Can we really entrust the JCF with the anti-gang legislation?
SOME weeks ago I listened with great interest to Mr Delroy Chuck, a Jamaica Labour Party member of parliament, speaking on a radio programme. He was eloquent and sincere about the state of politics in Jamaica, among other matters, and his comments were a breath of fresh air. I was amazed at the balance of his thoughts, as I had come to believe that many
of our politicians are incapable of balanced judgement because they repeatedly appear to put the party first, then themselves, and Jamaica a poor third.
However, my delight with this member of parliament evaporated on February 18, 2014, when I listened to parts of his presentation in Parliament in support of the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Bill, popularly called the anti-gang legislation. I could not believe this was the same person I had heard on that radio programme a week ago. Having boasted, and deservedly so, that he had rid his constituency of its 12 gangs without the anti-gang legislation, he proceeded to infer that his formula or model could not be replicated throughout Jamaica, and therefore, this anti-gang legislation was necessary.
Suppression of crime culture
MP Chuck acknowledged that some private individuals and organisations were concerned about the Bill but failed to say why there were more compelling reasons than the objections raised for passing this piece of legislation. I am sure the member of Parliament is aware of the manner in which members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have conducted themselves under the provisions of the Suppression of Crime Act (1974), which stayed with us for 20 years. Wasn't it Mr Chuck's political party that fought for the repeal of that very Act? Isn't it that very Act that is widely believed to have contributed to the disregard our present-day JCF shows towards citizens' rights or what the Wolfe Report (1992) described as a 'suppression of crime culture'?
Do the supporters of this Bill truly believe our present JCF can be entrusted to enforce it in a professional and honest manner without abusing the rights of Jamaicans, especially young unemployed members of inner-city communities? Who is going to be around to protect or defend this group of Jamaicans when they are picked up and thrown into jail at the whim and fancy of a police constable acting without sound intelligence? Who is going to expose the malice or political opportunism that sends these youngsters to jail, where they often wait for weeks before being brought before an already over-burdened court system? It appears that the only beneficiaries of this piece of legislation will be our defence lawyers. And just how will a young, unemployed man from the ghetto be able to pay for a lawyer? Aren't we just creating a culture that drives such a person to seek unlawful means to defend himself?
Maybe our lawmakers believe that by bringing an anti-gang Bill into law the JCF will experience an epiphany and begin to respect the rights of all Jamaicans, especially the poor inner-city youth. Epiphany or not, the anti-gang law is placing the lives and future of many young people at risk. Could it also be that our lawmakers are confident that they, their offspring, and possibly their supporters are so far out of reach of the police that they do not believe this anti-gang legislation will make it possible for Jamaicans to be charged based solely on association with others. The attorney general's assurance that "...when the police act under it (the Bill) they still have to go to court and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegations against that particular person they take before the court are proven..." is really very cold comfort. In addition, I sincerely believe the attorney general knows that it is not the Bill that is "....fundamental to solving Jamaica's crime problem", but rather the existence of a reformed and competent JCF.
Now that we will have this bit of legislation, it is up to the JCF to enforce it, and so we expect to see a rapid reduction in crime. Please, let's not hear excuses now like, "Well, this is not really what we wanted, and it was watered down and needs teeth, etc". Let us also hold accountable our lawmakers who supported this Bill .
Colonel Allan Douglas is a retired officer of the Jamaica Defence Force. Comments: email@example.com