Violence did not start in the 1970s


Thursday, September 14, 2017

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Jamaica has a problem with crime and violence that is far more serious in specific areas of the country. While stating the facts, there are some who are very selective with what they choose to relate. This is why witnesses in court swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For the purposes of this article, I emphasise “the whole truth”.

In the Sunday Observer of September 10, the Rev Al Miller identified the 1970s as the start of the upsurge in violence. Actually, the tendency to crime and violence in Jamaica goes back to the days of the pirates. Historians know about the documented reports of such activities, but was anyone keeping statistics in those days of such activities?

In any case, statistics are sometimes skewed. So the murder figure in Jamaica by 1962 was 66, a far cry from the very large figure that it might very well have been 300 years previously in the days of piracy. And certainly a far cry from today in both statistics and reality.

The year 1962 was the time of the granting of political independence. It was also the year of a general election held in April, when the Jamaica Labour Party won power previously held by the People's National Party (PNP). Seldom, if ever, is credit given to Norman Washington Manley and his Government for keeping violence in check. Before 1962, Jamaica was a British colony but we had internal self-government.

Al Miller then 'jumps' from 1962 to 1976, instead of 1966. It was in 1966 that a state of emergency was declared for West Kingston only. Why did Norman Manley, in 1967, after claiming that he was shot at in western Kingston while in a motorcade, declare that “a new and dangerous thing has been unleashed on Jamaica”?

In 1966 Edward Seaga was found not guilty in court of charges of violence. The sub-headline of The Gleaner stated that the resident magistrate found the police witnesses totally unreliable. Ten years later, in 1976, there was the national state of emergency. Some commentators have made much of police witnesses refuting official statements in the 1977 commission of enquiry that all arrests were based on information given by the police. Had the police become reliable in 1977, 11 years after a resident magistrate found them unreliable? If they had, does the then PNP Government led by Michael Manley deserve credit? There are more questions that should be asked.

Why was the first act of Michael Manley as prime minister in 1972 the declaration of a gun amnesty? Did those illegal guns in the wrong hands suddenly happen in the first few days since the PNP won in 1972? By 1974 the Gun Court legislation was passed. In later years the British Privy Council declared indefinite detention unconstitutional, and much political capital was made of it at the time.

But both sides of Parliament passed the Gun Court legislation unanimously in an emergency session. The House of Representatives sat at Gordon House and the Senate sat at Headquarters House on the same afternoon. The Bill was then sent by special courier to King's House for the signature of then Governor General Florizel Glasspole to make it into law.

Was the only reason for the state of emergency called by Michael Manley in 1976 to lock up members of the Opposition so that the PNP could win the election that year? Even if that was a secondary motive, it was definitely more than that.

There were the Trench Town fires of January 1976 at the time of the meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Kingston. Then there was the Orange Lane fire and the indescribable cruelties. Indeed, events from 1976 to 1980 were similar to the pages Michael Manley quoted from the manual of the Central Intelligence Agency, found on pages 210- 211 of his book, Struggle in the Periphery.

There are many parallels to this business of not stating the whole truth in how the Bible is read. For example, we read in Exodus: “Thou shall not make unto thee a graven image and bow down and worship them.” Some Christians stop at “thou shall not make unto thee a graven image”, which gives a false impression of what the passage is saying.

The sentence ends “and bow down and worship them”, which many omit when quoting the passage. And then they are silent about Exodus 37, which speaks to adorning the temple with winged cherubs. From this they lambast churches that have “graven images” to attract members from such churches to theirs.

After a lull in violence following the 1980 General Election, the problem started again, but this time it was not politically motivated. Had there been sufficient intervention in this country steeped in violence from the days of piracy and centuries later by politics, it might have been avoided.

Deacon Ronald Thwaites used to say, “The last time that there was full employment in Jamaica was the day before slavery was abolished.” Can we achieve full employment for everyone? I doubt it. Can we achieve partial employment for those without jobs at all? I believe so. It can only be done in cooperatives working in the tourism industry. This can also be done by friendly societies, which in many respects are similar to co-operatives.

But employment is only part of the answer. The other part is in learning how to live together in peace.

We need programmes to emancipate the nation from a mentality of crime, violence and division, whether along political lines, class lines, religious denominational lines, or whatever. This should be done through the schools, as family life in general in Jamaica leaves much to be desired.

Putting a political twist to the origins of violence does not help us to change the deep-seated tendency to crime and violence which goes back to the days of the conquest of Jamaica by European forces.





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