Vigilantism a path we dare not walk

Monday, October 01, 2012    

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IN societies such as Jamaica, where governments are elected every few years, leaders are usually inclined to respond to the demands of the electorate, as against authoritarian regimes where governments are not necessarily constrained by the immediate demands of the masses.

In that respect, Professor Anthony Harriott is quite correct when he says the passivity of Jamaicans has largely contributed to the off-key response to crime by successive governments.

The truth is that while crime has been consistently identified among the country's most extreme afflictions, Jamaicans as a people have not pushed in a consistent and concerted way to demand that their government act and keep acting. Rather, we have the nine-day wonder phenomenon with knee jerk responses that are soon forgotten.

Scandalised by the reluctance of the Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government to extradite Mr Christopher 'Dudus' Coke to the United States, civil society organisations, powerful business leaders, the political opposition - and without doubt the United States Government - pushed hard and eventually got action.

The 2010 State of Emergency which embraced the Tivoli Gardens/West Kingston incursion led to a dip in the crime numbers, to such an extent that by the time of the general election in December last, violent crime was on the back burner.

The big political issue was the rapidly declining economy and the need for "jobs", forcing the cash-strapped Government of Mrs Portia Simpson Miller to patch together an emergency employment programme.

We are aware that employment - even cheap, short term employment - can help to reduce crime and other social ills. But if that fact is recognised there should surely be an integrated plan to help people to organise themselves at the community level in order for the benefits of any job programme to be maximised.

The organisation of communities is critical if we are to deal with unemployment, crime, ignorance and illiteracy, irresponsible parenting, public health and other social issues, all of which are intrinsically bound together. This is not rocket science. It has long been recognised by our national planners and policy-makers. The trouble is that capacity-building in communities has all too often gone the way of the nine-day wonder.

One thing is clear. Government agencies such as the Social Development Commission (SDC), political representatives and their shadows at the local and parliamentary level, the police, teachers at the community school, the pastor et al, must partner to build community organisation and leadership.

From thence will come, for example, the neighbourhood watch programme to empower the community to turn its face against criminality and disorder. Organised, properly directed community action is what is required to prevent the recent atrocity in Irwin, St James and the frightening increase in gang activity in once peaceful rural communities across the country.

Properly organised communities, lobbying their government as they should, would have long ago ensured the passage of laws such as those relating to criminal gangs.

We mustn't fool ourselves, time is running out for us as a people to take our country and mould it in the way it should be. Vigilantism which rears its ugly head all too often is testimony of the public frustration and anger threatening to take us in directions we dare not walk.





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