Tue | Mar 28, 2023

Letter of the Day | Fresh approach needed to fight crime

Published:Friday | January 22, 2021 | 12:06 AM


There is a painful reality – murders are high over the past few years, there is a steady pattern of gang reprisal and domestic strife – and none of this likely to change in the near future. So we’re stuck with 1,300 murders a year for now. It is assumed, of course, use of the same model of murder control, namely reliance chiefly on states of emergency (SOEs) implemented by the police with assistance of the Jamaica Defence Force.

With so many people unhappy, however, with the 1,300 murder rate, could it be that our Government might actually be considering some alternative route to bringing these murders down? It would not be needed, of course, if its efforts in the Appeal Court succeed. To that end, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte says she is working hard to get a reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision against the use of SOEs as a regular tool against homicide. This decision was taken on the ground that such usage violates the Constitution.

But the Appeal Court might uphold the Supreme Court decision. If Ms Malahoo Forte’s arguments do not persuade Appeal Court judges, what then? Being prudent and deliberate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness appreciates, I am sure, the need to prepare an alternative. If my reasoning is on track, the next question would have to be about a possible alternative. Every reader of my letters already knows my views on that. They were aired recently at length in the Jamaica Observer of January 3, 2021. Here I would urge Mr Holness to consider just two of its points.

1. As you did with COVID-19, so with homicide. Take into account the value of the virtually unanimous diagnosis made by social scientists, along with their recommendations for the rehabilitation of deprived communities. Combined with community policing, this is the vaccine they propose. Consulting well-known sociologists and criminologists, two commissions of enquiry (Wolfe’s in 1992 and West Kingston, 2016) and two National Committees (1997 and 2002) have made the same analysis and recommendations. Vouched for by Herbert Gayle, the Peace Management Initiative East has demonstrated, though for want of funding in only limited areas, that it works.

2. The decades-long failure of the State to stem Jamaica’s epidemic of homicide is itself a major cause of its continuation. More police, soldiers, ships and planes, better stations and cars can for a short time check a wave of murder. They cannot reach the powerful urges to violence continuously bred in the hearts of young men by beatings, long joblessness and lock-ups; cannot counter the disrespect of having no well-paying work or other opportunity to achieve something.

It would not be long, trust me, before this new approach would breathe fresh resilience into the battered frame of Jamaica’s family life and its economy.