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Scuttling the SOE makes crime the PNP's endgame

Monday, December 17, 2018

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In the wake of the Opposition People's National Party's (PNP) withdrawal of support for the continuation of the state of public emergency (SOE) two representatives of the that party have placed positions in the public space that should be given ventilation.

First up is Senator Damion Crawford, who provided a ranging analysis of police crime statistics in an effort to outline the security forces' deficiencies, which he attempted to attribute to the failure of the SOE. Second is Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, Opposition spokesperson on justice, who said in a press conference “that the People's National Party will not accept any blame if murders increase in St James”.

Crawford pinned his statistical critique of the security forces operations against the JLP's stated five pillars on which it has built its crime plan. Basing his arguments on the high detention numbers, relative to the extremely low percentage of detainees charged for murder or other serious crimes, Crawford's arguments suggest that the Government implemented the SOE against the run of play as, while murders and shootings were spiralling, all other serious crimes were moving in the opposite direction. It is an argument that, while making for good reading, is intellectually dishonest.

The SOE was declared on January 18, 2018 for Montego Bay, and its environs in the parish of St James, at a press conference held at Jamaica House. According to the prime minister when he spoke then, “Crime and violence, in particular murders, have been escalating in the parish of St James. I have been advised by the security forces in writing that the level of criminal activity experience, continued and threatened, is of such a nature, and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety.”

The SOE was later extended to sections of the parish of St Catherine after similar outbreaks of murder and shootings were reported in that parish.

For the record, both St James and St Catherine ended last year with 335 and 242 murders, respectively. The city of Montego Bay ignominiously reported more than 235 murders, making it on a per capita basis, the deadliest place on Earth in 2017.

But back to Crawford's attempted scholarly presentation. While I am not questioning the veracity of his numbers, I am submitting that such a presentation represented an unfair characterisation of Jamaica's crime, and specifically its murder problem.

In the 57 years since Independence we have sat on our heels and watched as our country quietly bathed itself in the blood of its nationals. It started out in a trickle between 1962 and 1972, with less than 50 Jamaicans murdered per year, and then in the 1972-1980s the figure moved to the hundreds. Between 1992 and 2006 we murdered 12,293 Jamaicans. In the 2003-2018 period to date we have murdered 16,211 Jamaicans. To put in its proper perspective, between 1972 and 2018, Jamaicans have killed 36,619 of our brothers and sisters.

To Comrade Crawford I must point out that these are the real statistics that count, and that it is the job of the people elected by the voters to find the solutions to stop the wanton and unnecessary bloodshed of our citizens.

While I completely agree that the evidence supports the argument that the security forces are sweeping up throngs of unemployed youth and detaining them for extended periods, it is inarguable that the SOE has reduced the carnage somewhat.

And, yes, I agree that the SOE cannot be an unending strategy, but removing it, despite its flaws, re-exposes the country once again to the marauding scourge. Further, Crawford and Scott-Mottley are innately aware that atrocities committed against citizens have been the modus operandi for more than three decades. We have a violent population, and it is from among this population that we draw our security officers. Unless those in legislative positions, like themselves, commit to passing funded legislation to tackle behaviour issues among the general population, they are merely talking to their galleries of supporters and not to the entire Jamaica.

Unless I am completely mistaken, the lawful political Opposition is a part of the fabric of the country's Government. In such circumstances, why not use their elected positions to force the Government to address the habeas corpus issues and to address the profiling problems identified, among others?

It is my opinion that the Opposition believes that the crime situation may provide the best avenue through which it can make its way back into Jamaica House. After all, Andrew Holness did himself employ such a tactic in his 2016 campaign. In the circumstances, withdrawing the party's support for maintaining the SOE and returning to the regular policing (given Crawford's presented statistics) is a sure-fire way of unshackling the merchants of death within our population. And, as Scott-Mottley stated, “The Government has the power to ensure that sufficient members of the security forces are deployed in the parish to maintain law and order. If murder goes up in St James, the Government has to take responsibility because it would mean that their crime-fighting strategies have failed.”

This is politics, plain and simple, and I am completely aghast that Norman Manley's PNP has come to the point where the lives of the citizens are nothing more than pawns in a political chess game.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. www.yardabraawd.com Send comments to the Observer or richardhblackford@gmail.com.


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