Letters to the Editor

Government's determination to deal with the problem

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Preventive social intervention, meaning violence interrupters and social workers in volatile communities, is long-term in the sense that it makes a much lower rate of violence. This does not mean, however, that it takes long for it to have impact. Within six to 12 months, five of 10 communities around Spanish Town, where it was put to work two years ago, began distinctly to feel its impact and have consolidated it since. In the other five, impact was slowed by Klansman internal feuding, which made policing ineffective.

This is why the time to begin to put this tool to work is now. This is what Minister Christopher Tufton is doing in health, using reduced sugar and fitness to reduce diseases of the non-communicable kind: hypertension, diabetes, even obesity.

This is what Minister Ruel Reid is doing in education with the Primary Exit Profile, though implementing it very clumsily.

Sources are what South Africa and Colombia tackled to drastically lower their murder rates. They attacked, for example, excessive weekend drinking of alcohol — one of the major cause of their murders.

The murder source in Jamaica is different, of course. It is deprivation of our youth; deprivation in many of our low-income communities. So far, this is not being seriously addressed. The strategy has been to stop the wanton killing in St James and other areas. This was, indeed, the highly necessary first step.

The “community-by-community” approach, the prime minister's own words some months ago, and the other key component in the Government's strategy also has value. It demonstrates Government's determination to deal with the problem. In the form of states of public emergency (SOE), it gives the prime minister a central role in that determination. This is very useful for maintaining public belief and confidence that public safety is a primary concern of his.

In the absence, however, of any real tackling of the roots or sources of the murder problem, this approach also has disadvantages. Community by community, parish by parish is clearly going to be a lengthy matter.

According to Police Commissioner Antony Anderson, the SOE in St James could be kept there until next March — a 15-month period. Is that also part of the strategy for St Catherine Northern, the Kingston and other SOEs to come?

This would drag out the process, bringing it uncomfortably close to the next general election. Is this timetable connected in any way with elections? Is this what Jamaica needs, wants? It is costing us much more than it need to. The alternative is to make an all-out assault; both stop the murders and deal with the causes, prevent them recurring. This course of action has its risks, but the repayment is amply worth it. It would give the country that lasting — and rewarding — relief from murder on top of murder for which we all so long.

Horace Levy


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