Failed state status on the horizon

Mark Wignall

Thursday, May 06, 2010

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"You chopping, boy, but no chips are flying." - From the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.

One day last week as I allowed myself the opportunity to watch Senator Dwight Nelson, our minister of national security, address the Upper House on security matters, a number of items jumped out at me.

First there was the excellent cut of the minister's suit and his superb diction. Second was Senate President Ossie Harding seated pompously with an abbreviated pillow-top on his head, an anomaly wedged between the colonial designation QC and our claims to nationhood and independence. My third observation was that the debates in the Senate tend to be of a higher standard than those in the Lower House even if Senator Norman Grant had to keep savaging the word "violence" by referring to it repeatedly as "voilence".

Senator Dwight Nelson as security minister is not a man I envy but after listening to the concern which he attached to his prepared speech, I could not help but falling prey to cynicism and side with Foghorn Leghorn.

Just recently the new commissioner, Owen Ellington, made the appeal for the people to assist in the push-back against violent criminality, and the commissioner immediately before him, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, told us in 2005 that Tivoli is the "mother of all garrisons". Before him, Lucius Thomas detailed the corruption inside the police force. And just before the JLP election win in September 2007, the JLP proudly strode into power armed with an impressive crime plan authored by ex-commissioner, Colonel Trevor McMillan.

Pardon my open cynicism, but for all that their collective efforts were worth, they were basically chopping but no chips were flying.

Let us briefly examine people support in the fight against violent criminality. Close your eyes and choose any inner-city community from Glendevon atop MoBay to a crowded fishing village in Bull Bay. An old woman is shot dead there and 20 people in the community know who pulled the trigger. Which one of them will go with the information to the police? None of them.

"Who, an mi nuh know if the police and 'im a fren," is the typical response. In general, the people, especially those in the inner-city communities, are more fearful of the police than they are of the gunmen living among them. The fact is, many people living in the ghettoes of Jamaica "love" their gunmen out of fear and respect. Fear because an "informer" automatically merits a death sentence even worse than a declaration from a "heretic" that God is dead, and respect because the criminal shares the booty with the poverty-stricken in the community.

I have been inside many inner-city communities and it is almost routine that once a police vehicle enters a street or lane, the little children, especially the boys, scamper and head for cover. So, who is Commissioner Ellington fooling by asking a people shell-shocked by their self-imposed cultural alliance to community criminality and their very fear of what the growth of that alliance has wrought on them (coupled with routine police brutality) to support the police?

Is that the same police force which killed Robert Hill in a "shootout" after Mr Hill had placed on YouTube the many threats to his life from the police after his car had met in an accident with a policeman's? Is that the same Jamaica Constabulary Force to which Mr Hill had sent a video recording (to the high command) of himself and his pregnant wife being beaten up by policemen after being advised by personnel from Legal Aid to do so?

To add insult to our already injurious state, we recently had a UWI academic giving us the

earth-shattering news that one is more likely to be murdered in Jamaica if one is a labourer and unemployed. That is akin to telling us that there is ice at Antartica!

On the Al Jazeera video that highlighted Mr Hill's case, one of the most telling statements came from retired SSP Reneto Adams."How can you get clean wine from a dirty bottle?" he asked after conceding that maybe what we ought to do is disband the JCF. Adams was right on the button when he asked where the new recruits would come from.

The same rotten, poisoned society that Jamaica has become.

As solutions elude our leaders, many of them are showing up for work and they chop a lot but no chips are flying. I get really frightened when I hear our leaders in security asking for the "people's" cooperation. One online commentator said recently, "We have absolutely no leadership; hardly any enforced laws, indiscipline galore and low productivity in every known sector that is Jamaican-run."

Commissioner Ellington would probably be the last to admit that many of the advances that were made in taking down criminals of the "Mr Big" type happened mostly with the efforts of the British policemen who came in under the last administration when the security ministry was headed by Peter Phillips. Will he admit, though, that too high a percentage of personnel in the JCF are too close to organised criminality? Nah, he won't.

So while he and his team deserve the support of every law-abiding citizen in Jamaica, unlike the

frank-talking Reneto Adams, he will be the last to admit that the society is close to terminally ill and that too many in the JCF from the top ranks to the bottom have never been vaccinated against corruption.

There are many readers who believe that since newspaper columnists are so strident in identifying national problems, they should in every column propose workable solutions. Well, there are many who do that and in the process they frustrate themselves. Why do I say so?

Simple. Even after identifying a problem and wanting to work towards its solution, 95 per cent of the time the only people who can solve those problems are the policy makers in government who are close to, or are a part of the authority structure managing the funds needed. It is quite easy to propose a big programme for inner-city renewal when one is outside looking in. The view from inside is vastly different with every area pressuring the few resources that are available.

Although Minister Dwight Nelson and the police commissioner may say the right things, when their plans are placed alongside the reality of a murder rate gone mad, all they are doing is chopping, but no chips are flying.

The bigger problem is one of national leadership, or the very lack of it. One reader who made reference to the Al Jazeera video summed it up: "... the video about the man who had a camera in his home, which recorded the police beating him and his wife, the tape was given to the 'Police High Command' and then shortly after the man was killed in a 'shootout' with the police. I was upset, saddened and hurt. This was the last straw for me. My homeland, Jamaica, is a failed state."

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