The cycle of disorder


Sunday, March 10, 2019

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I recently read an article in the Jamaica Observer where I was criticised by Louis Barton, president of the Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators.

President Barton had taken umbrage at my classification of his angry member, who had assaulted the police officer in the now famous Spalding incident, as a hooligan.

Well President Barton seems to be a bit slow off the mark, because I have referred to robot taxi drivers and indeed bus drivers as hooligans on several occasions in my column for a very good reason. They are.

For an industry with a history of indiscipline, this current group is the worst we have ever been forced to experience. Never in our history has there ever been this level of disregard for law and order, or such a level of organised and calculated resistance to law enforcement.

Why organised?

They use WhatsApp groups to warn each other of police action. They use varied systems of communication to stir response when one of their member is engaging law enforcement, and they respond in numbers. They physically and with strategy interfere with the arrest of their members by dragging the driver under prosecution away from the officers and placing their bodies between the driver and the police.

When they feel they can get away with it, they physically assault law enforcement officers who are effecting arrest or seizure activity. They park their cars and block public thoroughfares or drive at 20 mph when they wish to use traffic as a weapon for their protest action, not to mention the times when they simply withdraw services to vent their anger as a tool of dissent.

These techniques are more in keeping with resistance techniques of a politically repressed group, than a union of drivers.

Right about now the under-30s in our society should be asking: “How the hell did this happen?”

So let me give you a short history lesson.

The Edward Seaga-led Government of the 1980s closed the Jamaica Omnibus Service. They contracted the transport needs of Kingston and St Andrew to private persons, who in turn hired thugs to operate the buses, who in turn treated the rest of us in that era, to include myself who was attending high school at the time, like animals.

During this period of trauma for the Jamaican public, something happened. In the mid-90s, the restriction against importing motor vehicles —after nearly two decades — was lifted and persons were able to buy a car without befriending someone in a car dealership or Parliament.

This resulted in a typical case of demand and supply finding its own solution by persons using their cars to run routes like buses. After a few years of cursing about it, we legalised it and the era of the route taxi was formalised.

To be fair, a pedestrian's life took a turn for the better because he was no longer totally dependent on the thugs who had shouted “no schoolers” for decades. However, this group, half of whom remained informal and without red plates, had quotas to fill and would participate in any conduct they pleased to fill them.

The end result was a large group of cars driving like they were in a motor rally. So one would think the police would have had a field day. However, because of their structured resistance to law enforcement, it becomes a decision to engage in a potentially violent confrontation every day.

This goes against Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) risk assessment guidelines, so the police officers do not engage as often as it would be needed to really solve the issue. Nor would I!

Who would want to be facing INDECOM for shooting three taxi men a year in defence of my life? It is not like they are gunmen. Further to this, high traffic zones, guns and fist fights do not result in safer streets.

Therefore, what is required is coordinated, large police parties that move in numbers to deter resistance and avoid the likelihood of taxi men fighting armed cops or driving in high-speed chases through our streets, resulting in possible fatalities or injuries.

However, when you have the numbers of homicides we have a year it is really a hard sell to send Mobile Reserve to war against these AD Wagon -driving thugs, rather than to fight 'Klansmen' in Spanish Town.

Unfortunately though, this has allowed the conduct of these thugs in many ways to develop a similar threat level to the growth of gangs. This is our 'broken window'. This is on display every day, that we have no law and order.

So if you can do this you can beat your girlfriend, not attend court, not support your children, and bad up the 'Chiney' man to pay you in order to stay safe while he runs his store. You can stab a bwoy who 'diss' you, hold a corner with a gun, and the list goes on.

The fact that the resistance is acceptable conduct by its unions leadership makes it even more dangerous, because it has the power of numbers to bring the city to its knees.

The Teamsters Union in the United States has a checkered history of mafia leadership and the misuse of group power.

How long will it take before our gang leaders see this union as one they can use as a weapon against our Government?

I know it is not a convenient time to use our police force to destroy this culture of indiscipline, but it must be done.

Large teams with strategy must be formed to bring the hooligans to an acceptable degree of conformity. Laws must be modified to allow for permanent seizures. Public order must return at any cost for us to have a future that is worth anything.

There is never a convenient time to spend resources that you do not have, but I know that if a strategy is outlined and a particular outcome is desired our police force can accomplish it. It just takes planning and will.

Due to the numbers deployed there will be little resistance, because thugs, cowards, hooligans and bullies have two things in common. Firstly, they describe most robot taxi men; and secondly, they know 'which duppy fi frighten'.

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback:

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