How we answered anarchy

How we answered anarchy

Jason
McKay

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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Last week I wrote of decisions that led to our murder crisis of 2019. This week I think it is prudent to look at how we, as a nation, responded to threats and changes that occurred in our crime environment in our recent history and how effective those responses were .

In the mid to late 1970s there was a systematic increase in the use of guns for murders and the use of high-powered weapons by relatively new groups of street gangs. This was a time when our police force used .38 revolvers and shotguns with some, but significantly limited use of .303 rifles.

The above-mentioned arms were limited to 12 rounds issued for revolvers with a similar allocation for shotguns. The illegal guns that were in the possession of the gunmen were automatic and semi-automatic types, such as pistols and machine guns, including M16s and AK 47 rifles with superior magazine capacities.

The response by the Michael Manley-led Government was the introduction of Jamaica's first police-issued sub-machine gun, commonly known as the Sterling, and the limited issuance of Browning 9mm pistols. Was this an effective and reasonable response?

The upgrade was reasonable, but it did little to combat the killing wave that occurred between 1976 and 1980, leading to an increase in murders from 266 in 1975 to 899 in 1980.

Some factors that could have impacted the inability to reverse the surge were the limited issuance of these new weapons or the limited experience our force had in dealing with this level of threat. However, what might the figures have been had the upgrade not occurred? Think on that.

The second massive crime surge occurred between 1993 and 1996, commonly called the “McMillan era”, where murders increased by about 50 per cent from 653 to 925. This was the era of 'hate the police' and the murders were a manifestation of the attack by society against its only instrument of control.

Gangs simply went wild and hence the runaway murder rate. The Government responded with the appointment of Francis Forbes, who had the experience of being a crime fighter and who had served in special squads and had significant experience in criminal investigation. He did not achieve a consistent reduction, but he slowed the rate of increase.

The 'deportee' crisis was a 90s phenomenon that required draconian and drastic measures. None were introduced and we stuck to our Constitution and upheld the human rights of all the criminals who were returning. We did this with full knowledge that it was the beginning of the end of our country as we knew it, and ultimately was the massive step to the gang domination that would come to an end in 2010.

The introduction of extortion cut at the very core of our business community. It formalised the introduction of a tithe paid by businesses to organised crime gangs. This created a peculiar dichotomy. The gangs were effective as their members were the primary offenders where the businesses plied their trades.

This, however, created a consistent revenue stream that made arms and ammunition accessible without political involvement and became the basis of turf wars and inter-gang feuds. This fuelled the murder rate and resulted in making the gangs independent and uncontrollable.

The system fought back with the introduction of the anti-gang legislation, which makes it possible to be arrested for simply being a gang member. This legislation has the potential to be a game-changer if it goes through modification that allows for the introduction of police analysis and makes it less dependent on gang witnesses. It bears a strange resemblance to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act that is the American tool of choice to combat organised crime.

Extortion has evolved since the creation of this Act and I do not think it is a coincidence. Extortion is now more geared to taxi men, vendors, and businesses run by foreigners from Asia. There is still the business input, but it is far less than the volume contributed by the aforementioned vulnerable groups, who are less likely to become witnesses.

The introduction of lottery scamming in the new millennium transformed Montego Bay from a low-crime zone with regard to murder to the killing fields of the country. Murders increased in Montego Bay from 188 in 2007 to 335 in 2017.

The Government responded by introducing legislation to combat this new reason for fools to kill each other. The legislation, named the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act, actually allowed for the prosecution of people for possession of a list of names with foreign phone numbers and details. This is commonly called a lead sheet. Prior to this there was virtually nothing on our books to combat the practice. It has had an effect, but I think the answer to this crisis is a public education programme in the United States to make people more aware.

So the triggers that caused murder surges could be summarised as the arming of political gangs, the anti-police movement, the 'deportee' crisis, the formalisation of extortion, and the introduction of lottery scamming. The responses have been noted above also.

These responses have been well thought out and reasonable within the framework of our Constitution. Yet, these animals are killing at a rate 10 times per capita of the United States. It is obvious that measures that mirror the size of the problem need to be introduced. Whether they be indefinite detention, mandatory military or police service, life imprisonment for gun possession, or even public hangings.

You see, we do not believe in drastic action because we have become used to the killing. This is the end of the process of dehumanisation. This is also proof of a society that is still socially divided. The murders impact all of us, but it is the norm in inner cities. There are not just upper, middle, and lower classes in Jamaica. There is a group called 'ghetto people' for whom violent death is an ever-present reality. It is not living, it is surviving when you are young and residing in Shelter Rock or Central Village. To this powerless group of victims none of what I have mentioned as solutions would be looked at as too drastic.

All our acts, arming, strategies and speeches will fail to end this crisis. There is no solution that does not end with a rifle in the hand of every able-bodied Jamaican and a badge around his neck, irrespective of social status and every jail cell full.

A state of war needs warriors, not words.

Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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