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Take control of our streets

Published:Monday | April 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Garth A. Rattray

The mindset of operating outside the law has blighted our nation. It manifested itself in several spheres and culminated in entire areas being totally controlled by powerful individuals.

Literal wars have been waged between our mini (inner-city) 'states'. Representatives of the law of the land were, and still are, seen as outsiders and intruders in many places.

The most blatant demonstration of community self-rule took place in May 2010 when some Tivoli Gardens residents mounted booby-trapped roadblocks to keep the security forces out.

After the Tivoli engagement and the eventual capture of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, various 'community leaders' assumed more quiescent/low-key roles. But the general acculturation of conveniently operating outside the law remains with many individuals and groups. This attitudinal paradigm has poured out into our streets and has led to rampant indiscipline on the roads.

The most undisciplined, dangerous and obstreperous road users are some operators of legal and illegal taxis and minibuses. They have encroached on municipally controlled routes and rewritten the rules governing the safe use of our roads. Some of the greatest offenders ply the route from Papine to Half-Way Tree. This led to a crackdown by the police.

Roadhog cabbies

However, the transport operators managed to broker an agreement with the authorities: the legal taxis will be allowed to resume plying that route but can only carry three passengers at a time and refrain from stopping along the way. But other habitual infractions cry out for attention; many operators drive on the wrong side of the road, use turning lanes to go straight, speed excessively, race each other, stop suddenly, follow too closely, overtake dangerously, obstruct traffic and overload - all in the name of 'making a money'.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone making a living, but it must be by legal means and must not endanger the lives of others.

Senior superintendent of police (SSP) in charge of the Traffic Division, Radcliffe Lewis, spearheaded the assault against the illegal practices of some transport operators. Someone or some group incensed and intent on maintaining the status quo, in spite of its illegality and danger, had the temerity to issue death threats against the SSP.

The extreme reaction of threatening the life of any officer of the law (and a senior one performing his duties at that) speaks to the need for civil society to push back when nefarious factions, emboldened by years of getting away with breaking the law in an environment of permissiveness, decide on operating by their own rules and regulations. Just like the rest of civil society, they need to do whatever it takes to conform.

Societal disorder

There is a far bigger picture to all of this. Were it not for the twin terrors of crime and indiscipline, Jamaica would be the beneficiary of far more investment from inside and outside the country and region, enjoy more tourist arrivals, generate more tax revenue, and save billions on security costs.

If we have any hope of saving our little nation from eventual anarchy, we must start by taking back control of our streets. The establishment of order, discipline and respect for the law must start there. The effort needs to be extended to other road users, including cyclists.

I am happy that Dr Morais Guy, minister without portfolio in the transport, works and housing ministry, has indicated that the Government intends to monitor (and therefore act upon) any non-compliance by the guilty transport operators. The enforcement of law, order and discipline on our streets will have a much-needed positive ripple effect on our society.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.