Con­tain­ment not good enough

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Ho­race Levy Ho­race Levy is a mem­ber of the Peace Man­age­ment Ini­tia­tive. Email feed­back to col­umns@ glean­ and hal­

MIN­IS­TER BOBBY Mon­tague’s pre­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment last week on the mea­sures taken to stem the vi­o­lence in western Jamaica was de­tailed and com­pre­hen­sive. It seems to have sat­is­fied most peo­ple that the min­is­ter, the po­lice, the Gov­ern­ment are on top of the prob­lem.

The re­ally sad thing is that sat­is­fac­tion. It is be­cause the vi­o­lence, grim as it is, 100 mur­ders a month and climb­ing is treated as in­tractable. It has been with us for so long that it has be­come a fix­ture in our en­vi­ron­ment, a grin-and-bear-it un­ease. So the counter-vi­o­lence pre­scrip­tions, which fo­cus solely on re­pres­sion and con­tain­ment, are taken as suf­fi­cient. It is not even no­ticed that con­tain­ing for a time is all they are do­ing.

It is only be­cause the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and Eco­nomic Growth Coun­cil are telling us how big a chunk of our GDP the vi­o­lence is gob­bling up that it has re­cently gained some se­ri­ous (maybe) at­ten­tion. The decades-long de­struc­tion of thou­sands of lives in poor com­mu­ni­ties has, for the most part, been tol­er­ated by po­lit­i­cal di­rec­torates and an un­touched out­er­city pop­u­lace.

Of course, it is en­tirely nec­es­sary for ter­ror­is­ing crim­i­nals to be dealt with by more po­lice, mil­i­tary, equip­ment, po­lice posts, dogs, the re­vival of the scam­ming unit, and the cre­ation of two po­lice di­vi­sions in St James. When the crescendo is reached of 23 mur­ders in 13 days in a small area and pop­u­lace, there has to be that kind of ac­tion.

The press­ing ques­tion re­mains, how­ever – could it not have been pre­vented? Did we have to wait for 23 mur­ders to hap­pen? What about the new mea­sures do­ing lit­tle to pre­vent an­other peak down the road? The past as­sures us of that.

No­tice­ably want­ing, apart from an early ref­er­ence by the po­lice com­mis­sioner to so­cial in­ter­ven­tion (in any case, not his re­mit), is a pre­sen­ta­tion by the au­thor­i­ties of any anal­y­sis of the prob­lem. PM Hol­ness’ prom­ise of a strat­egy by a spe­cial com­mit­tee and his in­vi­ta­tion of pub­lic in­put leave the preven­tion ques­tion un­touched.

So we would like to know more about the forth­com­ing strat­egy. Who are its ar­chi­tects? Is there in­volve­ment of knowl­edge­able peo­ple like UWI’s Pro­fes­sor An­thony Har­riott and Dr Her­bert Gayle, the PMI’s Mr Damian Hutchin­son, who over the past decade led the re­duc­tion of mur­der in Kingston and St An­drew? Pro­fes­sor An­thony Clay­ton has been tapped oth­er­wise by Min­is­ter Chuck, but is that suf­fi­cient? And what about Frances Mad­den in South­side? Or Claudette Pi­ous, whose meth­ods in Chil­dren First in the heart of Span­ish Town got her ac­cused by a don of “tak­ing away his sol­diers”? A top-down so­lu­tion, An­drew?

What re­mains clear is that the predilec­tion for the old ap­proach, in spite of it not work­ing, still leads. Proven new meth­ods get left­overs.The fact (for which I can per­son­ally vouch) is that money and re­sources are be­ing poured into the one – more boots, wheels, units and posts – on a scale com­pletely dwarf­ing in­put into the other. Pri­or­i­ties eas­ily trump the al­leged fi­nanc­ing gap. But the other strat­egy, for all its com­plex­ity, strikes at the root struc­ture of the prob­lem. And its sev­eral strands would have to be tack­led at once.


It is the sub­cul­ture of vi­o­lence; the preva­lence of sin­gle-par­ent house­holds as the lo­cus too of­ten of the abuse of chil­dren who are later the vi­o­lent ones (which is pre­vented in Swe­den, how­ever, by state sup­port to sin­gle moth­ers); op­por­tu­nity lack in low­in­come com­mu­ni­ties, and more than 30 per cent youth un­em­ploy­ment; po­lice them­selves as agents of crim­i­nal vi­o­lence and re­sist­ing re­form; the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween our two prin­ci­pal po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their link­age with gangs (which led to weak cen­tral au­thor­ity as shown in Tivoli) – it is this tan­gled web of dis­re­spect and in­equal­ity (see my col­umn of 20/7/16) that is not even spo­ken about by those in power.

What is it that has pre­vented our po­lit­i­cal di­rec­torates over the years from deal­ing with it? Not evil-mind­ed­ness nor lack of some con­cern. But two things, I would say – dis­tance and what Gayle has called (from Mideast­ern ex­em­plars) ‘feud­ing’, which be­gins at the po­lit­i­cal party level. Dis­tance, be­cause most (not all) politi­cians, once in­ducted into the ranks of the ‘up­pers’, lose cru­cial em­pa­thy for the ‘low­ers’, even if they them­selves emerged from poor cir­cum­stance and still keep con­tact with it.

The ‘feud­ing’, which is the sec­ond fac­tor, is what blocks em­pa­thy and post­pones ur­gent ac­tion. Power rules over pol­icy ev­ery time, and the ex­cluded ‘suck salt’. The Ras­tas are so right in call­ing it ‘Baby­lon’.

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