Our constitution: Beacon or barrier


Sunday, February 04, 2018

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Jamaica's Constitution was written in 1961-1962 by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaican legislature. The creators of this document had the experience of recent and not so recent history as a guide, as to what to guard against.

The fight for independence, although not violent, was a long road that started with winning back internal self-government in 1959. The abuse up to that time by the British government, since the emancipation of slaves in 1834, was sustained and consistent. This came to a head in 1865 with the brutal suppression of the Morant Bay Rebellion, which resulted in the death of over 700 people at the hands of the British Army. The 1938 National Strike demonstrated more excesses, and the arrest of Sir Alexander Bustamante in 1941 put the icing on the cake.

With this history of State-led abuses of human rights and total disregard for the quality of life of the Jamaican citizen, it is little wonder that the constitution is such an outstanding document for the protection of the rights of the individual from the State.

However, as commendable and useful as the constitution is in defending us from the State, it is equally as useless in defending us from the gang members who are currently destroying our country. This is not any fault of the creators of the document. The threat we now face did not even remotely exist when the constitution was written.

Gangs had not really developed from their embryonic stage. In fact, an examination of that period of history which chronicled crime normally portrays the acts of individual persons such as “Ryghin”, who was later characterised in the movie The Harder They Come, or Whoopee King, after whom the phrase “from whoopee kill phillop” was coined.

Gangs were more looked on as a group of thugs who lacked organisation, and later came about with the rise of men like Claudius Massop in the late 1960s. I would go further to say that although Massop's control of West Kingston's gangs in the 60s and particularly the 70s was impressive, it paled in comparison to the ”Shower Posse” that they became after his death.

So now that we have, from any commonsensical analysis, determined that the constitution did not prepare us for this threat, the next step is to accept that there is no short-term solution which falls within the legal parameters of our constitution for our crisis.

It is a difficult position for our leaders to be in, but it is not unique to us. The American Government has been struggling with the second amendment to the constitution for decades, this being 'the right to keep and bear arms'.

More significantly, from the Columbine High school incident in 1999, their constitution included this provision strictly for the purpose of giving the citizen the ability to defend himself against a tyrannical government. This was reasonable.

They had like us the legacy of British imperialism and the subsequent brutality of it. However, they did not know that mankind would turn a musket into a machine gun, which would then be perfected by a man known as Kalashnikov.

They certainly could not have known that it would then become a lunatic's past time to kill people in mass with said device. Therefore, obviously their constitution did not make provisions for this and no American government has been able to solve the issue of the ease of access to high-powered weapons, because it would be a breach of a fundamental constitutional right.

As a pragmatist, I can't see why the worship of a document and the fastidious and slavish adherence to it can be practical if it is obvious that the creators of the document did not know and could not prepare us for the threat we now face. This goes for both Jamaica and the United States.

The war against gangs must be viewed as the single most important task that the Government undertakes. It is more important than our economy, our educational system and even our hospitals, because it has the potential to destroy all three. It is certainly more important than a document written over 50 years ago.

One would say it has not yet reached a point to lose faith in our founding fathers' wisdom. To this I say it is not where it is, it's where it's going. You believe it is bad now? Try 2,000 murders a year by 2023.

You think the extortion racket of downtown and Spanish Town is unacceptable? Consider residential extortion when normal communities who are not under gang occupation start to pay dons to simply be left alone and unharmed.

You think tourism is impacted now? Look on places like Tijuana that once was a tourist mecca and is now the sore of Mexico.

The consequences of this growing army of thugs is the largest threat Jamaica has ever faced and we are in danger of returning to October 1980 in just a few years. However this time there are twice as many of them; they are self-financing and they are better armed.

It is a senseless and sad reality that the solution does not fall within the parameters of our constitution, but failure to acknowledge an illness usually results in the death of the host.

It is time to approach this threat with a mindset “by any means necessary”, and if this means adjusting our constitution or writing a whole new one, so be it!

It is likely to be the difference between our country becoming as successful as Hong Kong or as much s of a disaster as Haiti.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Send feedback to




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