Crime-fighting in our reality

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Crime-fighting in our reality

howard gregory

Sunday, February 09, 2020

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During the month of December and with the approach of Christmas 2019 residents in the community in which I live became very concerned about the increased level of criminal activity that was taking place in the vicinity. Men and women who worked in the community were being held up and robbed on their way to and from work, while men in motor cars and on bikes were driving through the community, prowling around the residence of citizens and attempting to break into the vehicles and homes of residents, including gated communities.

Driven by a deep sense of concern at what was happening, and anxiety tinged with hysteria, and, cognisant of the seeming inability of the police to provide meaningful coverage and response to what was happening, a proposal was mooted for the members of the community to contribute to a fund to engage the services of a private security company to patrol the community at regular intervals over the Christmas season. To this end, many residents of the community contributed to a fund to ensure that the necessary expense was covered. From all the information at hand, it seems evident that this system worked to achieve the objective of crime reduction.

The response of this community arises out of an awareness that the nation is at a point at which the police force is unable to deal with the myriad facets and manifestations of crime and violence at the most basic level of the local communities. It is also a recognition that the proliferation of statistics with which we are fed concerning crime-fighting on a regular basis, though intended to be comforting to citizens, does not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground.

People have just resigned themselves to the fact that not much will and can be done about certain crimes when reported, as the police are already overwhelmed with addressing the increasing number of murders and the number of states of emergency (SOEs), zones of special operations (ZOSOs), and curfews. It is the reality to which farmers and the many people robbed on our streets or burglarised will testify. Indeed, where cameras have been installed in our community and criminals are caught in the act, the response in some instances from the police has been less than comforting.

While there are some elements of the action of my community which are commendable, it is also a dangerous road along which to travel as a response to crime-fighting. Duplicated in communities, it marks a fundamental change in our national approach to the maintenance of law, order, and justice, and can lead to vigilante justice, which has surfaced from time to time in various communities and among citizens who believe that the justice system takes too long to bring offenders to trial, or who are just tired of being preyed upon by criminals who apparently function with impunity.

Driven by anger, frustration, and hysteria, there is not one kind of vigilante justice which is practised by one social class and not another. We dare not forget that we have had communities with their own policing and system of justice and under the control of community dons. We may also look to some parts of the world within our hemisphere and beyond — where there is displacement of peoples and migration — to see what happens when the State's system for the maintenance of law and order is challenged, replaced, or undermined by civilian rule.

This brings me to the paradoxical position that there can be no effective system of law and order which does not embody strong and effective policing by the State and an active partnership and alliance of citizens and communities with the State authorities.

Many citizens are horrified to know that in the first month of this year 116 persons were murdered and that we have entered into February with statistics of up to six murders on a single day. With these revelations we fall back on the familiar response of blaming the prime minister, minister of national security, and the commissioner of police for not dealing with the situation with effectiveness, while the political operatives of both major political parties engage each other in this useless exercise as to who has the more effective crime plan or no plan at all.

As I reflect on some of the most recent crimes, among them an eight-year-old boy was murdered and dumped in the sea because of a dispute between his mother and her ex-boyfriend; the student whose body was found in the riverbed on a stone in Temple Hall; and the teenage gas station attendant who was murdered in public view as bullets were pumped into his head and his body, I ask the question:What is it that we expect the police to do to stop such insanity and bloodletting?

The evidence is not yet in, but it is possible that we are here dealing with domestic and gender violence, paedophilia, and gang violence. While the authorities can advance statistics regarding the number of potential deaths which have been prevented because of their policing strategies, that can be little consolation in face of the actual murders we see facing us daily.

It appears that policing, well-resourced, and equipped with the most modern technology available may reduce potential murders. At the same time, we can take no consolation from this line of argument as there are some fundamental issues related to a breakdown in our sense of values and social order which demand urgent collective attention if we are to break the back of our crime and murder statistics and return a sense of sanity to our nation.

