An unrecognisable and undeclared war
Jamaica's real pandemic — Part 1

These are the names and ages of the 12 Jamaicans who were murdered in separate events across our island on Saturday, November 20, 2021.

1) Sorika Picart, 16 years old

2) Deron Wright, 20 years old

3) Octavia Sterling, 29 years old

4) Oliver Black, 31 years old

5) Daniel John Logan, 33 years old

6) Odane Dawkins, 33 years old

7) Rusheed Antonio Miller, 34 years old

8) Jeffery Taylor, 36 years old

9) Andre Michael Lewis, 37 years old

10) Ryan Baker, 39 years old

11) Damion Smith, 41 years old

12) An unidentified male

Between January 1, 2021 to November 20, 2021, a total of 5,429 Jamaicans have been violently affected by crime in Jamaica. See table for breakdown. This is approximately 17 individuals per day and the year is not finished yet.

These averages suggest that, on any given day, four Jamaicans will be murdered, three will be shot, three will be injured, one will be raped, two will be robbed, and three will experience a break-in.

Jamaica is rated second in the world for having the most murders per capita country. What is worse is that we are also ranked second in the world for the killing of women or femicide (UN 2019).

The Jamaica Constabulary Force reports an average murder rate for women as 13 per 100,000; higher than the 10 murders per 100,000 threshold for epidemics established by the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 30 per cent of our women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, with more than one in every four women experiencing intimate partner violence.

Our female children are also not spared, with over 70 per cent of our girls (under 18) who have been victims of crime report they had been raped. In March and April last year over 700 new cases of abuse against women and girls were reported to the Victims Support Unit.

From 1962 Jamaica's murder rate has increased by 2040 per cent. If we don't break this momentum the dark reality is that, in another 60 years, the country could witness 26,275 Jamaicans murdered between January to November in 2081.

Citing the frequency and evolution of Jamaica's violence to wanton levels of cruelty as being comparable to “barbarity” and “savagery”, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, on November 14, 2021, once again declared states of public emergency (SOE) in three western parishes and sections of the Corporate Area spanning seven police divisions.

Since January 2018 the Government has declared a total of 20 states of public emergencies.

But what are the metrics being used to determine if these SOEs are working? Is it the number of cars that pass the checkpoints? Is it a temporary mechanism simply for violence suppression? Or does it galvanise people into action to give up guns? If there were no states of emergencies would the crime rate be worse?

Dr Herbert Gayle argues that we are witnessing an “unrecognisable and undeclared war” in Jamaica. However, the murders can be brought down across the region within 15 years if scientific approaches are used to handle violence, with preventative, structural, and long-lasting programmes on both the individual and community levels: “Education and training, with parenting skills, mentorship, and alternative justice interventions, while providing economic opportunities that affords ontological security to all,” which are urgently vital especially when the data reveals approximately 53 per cent of our murders are done by repeat killers.

Sadly, most repeat killers were “tortured” by their caregivers as children. In fact, his research reported that 59 per cent of those who killed once, and 75 per cent who had killed twice experienced harsh abuse by their mothers, including those who killed more than three people and killed women. ('Securing a safer Jamaica: The National Crime & Violence Prevention Summit, July 30, 2019)

As minister of youth and culture, with responsibility for children in over 58 public and private children's homes, I learned first-hand that many of the children who were in our care had been subjected to serious neglect, various forms of abuse, and abandonment, which led to significant mental, psychological, and emotional trauma. Once they were institutionalised whether for care and protection, uncontrollable behaviour, or for committing other offences, the situation most often worsened for them.

Although correctional facilities were not a part of my responsibility and remit, on January 13, 2013 I led a team of medical and childcare professionals on a visit to the children who were being held at the then Fort Augusta Correctional Centre and New Horizon Remand Centre in St Catherine and Kingston. The experience has never left me, and there are days when I think about one little girl from St Thomas, in particular, who was just 13 years old. Why does she stay with me? That morning as she sucked her thumb resting her head on my shoulder, she looked up and said, “Miss, you know I am going to kill my mother...” She felt her mother didn't love her and would beat her constantly.

Criminals weren't born big

The term “children in conflict with the law” refers to anyone under the age of 18 years who comes into contact with the justice system as a result of being suspected or accused of committing an offence (UNICEF, 2006). The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Jamaica is 12 years old and so this term refers to children who may be guilty of status offences or petty crimes such as “truancy, vagrancy, and misuse of alcohol or begging”.

In 2009, a total of 3,586 children appeared before the Jamaican courts, 28 per cent for care and protection or child abandonment, 10 per cent for uncontrollable behaviour, and the remainder for more serious offences. (Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, 2009)

Some 18 per cent of our population between 15-34 years of age are male. This group was responsible for 75 per cent of the murders committed in 2020. (Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica 2020)

Criminals are not born, they are made. We all watched with our eyes wide shut for decades as underserved communities incubated resentment, anger, neglect, and generally frustrated parents who did not have the means to take care of their children. We must face some hard truths. The failure to create a progressive nation which provides equal opportunities for all Jamaicans with a targeted master plan, especially for those between the ages of 7 years to 24 years old, will be our death knell.

It's time to press the reset button on how we nurture our people.

To be continued...

Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.

Lisa Hanna
Lisa Hanna

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