Columns

Time to step up or shut up

BY JASON McKAY

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Until I was in my late teens I grew up between Constant Spring and Liguanea, relatively far from the inner-city slums of Kingston. However, I was significantly enlightened to the war that waged in the 1970s and 1980s, as my father was a district constable serving on the special squads of that era.

Despite living in a non-violent environment, by the time I was 15 I knew several men who had been murdered by gunmen. They include Maurice Powell, Alexander Hamilton, Delroy Salter, and a bar operator I knew as “Howie”, whose club was frequented by my father, who often took me along.

It was not because of my exposure to policing that I knew these men. They were all popular businessmen. My father knew them; therefore, by extension, so did I.

I bring this up to say that gangs are not only the enemy of the poor, but their brutality has and always will extend to the rest of society. But their continuous and direct exposure, oppression and brutality are extended more often to the urban poor of our country.

With this in mind, I believe there is an absence of involvement in the struggle against gangs by any group but our poor or working class. There seems to be a lack of involvement in this fight almost to a point where it seems to appear that it is not everyone's problem — just that of those who live in the gang zones.

There is some involvement on the part of prosecutors and army officers. There is also that number of academics who join the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) with degrees, etc, but the lion's share of police officers are still recruited from the working class, and that's great!

But what about everybody else? Do the middle and upper classes believe that other men are fighting their war, or at least their part of it?

I am not bashing anyone, but complete involvement of everyone is crucial for even reasonable success. If this was how the hospitals were treated they would be like war wards, because almost every piece of new equipment has an element of charity or assistance of some sort.

Crime and policing need the same approach and mindset that we treat with our health sector and our churches.

The draft in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s for the Vietnam War had loopholes, one of which was that you could enrol in university to avoid it. So the bulk of unwilling soldiers were drawn from poor whites, blacks and Latinos. I have a problem with that, not only because you should not be drafted unless your country is under attack — and America was not — but because the principle of being sent away to fight and die against your will, because you are poor, is wrong. There should have been no loopholes, or no draft.

Back to Jamaica. Our country is at war with crime, and the only social group involved in combating this conflict, other than those earlier mentioned, is the working class. In fact, the greatest involvement from the middle and upper classes has been in the area of human rights. This has strengthened criminal rights and, in turn, the gangs.

I want to see everyone from all social groups and levels of education involved. And it is not just because they come with resources that can be useful in the struggle; because, yes, I want that too! But what I really want is to see them with a rifle in their hands. It cannot be that so many are so comfortable that so few are fighting their war. This war cannot be won by career police officers alone. It has gone way past that.

No commissioner of police, no strategy, no minister of national security, no Government can bring us to a civilised murder rate. They are men, not gods. And they do not have the money, the laws, or the time to do what needs to be done.

We will just bounce back and forth in various positions in the top 10 murder rates of the world until new levels of annual homicide become normal every year.

I have called for a JCF reserve to be formed and will really try to get one or both of the political parties to consider it. It should have a volunteer option that does not come with negative stratification, so it is affordable. But it will take years even if parliamentarians — with their contorted logic and time-stalling techniques — move quickly on it.

There are current auxiliary structures that provide opportunities to be part of the fight. Bankers, academics, criminologists and several others are involved and serve well. But it is not enough. We need the middle and upper classes to join by the thousands, and to do it for free; become a part of the solution.

The JCF needs to open the doors to this help and not try to cover the problem in some cloak that makes some people less than anyone else because of auxiliary status. This is a national crisis that impacts all of us. It needs a national solution that is directed at all of them who have chosen to be predators.

It was, in fact, educated and powerful men who led the country down this gang road in the 1970s, not the poor. The politicians were educated and wealthy. They were not working class.

It is this same economic group that pays the extortion fees that fund the gangs now. It is the educated and the powerful that wash our dirty laundry and promote our shame to international human rights groups abroad. This crisis is not the creation of men who cannot even a fund a new machete. It is a crisis built by the powerful, proliferated by the poor, and now controlled by the evil.

Living room critics and naysayers need to be a thing of the past.

It is time we all step up or shut up!

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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