I want to begin at home with the Church. We have maintained through the ages the Christian ideal of marriage as that which is normative as the basic unit of society and have focused, to a large extent, on the affirmation of the same while failing to acknowledge our history which has bequeath to us the various forms of family life which exist. In so doing we have not taken into account the fact that marriage in its legal or other definition is built on relationships between people who have a sense of self-worth, have experienced love, know what it is to respect and love one another, and who can build their relationship on the foundation of maleness and femaleness which they have experienced in their family of origin. This is not the experience of many of our children today, and has been true of their parents, many of whom are barely out of childhood themselves.

If we are to address the matter of gender and domestic violence we need a concerted movement of churches, non-government organisations, community groups, as well as concerned and committed citizens of this country to see how to educate our children and engage our adults around issues related to identity, self-worth, wholesome relationships, family dynamics, and parenting.

Policing will not stop some peoples from entering and staying in abusive and violent relationships, neither will it change the violence which emanates from men who believe that the female in a relationship with them is their possession and subject to violence and death at any perceived sign of unfaithfulness or a desire to end the relationship. That is a social challenge confronting all of us.

The gang phenomenon has at its root a value system which seeks to gain, by illegitimate means, that which is deemed valuable, but to be acquired not from personal productive work but by means of extraction, threat, violence, and the exercise of power, whether by deadly force or other means. It has been reinforced by a system of patronage and dependence which has been fostered by our political culture and which we will again see in evidence when the next general election comes around. The expectation is nurtured that one does not have to do productive and creative work for cash to flow. We are facing an endemic cultural problem which is evident in this regard.

Recently I have had some dealings with three men who operate their own small business — a welder, a motor mechanic who specialises in 'duco' work on cars, and a truck driver. Each one is faced with doing a job which requires multiple hands and who complain that they cannot get young men to spend the time to learn the job and to work along with them. They all want a payday but without the discipline of industry and work. No wonder gangs are formed around access to and distribution of the spoils gained from the extortion and protection racket, scamming, drugs, and whatever spoils are to be had from within a particular geographical location. Policing may interrupt the cycle of violence, but it cannot obliterate the culture and mentality that drives it.

The violent attacks and murder to which our children are being subjected is certainly not abating and points to a serious level of moral and social depravity which treats these most vulnerable and trusting members of our society as pawns in situations of conflict and objects on which to unleash one's distorted sense of power and authority. We cannot overlook the fact that the measure of the soul of a people and nation is not just the strength of its economy, but how it protects and treats its most vulnerable members.

The community initiative at policing with which I began indicates that people are already expressing their concern that policing by the duly constituted authority is not generating confidence that it can overcome the level of crime and violence which has enveloped the nation. At the same time, it must be a sign or warning to us that community policing by alternative systems may not be a desirable alternative. However, it points to a potential strategic approach to reversing the dangerous spiral of murder and other criminal activity in which we seem to be trapped.

Awaiting the crafting of a plan by one institution or political party will not do it. We need policing to provide a framework within which we can seek to maintain law and order. The community, in its widest definition, must realise that there are some fundamental issues at work in the hearts and lives of many of our citizens who have distorted and are distorting their perception of themselves, relationships, social order, and the relationship between human labour and reward.

Some weeks ago I participated in a public lecture in memory of the late Roman Catholic Archbishop Samuel Carter which focused on character formation — a focus which is lacking in much of the educational thrust of our schools with their focus on information, knowledge, and skills in preparation for the workplace. Character formation touches at the very heart of what it means to be human and focuses on such qualities as honesty, integrity, dependability, diligence, loyalty, compassion, sincerity, attentiveness, determination, confidence, social awareness and values sensitivity, responsible citizenship, healthy anger, human sexuality, healthy and unhealthy relationships, and human rights, among other things.

In our sense of frustration with the current crime statistics we have looked for someone to blame. The easy targets have been the commissioner of police, the minister of national security, and the wider government. The reality which is confronting us is that these institutions by themselves will not be able to solve the problem which exists. As a nation, we must make a concerted effort to address the fundamental deficiencies of the society which is churning out, in increasing numbers and in more brazen ways, violence and mayhem which we have never seen before. It will not happen overnight, and let us not be fooled by promises made in the upcoming election. The road to recovery is long and will involve our collective effort and resolve.

Howard Gregory is archbishop of the Province of the West Indies, primate and metropolitan, as well as bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.


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