Government must shed timidity in fighting violent criminality


Government must shed timidity in fighting violent criminality


Wednesday, December 04, 2019

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No Government of Jamaica will readily admit that we are a nation in crisis, yet, by any definition, Jamaica is at a serious tipping point, especially where violent murders are concerned. No big city in North America and Europe would tolerate a situation in which over 1,000 of its citizens are murdered in a year, much less to have this occurring for over a decade. We are not yet a failed State, but there are forces within the society, matched by governmental inaction and incompetence, that may very well force us over the brink.

The inconvenient truth which many of us will not face is that we are a society that has grown comfortable with violent criminality and corruption. We greet the next brutal killing with a mere shrug of the shoulders, a yawn, or a sigh heard from Morant Point to Negril Point. We have done study after study to identify the root causes of why we are such a violent society. Then solutions are posited by the learned and politicians indulge platitudinous pontifications (please pardon the malapropism) from public perches and in the Parliament. Yet, the largest segment of the society is forced to live behind caged bars in fear of their lives, largely from young men who sociologically and anthropologically have been failed by a society that, in the main, does not seem to value the intrinsic worth of the human being.

Having promised the people that they would sleep safely in their beds at nights when the Jamaica Labour Party became the Government in 2016, one would have hoped that more time and attention would have been given to the crime monster at the recently concluded party conference. But, alas, this was not to be. He was short on any meaningful measure to deal with the crime problem, not to mention, its first cousin, corruption. Is the paucity of comment on the subject an indication that the prime minister and his Government believe that they have the problem under control? Do they really believe that the states of emergency (SOEs) that are in vogue in six parishes, and to which they seem to have tethered their hopes to cauterise violent crimes, really working in carving a pathway to a kinder and gentler society?

Well, since the conference, over 10 of our citizens have been murdered by the gun. We have just ended a murderous weekend in which young and old alike have been viciously and mercilessly cut down by assassin bullets. What we are witnessing is that, despite the existence of the SOEs and zones of special operations (ZOSO) the murderous carnage continues.

While supporting the limited use of SOEs in fighting murders, this column has raised concerns about their long-term application in this process. I am beginning to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that my fears are being realised that despite the SOEs in some parishes, murders have increased. The fear I had, and still have, is that if they should prove to be ineffective this would diminish or nullify their use when a national state of emergency truly exists. They could become too familiar and thus breed contempt.

People should never become too familiar with an SOE. And yet, they now exist almost as a matter of routine in fighting crime. The Government is placing the country in serious jeopardy by making SOEs a permanent feature of crime-fighting. Is the prime minister not mindful that they could become mere useless tools in the minds of many Jamaicans who have witnessed too many crime-fighting schemes and strategies that have failed? A question to ponder, Prime Minister.

The Government should consider what legislative measures could be effected to achieve, with some limitation, what is intended by an SOE. Powers of detention with stipulated periods can be enhanced with the gang legislation being given sharper teeth. To bring this problem under control, we must be prepared to give up some rights to which we are entitled under the constitution in the short term to ensure that the law enforcement authorities have the tools they need to get the job done. Any right that may be ceded to the State should be carefully scrutinised so they are not inordinately abused by a capricious police force.

Once again, I appeal to the Government to embark on a robust training of constabulary personnel to put more boots on the ground. The force itself is impatient of reform, but it is what we have at the present time. We must strive to reform it and weed out those who have shown us that they do not belong there. The intelligence capabilities of the force must be beefed up in tandem with this robust recruitment and training initiative. We must be careful of who we employ to help us with intelligence matters, but I still believe that the Israelis are without contest as the best in the business. Government should not be deterred in seeking that country's help.

Finally, the Government must begin to treat violent crimes for the existential threat they present to the country. If it did it would spare no resources in dealing with the problem. Fighting crime is a multifaceted process which spans national security and the justice system. We do not have the financial resources to spread around, so we will have to focus like a laser beam on the problem we have identified as the clear and present danger to the Jamaican State. The Government must shed its timidity and be bold in fighting this monster.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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