Columns

Making the most of the limited state of emergency

Al Miller

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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The recently imposed state of emergency is unfortunate, but necessary. Unfortunate because it is sad that it has come to this, but necessary because St James, Montego Bay in particular, is out of control with shootings in broad daylight, scamming and disorder. It has given new meaning to the term 'the wild west'.

Many have been saying in recent days that something must be done. Montego Bay is the tourism capital of Jamaica, but last year also earned the ignominious title of the most murderous city in the world. I have been saying that the country is in crisis. St James, with the leading murder rate in the country, selected itself for the state of emergency.

Last week I called for emergency surgery for our crime cancer ( Sunday Observer, 'Crime cancer: Emergency surgery needed now!', January 14, 2018). Will the state of emergency provide the emergency surgery that is needed? Will it produce the change needed to cure the condition? Will our Government, Opposition, security forces, and we the people make the most of this opportunity to begin the process of ridding Montego Bay of this crime scourge and resulting bad reputation? What will it take for the State to get the most out this state of emergency?

Decisive action has now been taken and we must give credit to the Government and the security forces. Our new-era prime minister himself must be applauded. He is in charge and he has taken charge. The Opposition has also supported his decision. Could this be a sign of a new political maturity being led by the Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips? If so, the state of emergency has already begun to see success.

But the question remains, what will it take for this to really make a difference? What is it going to take for this time to be different?

I suggest that there are a number of factors that have to be carefully managed in order to make the most of the opportunity presented by the state of emergency. These include action on the part of the Government, action on the part of the security forces, and action on the part of the people. If all three sectors do not play their role then a real difference is unlikely.

Gov't's opportunity for social intervention

The Government seems to have learned from past mistakes the importance of waiting until after the forces have been deployed before making the announcement. Hopefully, this has created the necessary tactical advantage to ensure that the violence producers do not escape from the area before the State has the opportunity to take full control.

There is also an opportunity for the mayor of Montego Bay and the St James Municipal Corporation to make inroads in bringing order to areas of the city that were previously untouchable. They must think strategically about how to restore order and what needs to be done to achieve this. Look at what ordinarily does not work, such as possibly illegal vending, parking and the behaviour of taxi and bus operators. Now is the time to address these issues. They should get in with the needed equipment and ensure that the city is thoroughly cleaned. Areas that were previously too dangerous for work to be done must now be addressed. Use the National Works Agency to clear some paths into roadways that can be patrolled even after the state of emergency is over. Bring in the bulldozers. We can no longer tolerate a situation in which there are areas that cannot be policed.

Security forces' opportunity for trust & respect

The security forces have two main opportunities that must be capitalised on in this state of emergency: They must find the guns and they must prove themselves to be trustworthy and begin to change public perception. Often, when areas are placed under curfews and cordons, the searches turn up very few guns. This suggests that the gunmen are either smarter than the police or the guns are not hidden where the gunmen reside. This time around the approach must be different.

The police, who will now have the assistance of the army, should make a systematic sweep in the communities and search every dwelling, building and yard, and comb the area for all guns and drugs, using every available means. The searches must not be limited to Flanker, Norwood, Mt Salem, and Glendevon, but must include Ironshore, Mango Walk, West Gate Hills, Spring Farm, and Coral Gardens, everywhere. The searches must be intelligence-driven, surgical and with military precision. No stone is to be left undisturbed.

What's more, we do not want to seize weapons this week only to have them replaced next week by fresh deliveries. Therefore, the money trail must be followed. Inroads must be made into the supply chain for the guns. The suppliers of guns must be equally targeted in this operation and not merely the youths on the street.

Both the commissioner of police and the chief of defence staff have indicated that they will take a positive approach to the operation in St James. They have promised to treat the citizens with respect — an issue about which this column has been very strong. Our people must be respected by the agents of the State. Respect must be shown even when people are being apprehended for breaking the law. Respect is due to all men, irrespective of their station in life. The security forces must take great care not to even appear in any way, shape, or form to be unjust in their pursuit of justice, public safety and security. The security forces should use the opportunity to treat the citizens in such a way as to bring hope of change to depressed communities that they can, at last, begin to trust the police. If it is safe for citizens to come forward with information, what a difference that would make! We could actually turn the tide against crime.

Citizens' opportunity for self-transformation

The third group that can make this state of emergency different than in the past is the residents of St James. It's time to step up and decide what kind of country we want to live in, and what we are willing to do to get it. Although the state of emergency has its negative side, it can be the means of getting the help people need to actually transform communities. We can see the police and army as enemies or we can see them as the help that has finally come to address the long-standing problems. Now that help has come, we can do what could not be done before. Don't let the chance pass! Latch on to the opportunity that is here to clean up the community of the negative elements.

Let's face the fact that Jamaica is small, and our individual communities are even smaller. We know who the troublemakers are. We have lived under their oppression for too long. It's time to throw off the shackles of fear and intimidation and do what is right and what is needed to make Jamaica safe again. Residents should be encouraged to use the opportunity to tell what they know. If the people are uncomfortable to use crime stop numbers, etc, then tell pastors or other trusted leaders in their community who must themselves treat the information with the utmost integrity so as to protect those who have supplied it.

The Church and civic groups must also engage the communities to encourage the best use of this time. As a community we must address the social and moral issues that have been largely ignored. Concentrated attention must be placed on the crime-creating cohort between 15 - 30 years old. All the statistics show that they are the ones that need rehabilitation and integration into the social fabric of the country. If we fail to reach them, then once the state of emergency is over they will go right back to doing what they had been doing before it began.

Now is the time to dismantle gangs. Use the agencies, non-government organisations and church leaders to influence them away from the negative behaviours and outlook and begin to show them alternative approaches to life. Those who may be detained, instead of just putting them in jail, utilise the time to actually challenge and motivate them. The situation requires the social organisations to work in tandem with the security forces towards personal and community transformation.

Machinery should be quickly put in place to educate the communities, whether by public education or community engagement, on how to use the opportunity that the state of emergency presents. Again, the church, non-government organisations and agencies such the Social Development Commission must all play a part.

The time is now for the new Jamaica!

It must not be lost on us that in this season of repentance and prayer for the nation, sometimes answers to prayer come in ways that we do not necessarily like or expect. We must be sensitive enough to recognise the hand of God in every situation of life. This state of emergency for the people of St James and the country is a time of visitation for people to recognise the need for real change and to work for it. It is an opportunity for the whole nation to hear the clarion call coming out of St James. That parish may have the worst murder rate, but it is not alone. The entire country is feeling the assault of crime and violence. Let us finally stir ourselves into action to address the root causes of the crime — tribalism, donmanship, garrisonisation, injustice, poverty, deprivation, poor education and corruption — and break into that new day for Jamaica.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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