Are we at war?
RECENTLY, I was a public speaker at an event. During my presentation I described our current crime situation as a state of war, and my desire to treat gang members in a separate legal category based on this legal state.
I found persons disagreeing, and I quite enjoyed the debate. I began pondering though: What defines a war? This is not necessarily a question as it relates to law but rather in the mind of a citizen.
One person at the function who had experienced war in the Middle East described hellfire missiles.
So what is the point at which a population embraces the reality that their country is at war? Is it dependent on the use of bombs?
Back in 2009 I was in Gregory Park during a period of intense gang warfare. I was on a crime scene when I heard gunfire and I, along with other police personnel, ran towards it. We discovered a wounded man. This was less than 100 metres from the crime scene.
Before we could offer assistance more gunfire erupted nearby and some of us ran in the direction of the shooting. As I ran, it occurred to me that this could not be policing — this is soldiering and we must be at war.
Back in 2021 I was on a murder scene in Naggo Head when gunfire erupted a chain away from the scene and a gunman was shot as he engaged the police party on the outer cordon of the crime scene.
I respond, in a good week, to two murder scenes in a community that is much smaller than Hialeah, Florida. Yet these are the best crime statistics the parish of St Catherine has enjoyed in years.
The Northern Ireland crisis that exploded between 1969 to 2001 had its most violent year in 1972, when 480 people lost their lives.
We could do that in a successful year within three parishes, and two in a bad year. Yet they are at war and we are not.
Perhaps war is not measured in casualties, but in weaponry. If missiles and bombs are not present is it not considered war?
The legal definition of war is a state of armed conflict between different countries or groups.
So in Northern Island it was a conflict between the original Irish vs those settled by the descendants of the conquering British. They were identifiable based on religion whereby the original populace was Roman Catholic and the descendants of the British were Protestants. Not really any difference in belief existed as both worship Jesus Christ.
They were really going at it by Western European standards, but comparatively they couldn’t come close to us in murders.
So what makes the citizens of Northern Island believe they are at war and our citizens believe otherwise?
I think it’s acceptance, at one level. The poor in our inner cities, on gully banks and in squatter settlements have been wrapped in this cloak of murder so long that it’s become normal. It’s also in many ways the only justice they actually see.
Let me explain:
Years ago an elderly shopkeeper was killed in Gregory Park. His son was the witness. After a relatively short time the killer was held.
His son, the witness, refused to participate in the parade. I was beside myself with anger and confusion. I knew the elderly gentleman, I wanted justice, I wanted him avenged.
The courthouse is where vengeance exists for a law enforcement officer.
His son responded to me by saying, “I muss dead as a witness fi prison a man who soon dead anyway?”
I was young and didn’t quite understand his reasoning. The murderer walked, went to prison for another offence, and was killed some years later.
The son knew the inevitability — that death would be the end of this matter. He has accepted that killing is normal, it is his world.
It’s not war to him, it’s a way of life in his community.
The citizen, who like me lives in a middle class community, will not experience the same or even anything similar to the killing culture of a Gregory Park or Central Village unless he, like me, works in an inner-city slum where if I don’t respond to over 80 murders a year I’m likely not working my designated hours.
In my mind this has to be war.
Why do I see it differently from the residents or the police? Because I see and live in both worlds. I know normality and I know chaos.
I have not accepted that most males who misbehave will die violently, so I know I am in a war.
Most who live uptown are not living as they would in Miami. They live in cages. Their children don’t take public transport — and I don’t blame them. They don’t see war, but they see danger.
I would argue, however, that if the entire geographical zone of Norbrook and Cherry Gardens was to experience the annual murder statistic of a bad year in Gregory Park, which is much smaller, they would then like me to see Jamaica as a country at war.
Raising my children, I found how easy it was to fall into this trap where you exist in an almost separate dimension, where you simply can’t identify with the horror of being poor and residing in a gang zone.
In fact, if you are not careful you can shelter your children so much that they begin to think that their country is normal.
To combat this I ensured my sons both took public transport daily. In fact, I had to threaten my youngest that I would blame him if I heard he was being collected at school by any interfering auntie or cousin, of which there were many. This because I wanted him to understand the ‘real’ Jamaica, as he would one day have to not only survive it, but go to war for it.
We are at war. Just like El Salvador, just like Haiti. The three of us are at war with gangs.
I agree they are not great warriors. However, to defeat even the most useless enemy you need the legal foundation to do so. Either that or you will simply play a game of catch and release.
The failure of our country to defeat the gangs is because we are not treating them as our enemy with whom we are at war. I have said that many times.
The first step is that the citizens of Jamaica need to accept that we are under attack. We are just not defending ourselves from the enemy. Not in any real way.
We have moved past the possibility of winning using normal police practices. We need to move towards an environment where conscription, prison of war camps, and mandatory police service are our normal.
Even if we put aside the deaths of the gangsters themselves there are still about 500 persons annually who will be killed violently even though they have done nothing to contribute to it.
A country at war cannot be defined by weaponry or the extent of chaos. It is defined by the degree and consistency of bloodshed. It is defined by the existence of specific and identifiable groups participating in the conflict.
It is a state we are in and in which we shall remain until we accept that it has been tolerated too long and will only end when the enemy is defined as what they are, ‘enemies of the State’.