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Herbert Gayle | Where’s the safest place to live in Jamaica?

Published:Tuesday | April 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM
An officer at a crime scene near to Deanery Road in Kingston in 2013.
Anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle.

In this part of the profile of victims of Jamaica's violence, we focus on the geo-social reality. In simple terms, this means we are searching for the safest place in Jamaica to live. The data we use are for the years 2010 to 2016 and represent our true reality since the new decade. The data come from the Statistics and Information Management Unit of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). These are data for seven years. This means that 2013 is used as the median year, and the population used in the calculations of homicide rates is the roughly calculated figures for 2013.

While the parish homicide rates are simple, those by gender are not. This is because the proportion of females changes by urbanisation and resource factors. In other words, Jamaican women only dominate demographically in parishes that are urban and have tertiary-education institutions and/or other economic resources - St Andrew, St Catherine and St James. To arrive at pinpoint accuracy, the proportion of males and females in each parish is factored into the calculations for the homicide rate - rather than treat males and females as 50/50. The table provides a sea of data that could be difficult to cross. Nonetheless, the data are broken down in the charts to show patterns that can help us make better sense of our violence reality.

... Observations on violence

n Raw homicide figures can be misleading, as they do not account for the population of that area. To arrive at accurate murder figures, we need to calculate the rate. For instance, we have been focusing on St James, but in the last six years, Kingston has been consistently the most violent in Jamaica. While its average homicide is only 140 (lower than St Andrew, St Catherine and St James), its population is only 90,000, which is six times smaller than St Andrew.

... The worst parishes to live in

- In ranked order the worst parishes to live in Jamaica are Kingston, St James, Westmoreland and Hanover (Chart 1). Here are three similarities about these four parishes that should stay in your mind. Note that it is the combination of these geo-social issues that drive the problem.

- They are poor and have large proportions of underserved communities; hence they are ideal for the recruitment of gangs and/or the mobilisation of organised crime. It should come as no surprise that they make up the core of the scamming problem in Jamaica. Remember, it is not only the force of the storm that hits, but what it hits. Scamming has thrived in these parishes because they have some of the country's poorest males and largest proportion of boys who are out of school or are attending school less than three days per week.

- They are either very urban or attached to an urban centre. In other words, despite their poverty they have access to resources for war and scamming - guns and Internet. Notice that the parishes with higher illiteracy have low levels of violence. In other words, it is not just illiteracy that is the problem for underserved males in Jamaica, but where the underserving is taking place. Education of rural males must be encouraged. Some parishes, such as St Elizabeth, have embarrassing figures, with less than two-thirds of men being literate. What saves us in these rural parishes is that these men are gainfully employed in farming and fishing. The combatants in the KMR and St James area are not educated enough to be gainfully employed; but are not uneducated enough not to know they are structurally disadvantaged.

- They all have massive mobilisations for war and organised crime, and their populations are small or dense in the warring areas so that the problem impacts the entire parish or its majority.

... The safest parishes

- The safest parishes to live are in ranked order: Portland, St Elizabeth, Manchester, St Mary, St Ann, and St Thomas. All of these parishes have homicide rates below the civil war benchmark of 30 per 100,000. In all of these parishes males of the combatant age (15-34 years) are heavily employed in agriculture and/or fishing. In many of these rural parishes or communities, young men own houses or at least a 'shed' (small dwelling) and/or own small businesses and farms. In studies done in these rural parishes, it became clear that the culture dictates that young men are able to show masculine achievement not only through education and formal employment, but through ownership of property.

- Females are relatively safe in all parishes except Kingston where their homicide is higher than the civil war benchmark and equal to the average of the LAC (the most violent zone in the world). This is highlighted in the table. Additionally, females in St James (19), Westmoreland (11) and Hanover (11) are not as safe as the average Jamaican female (8.6 per 100,000).

- With the exception of Portland, males are not safe in Jamaica. In Portland, only 22 per 100,000 males are likely to be killed. This is below the civil war benchmark of 30 per 100,000 (green line in Chart 2). The purple line represents 205 per 100,000, which was the war-related death rate for the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2011. Note that the blue line in the gap analysis represents all males, and the red line represents males of the combatant age (15-34 years). Kingston is the only place in Jamaica where both the homicide rate for all males and that of the combatant age surpass the rate for the Iraq War. In St James, only the combatants are at full-scale war. In other words, there are many persons in St James - even males - who are still unaffected by the high violence there. In the other parishes (in varying degrees) males, especially of the combatant age, are unsafe - but there is hope of stopping most from becoming compulsory warriors in most.