enterprises that are involved in criminal activity,

"And whereas the pervasive presence of criminal organisations in many communities is harmful to the well-being of those communities and, therefore, it is necessary to criminalise participation in and promotion of the activities of criminal organisations:

"And whereas it is desirable to restore a sense of security in the Jamaican society and strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with crime effectively (this legislation is approved by both Houses and signed into law)."