Substance abusers fuelling violent crimes

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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To what extent have the relevant authorities in Jamaica made the link with the high spate of violent crimes and the nation's substance abusers? Has the partial decriminalisation of ganja (weed/grass/cannabis sativa) led to a more widespread use of this potentially deleterious drug? And, have many young men, in particular, been overusing it to the extent that they are fast becoming social deviants?

According to medical experts, some of the short-term effects of ganja use are: severe anxiety, including fear that one is being watched or followed (paranoia); very strange behaviour, seeing, hearing or smelling things that are not there, not being able to tell imagination from reality (psychosis); panic; hallucinations; loss of sense of personal identity; lowered reaction time; sexual problems.

In the meantime, some of the more pronounced long-term effects are: decline in IQ (up to eight points if prolonged use started in adolescence age); poor school performance and higher chance of dropping out with impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks; lower life satisfaction; relationship problems, intimate partner violence; antisocial behaviour, including stealing money or lying; financial difficulties; greater chances of being unemployed or not getting good jobs.

In the very final analysis, guns do not kill anyone, people do! In a recent conversation I had with a self-confessed “shotta” (gunman) he declared, “Boss, yuh see when mi smoke my weed there is nutten that me 'fraid ah.” According to the 18-year-old unemployed, unskilled youth, ganja makes him feel he can take on the world without fear of anything, including death. It is no secret that a great deal of gunmen get high before going on a rampage. Without that stimulant they become cowardly, withdrawn and docile.

Some years ago, a prominent Montego Bay attorney-at-law at the time asked me to do him a special favour. He had a client who was on the most wanted police list in the parish of St James. The 26-year-old inner-city man was persuaded by his attorney to turn himself in, but he was afraid because he was convinced that the police had planned to kill him. So, given my perceived high profile and respectable status in the community, it was likely that if I accompanied him and his client to the police station he would arrive safely and not 'eliminated'.

With much trepidation I agreed — even though all sorts of scary thoughts raced through my mind. What if we were apprehended by the police on our way? Would we be charged with harbouring a dangerous fugitive from justice? And what if some rogue cops decided to fire at the vehicle in an attempt to stop us in our tracks. The cowering young man was placed in the back of the lawyer's car and was told to lie down and keep out of sight. So we set out for the No 14 Barnett Street Police Station and, on arrival, hurriedly took him upstairs to the then Criminal Investigation Department with a towel over his head.

As we entered the room and he removed the towel there were gasps of surprise intermingled with a number of choice Jamaican “bad words”. As the expletives were hurled towards the wanted man, his knees buckled and he immediately urinated on himself. I glanced at a notice board and there was a photograph of that wanted man with an X drawn through it. While some of the officers thanked the lawyer and myself for bringing him in, others in the room appeared very angry and disappointed and made no bones about the fact that he should have been brought in dead not alive. No doubt, if the police had cornered him somewhere and he was sufficiently emboldened by a few quick draws from a spliff he would go down fighting; not caring one damn about his life.

In this vein, I recall a 16-year-old ghetto youth telling me that he did not expect to live past 25. “A just so di ting set,” he mused as he continued to 'dig out his hand middle' in preparation for making a ganja spliff. In his world, death at an early age has become so common place, it was a way of life. Of course, the profile of this teenager is typical of so many young men in this country — unemployed as well as unemployable, poverty-stricken, having a sense of hopelessness, a rebel without a cause.

Another negative factor facing many young men who are substance abusers is their inability to perform with sustained prowess during sexual intercourse. In order to cure their impotence they expose themselves to a volatile cocktail of alcohol, a preferred energy drink, and ganja smoking. Given the Jamaican grass roots culture which projects sex as an act of 'violence', these young men go to all lengths to deliver the 'agony'. It is not unusual to hear such terms as “beat the plate”, “stab up the beat” or “wreck a (you know what)”.

Then there are the many incidents of domestic violence involving intimate partners. Many men who are frustrated because of their economic circumstances or feel inadequate because of their inability to sexually satisfy their female partners who therefore give them “bun” (having an outside affair) or a 'jacket' (child not his), usually turn up at home inebriated by ganja or alcohol, or both, with blood in their eyes. There is no doubt in my mind that many acts of domestic violence fall within this context.

What this means is that more social intervention needs to be made with respect to substance abuse. It is also known that some police officers are also substance abusers who, when going on a raid or some special mission to hunt down criminals, tank up themselves in order to make them more brave and less afraid. Of course, this can lead to irrational behaviour and there is much anecdotal evidence that substance abuse plays a very integral part in committing violent crimes.

It is time that an in-depth study be done so that the correct steps can be taken to deal with what is fast becoming a national crisis.

Lloyd B Smith is a newspaper publisher and editor. He hails from Montego Bay, where he has lived most of his life and is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to the Observer or

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