St Catherine and the state of emergency

St Catherine and the state of emergency

Jason McKay

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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The use of the legal designation known as a state of emergency in the parochial manner that it is now being utilised in Jamaica makes me realise two things. First, it is clear that I do not know everything, because I did not think of it first; and second, that this Government is really serious about fighting the homicide rate in our country.

Now, before you brand me as a Labourite and my father starts spinning in his grave, kindly remember that I have criticised this very Government for its foreign policy, among other things. But I am calling a spade a spade.

A state of emergency opens the door for any government to be criticised by human rights groups, the business community, and the Opposition. It takes courage and a commitment to saving lives, and I applaud them for it.

Many say it is not working. Well, many do not understand what it is for. There is, of course, a desire to increase recovery of firearms, arrest wanted men, and halt the homicide rate. But the primary intention is to save lives by slowing down the homicide rate.

No one believes that it will end homicides. That is not realistic. But, to slow it is an honourable and humane ambition. Especially if it is the life of your family or your life that is being saved.

So, let us discuss St Catherine, which has had police and soldiers operating on a schedule that will likely drive a few to nervous breakdowns. The homicide figures for northern St Catherine at the time that the decision was taken to expand the state of emergency to the south was 66 murders for the year. That means the rate per month has moved from 12 to nine. If this continues, the annual murder rate of St Catherine North will be 108 26 fewer than 2017, the last year before states of emergency became the tool for fighting gangs in Spanish Town.

That may not seem that significant to you unless it is your loved one's murder that has been, at the very least, postponed. As far as I am concerned, if it saves the life of one of my children it can be imposed forever. Frankly, if it saves the life of one of your children the same goes.

Now, let us look at that 66. It seems like a lot, right? It is, in a country this small, in a world this civilised. But, this is so much better than it had been since 2011. In fact, before 2010 and the playing of the mortar games in Tivoli Gardens, St Catherine North had murders of 11 or 12 per month, consistently. This 66 is as brutal a truth as it is an example of an absolute success in saving lives.

For the first time in history, St Catherine North has two-thirds the number of murders of St Catherine South. This is because north had the state of emergency and south had none. Thank God they both have it now, so more lives will be saved.

So, I guess we are congratulating the officers at the enhanced security measures headquarters and preparing care for their pending, collective nervous breakdown. But actually we are not. We are, in fact, criticising them for not recovering more guns or arresting more gangsters. This is like complaining to a fireman who saved you from a fire that he left your whatnot in the burning house.

Do you realise the effort and commitment the police officers and soldiers at the Enhanced Security Measures Unit had to put in to achieve this reduction?

The risks, the loss of sleep, the stress, the exposure to liability, the impact on their families all done with extreme commitment for an unfortunately ungrateful nation.

Don't let this 66 ever be forgotten; it likely will never happen again. The Government will probably get fed up of the criticisms, the police weary of the lack of recognition, and the public purse too depleted to afford it. And whilst you think that 26 lives saved is not enough, pretend for a moment that the lives were saved in Norbrook, instead of Spanish Town. Maybe, and sadly, that may change your perspective.

You see, the dramatic increase in the slaughter of the poor in this country, which spurted in 1974 and 1980 and has gradually increased since the purge of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) began in 1993, has made us accept the loss of poor citizens in a manner akin to cannon fodder. But that acceptance is limited to our poor.

If a lawyer, doctor, or political representative is killed by gunmen it is viewed as if it were 10 people murdered. I guarantee you that the suffering of those left behind is pretty even, irrespective of their social class...and the tears.

They are both of sorrow, both of pain.


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