We need a mission of mobilisation


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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My call in support of the public defender's for a rapid end to the public emergency in St James did not mean opposition to states of emergency. Criminal upsurges have to be arrested by something of that kind. My call was premised on the following:

1. the State's obligation to secure the lives of all its citizens;

2. the furious killing of citizens in several other parishes; and

3. the need, therefore, for a new strategy that, with limited human power, would both immediately arrest fresh upsurges wherever they occur and would begin to address their sources, their roots.

Over the past six months I have repeatedly tried to sketch a broad outline of this strategy. This is not because I know anything about policing or soldiering. It is because our violence is a national sickness and because as a member of civil society I see its healing as needing much more than armed men and women on our streets.

It is not, therefore, only or chiefly generals and police commissioners who know what healing herbs and medicines are required. It is them under our political directorate. And that directorate, if it understands governance in the 21st century, will consult civil society and private sector.

The strategy proposed combines three components working together:

1. the suppressive component of deploying security forces in smaller and more agile squads, operating out of more police-soldier posts of 25 or 30 persons, backed up by technology and guided by intelligence;

2. the preventive component of increased numbers of civil society violence interrupters and social workers rebuilding the shattered social capital of deprived communities and reaching out to mainstream its central element, the 130,000 highly at-risk young men and women who are a feeding tree for criminals; and

3. the economic component of on-the-job skills training and employment for those youth by supporting small businesses and new enterprises, repairing broken infrastructure and sourcing increased funding — without work worthy of the talent and need for development of the youth, social intervention will limp along and fail.

What this strategy is really calling for is a national mobilisation led by the prime minister and the Opposition leader. Two insights must guide it. The first is that violence is a sickness that can be prevented, but only by targeted action, a curative diet in the early or even later stages of the sickness. The second insight has to do with objective.

I say sickness because the one per cent psychopaths (who have to be restrained for special psychiatric treatment) and the 99 per cent good people (whom critics like to refer to) are not the entire spectrum. In-between are the 130,000 youth who can go down criminal ways or can be turned on to healthy life-paths. Some of these young men and women commit criminal acts but they are not criminals of the Shower Posse kind. They have been caught in a box partly of circumstance and partly of their own delinquencies. Significant reductions in murder by the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), wherever it has worked, have resulted precisely from reaching some of this group.

This PMI approach illustrates what I mean by “targeted (preventive) action”. In the security forces dimension it would have to include (as a small but important example) apprehension of individuals overseas who are funding criminal activities in Jamaican communities.

On the economic front, while big business enterprises are gestating, something more short-to-medium term is needed. Ministries and agencies of the State could focus their school or clinic building, their road and bridge repairs, river training and housing help in or on nearby deprived communities.

The second insight is that the objective of this mobilisation cannot be the 1,100 murders per year that satisfied Government and other leaders after May 2010. Nothing less than a reduction to 100 per year (it was 63 in 1962) will do. We must pour heart and soul into this task of protecting and saving Jamaican lives. It is the most fundamental civic obligation of all of us.


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