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Triple solution for social mess

Published:Tuesday | March 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Peace Management Initiative (PMI) head, Bishop Herro Blair, speaks to a youth during a community tour in 2003. Civil-society groups such as the PMI are seen as one part of a triple solution to crime and violence. - File
Killing Streets and Community Revival, authored by Horace Levy, member of the mediation group Peace Management Initiative.
Horace Levy, member of the mediation group Peace Management Initiative.

The following is the third excerpt from the recently published book Killing Streets and Community Revival, authored by Horace Levy, member of the mediation group Peace Management Initiative. See Excerpt Four in Wednesday's Gleaner.

Approaches to solving the homicide puzzle in Jamaica have been broadly of three kinds. The first was by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) in a succession of efforts - paramilitary, community policing and finally intelligence channels. The paramilitary was in keeping with the force's colonial tradition, dating from its establishment shortly after the Bogle rebellion of 1865 on the British model in North Ireland.

In keeping with this tradition, noted for its brutality toward black, lower-income people and consequent alienation of them, literally one dozen police special squads were formed over the past four decades to deal with crime and homicide, each replacing the previous, deemed ineffective and none making any lasting impact on the problem except to exacerbate it.

Overlapping with the last of these squads in the late 1990s, came the turn to community policing. This was widely promoted ... . Community police are looked down on by the rest of the force, however, and their work is consistently undermined by the paramilitary tradition rooted in the force. Trust built up by the 'good cops' is regularly shattered by the 'bad cops' showing up to play jury, judge and executioner in a community. Currently, the additional officially preferred method is the use of 'intelligence' exemplified in (Operation) Kingfish now reportedly assigned to targeting corruption.

Implementing a series of legislative acts

The second approach was electoral, through the implementation of a series of legislative acts starting from the 1970s, but expanded especially after the 1993 national elections ... . These steps have been extremely effective. The establishment, in particular, of an Electoral Commission [which] has on occasion actually voided election results [and] has had definite impact on fraud and connected violence. This approach is essentially political and has contributed, along with considerable pressure from civil society, to political representatives putting some distance between themselves and community dons ... often ... more for public consumption. The deeper problem of partisan politics, which has been repeatedly identified - in the Report on Political Tribalism (1997), for instance, as well as the Report of the National Committee on Crime and Violence (2002) - is yet to be decisively tackled. Much community violence would cease if political support were withdrawn from key persons ... .

The third approach to the homicides was initiated in January 2002 by Minister of National Security Dr Peter Phillips in the form of the Peace Management Initiative. This was the first time that community explosions were being specifically and formally targeted, an explicitly non-bloodletting approach advanced and, to this end, members of civil society involved. In all these respects, this was a thoroughly new departure.

To be especially noted is its alliance between the State and the civil sector. The State is present in representatives of the two main political parties, several of them ministers in the Government, on the PMI board, as well as in its financial support and some oversight on the part of the Ministry of National Security. Civil society is present in the board membership of ministers of religion, University of the West Indies lecturers and the Dispute Resolution Foundation Director, as well as crucially in the actual work carried out on the ground by them and by the field staff.

The PMI board is not the usual one. Without recompense of any kind, a number of its members (seven or eight in recent years) have been active from the outset in the work in the field. And with a bishop as chairman ... an ethos of spiritual care and Christian forgiveness has permeated and played an important role in the PMI's approach. It is certainly very important in the work of the counselling team organised by a member of the PMI's field staff.

The Jamaican State had, of course, over the years ... undertaken social measures to address social, and specifically, community problems. For the first time, however, in the PMI, the State was applying social measures to address the problem of community violence and homicide, measures not based on physical force but on dialogue and, to do so, calling on the involvement of civil society ... .

Obviously all three approaches - security force, political/electoral and civil society - have each a specific task to execute. What is also quite evident, as in the anti-crime measures announced by Prime Minister Bruce Golding in Parliament on July 22, 2008, is the tendency to keep returning to the hard policing and longer detention kind of measures in spite of their manifest inability to cope with the homicide problem, instead of both frontally addressing the political roots ... and fully exploring with sufficient resources the civil-society approach ... .

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