ZOSO could be the death knell for some communities


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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A wise man once said the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate in dealing with the problems of the stormy present. The recently passed zones of special operations (ZOSO) law signals the desperation gripping the nation and its leaders as the gale force winds of crime and violence beat against the house of law, order and civility.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his role as chairman of the National Security Council and at the written request of the heads of security forces, has declared Mount Salem in St James the first zone of special operations. There was a time when, knowing how sensitive tourism is to news of a lockdown because of crime, such a call and action would be unthinkable — a true sign of desperation.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 the front page headline of the Jamaica Observer screamed 'Undiplomatic — UN rep warns visitors at regional meeting about Jamaica's crime problem'. In the story, United Nations Safety and Security Officer Gonzalo Ramos warned visitors attending a three-day Caribbean Waste Management Conference held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston to take their personal safety seriously:

“Restrict your travels and movement from this building to your hotel, and don't be tempted to go to other places that you are not sure of. Try to walk always with a colleague; try not to wear any valuables; avoid travelling alone, especially after business hours. As long as you are here on the compound, you are OK.” Ramos was widely castigated for being insensitive in making a statement that could damage Jamaica's reputation and economic prospects as a tourism destination.

How did we get to this level of desperation in fighting crime and violence where the once unthinkable seems to be the only option? Political historian Arnold Bertram writes the very best on Jamaica's political tribalism and how it continues to feed a culture of crime and violence long after the most overt forms of political machination have subsided. He wrote in an article, 'Guerilla warfare - No retreat, no surrender', published November 8, 2005 in the Sunday Gleaner:

“There are some 17 urban communities where the criminals are sufficiently organised and armed to challenge the State and attempt to establish their own social order. All these areas were oriented to crime and a depreciation of the value of life by the process which established them as political garrisons. They have never recovered morally from the deliberate and methodical conscription of the urban poor into partisan political militias.”

ZOSO is de-garrisoning by another name. But as every physician knows, a wrong diagnosis inevitably leads to worsening of the patient's health. The framers of the ZOSO legislation know this and so have included a community-building aspect, and the Cabinet approved an additional allocation of $2.75 billion for the National Security Ministry over what was initially tabled in the budget. It says to us, the Government is looking at the problem of crime and violence in its fullest dimension and not treating the policing aspect as if it were a panacea.

One of Mahatma Gandhi's notable quotes says, “Poverty is the greatest violence.” It follows that jobs and not bullets are the armament with which the war against poverty and murder will finally be won.

At the risk of being self-serving, the mission statement of the Agency for Inner-city Renewal in Trench Town is: To transform zones of social and political exclusion to zones of opportunities, investment and wealth. That suggests a different approach than ZOSO. Wealth creation with equity for all is where the national emphasis in fighting poverty, crime and violence ought ultimately to be placed.

Working often with little outside help to overcome the stigma of being perceived as no-go zones, and at last beginning to enjoy a measure of success, communities like Trench Town need less adversarial policing and more economic incentives, infrastructural development and social renewal. Being named zones of special operations could reinforce old stereotypes and kill the new and still fragile bloom of economic activity some are experiencing, particularly those trying to woo tourists and local visitors to enjoy their cultural attractions. ZOSO could be like a death knell for some communities struggling to break free from their ignominious past. This should be borne in mind by the authorities when selecting ZOSOs.

Nevertheless, a strategy is beginning to emerge. The ZOSO legislation is a commendable effort to tackle the monster of crime and violence. Our prime minister is showing uncommon courage and resoluteness by investing political capital and leading from the front. The Opposition played a robust role in ensuring that in drafting the legislation civil liberties were protected and have put forward useful recommendations for a multifaceted approach.

In the legislation there is opportunity for the engagement of civil society generally, and civil liberties groups and the press in particular. The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation has already begun to do work in some troubled communities, helping them to map their assets and identify development priorities as part of a much-needed planning process involving residents, instead of ideas imposed by outside interests as has been the custom. This useful and necessary exercise, which is the real solution to youth disempowerment and hopelessness, can bear no fruit in an atmosphere of rampant crime and easy access to guns which turns many domestic issues into homicides.

A less than perfect solution which enjoys wide support of citizens and key stakeholders will produce better results than the ideal solution that does not enjoy a similar level of support. Let's, with cautious optimism, work together to make ZOSO successful.




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