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No comfort from PM's declaration against crime

Dr Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Government is more than a month into the extension of the states of public emergency (SOE) in the three western parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland. If you had told me 20 years ago that Hanover and Westmoreland would have come under an SOE because of worrying levels of murder by the gun, I would have had serious concerns about the state of your mental health. At that time, the sedate, rural characteristics of at least Hanover and Westmoreland belied such drastic law-enforcement practices in these parishes. As the second city, with its growing urban pains and the violence attendant upon deprivation in inner-city communities, St James, and Montego Bay in particular, would have been understood. But quiet and relatively sleepy Hanover and Westmoreland?

But we are where we are. The security forces are roaming over these three parishes desperately trying to suppress violence and hopefully cauterise the rampant murders by the gun in that area of the island.

Whenever the security forces are rolled out in this manner they are relatively successful in suppressing the violence producers in the short term. But the question has always been what happens after they are withdrawn? Will these communities be any less prone to violence? Would the security forces have advanced the prospects of long-term peace in these communities, or will things soon return to the status quo which existed prior to the emergencies, or become even worse?

There is no doubt in my mind that when the present SOEs expire the Government will find it difficult to justify an extension of it. I cannot see the Opposition agreeing with it, although with the fractious leadership contest that is now underway in that party one cannot be sure of the state of mind of the People's National Party (PNP). The contest will weigh heavily on the party's support or rejection of any further extension. Challenger Peter Bunting had already voted against the first extension. It would be interesting to see what will happen if the Government should come to the Parliament for a further extension.

In my mind there is a far more troubling concern than what the PNP will do. This has to do with the danger of SOEs becoming normative in the fight against crime. I am not in the habit of quoting myself, so it is only sufficient to note that this is a concern that I have raised in these columns before. I grudgingly acceded to the extension of the SOEs in May, but was more emphatic that there is the grave danger of these wittingly or unwittingly becoming the only tool in the Government's arsenal to fight crime. A clearly detailed, robust crime plan supported by the Jamaican public has not been unveiled by the Government. If it has been, then I must have fallen asleep like Rip Van Winkle and missed it.

What we have seen so far are knee-jerk reactions to volatile spikes in crime in hot spots in the country. Spasmodic announcements of the police fleet being boosted or our maritime capacity being enhanced may be good, but where such things fit into a coordinated and comprehensive plan to fight crime is not clear. The Government's approach appears to be very eclectic.

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson gives the impression of a silent and cool operator. But the country needs to feel his presence. Hiding behind SOEs without a comprehensively articulated plan to fight crime is, in my enfeebled mind, not the way to go. One would have hoped, and did suggest in a previous piece, that the Government would use the breathing space provided by the present use of the emergency powers in the west to come up with such a plan. Maybe it is being worked on. Perhaps this is the reason for the confident declaration of the prime minister recently in Cayman that there will soon be a dramatic downturn in murders throughout the country.

But what comfort can we take from the prime minister's declaration? The entire country has fast become a suppurating sore of violent criminality. No one feels safe and secure in his or her home. This is true of the urban and suburban centres as it is of the rural areas, as gunmen migrate, do their heinous activities, and return to the comfort of their dens in areas such as Clarendon. The daring robberies that we have seen in quiet and growing areas such as Junction in St Elizabeth tell the tale of the spreading tentacles of the killers among us. If things continue like this it will not be long before visitors to the country begin to take a second look at “Paradise”.

So the rest of us are not as confident as Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Despite the SOEs in the west, the month of June recorded over 100 individuals murdered in the country. There are sporadic killings in other parts of the island where no SOE exists. So what plan, Mr Prime Minister, do you have outside of SOEs to put the violence producers under heavy manners?

Whatever you come up with, SOEs cannot be part of any plan, for their very nature does not allow them to be structured in a national crime plan. They are what they are — responses to emergencies that arise. They cannot become functional aspects of any Government's plan to cauterise crime.

If criminals in other parts of the island are not deterred by SOEs, how effective will they be when they are really needed for the purpose for which they are intended? Would Government not be nullifying or denuding their efficacy by overuse?

These are the questions that the Government must wrestle with in any further application of these measures anywhere in the country. At the time of writing a SOE has been declared in the St Andrew South police division. Except for the people immediately affected by this, the measure seems to have been met by the larger populace with a yawn, or a sigh, that says, “Here we go again.” They are beginning to see that, despite zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and SOEs, the country continues to be under the gun, and they are not feeling safer.

Crime-fighting in Jamaica is a prickly situation which has reached crisis proportions. Legislation must be considered to achieve the suppressive elements of crime-fighting while respecting the rights of citizens.

People who live behind bars and who see the level of the terroristic behaviour of largely young men in our population well understand the kinds of policies that can do that. But suppressive policies, by themselves, will not work if the level of community and social intervention does not keep pace with it or even outpace it.

Heavy reliance on any crime plan must be placed on robust intelligence gathering. The criminals are smart, so law enforcement must be smarter. Any plan must engage our partners in other countries such as Israel, whose experience in the area of intelligence and fighting terrorists is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

Engage us, Mr Prime Minister, and tell us what your plan is. Get us, the public, to rally around you so that once and for all we can show the criminals that we are united against them, and from Negril Point to Morant Point there can be no haven for their heinous activities.

 

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.