Jamaica is faced with a spike in COVID-19 cases, more road deaths, and, in the words of Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Keith Duncan, “an epidemic of violence”. When a busload of people is warned by police to put on masks, and as soon as he turns his back they remove them and consider it a joke, clearly they do not value their own lives. The same applies to the total lack of regard for the road code, mostly by taxi drivers and motorcyclists. As well, Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson noted that contract killings are on the rise because killers are charging less.
We can understand that some teachers and parents are fearful about keeping schools open and reopening others, but, with the breakdown in households, schools are not only places of learning, they are also places of protection. That advertisement depicting a girl child in fear of an older male relative is a sad reality for too many.
Statistics show that more than 50 per cent of unattached youth in the 16-24 age group are affected by crime, and more than 70 per cent of crimes are committed by that group. To address this issue, the Government has created the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) Programme so participants can learn, earn, and save. There is also the Jamaica National Service Corps, a one-year training programme for 26,000 youth conducted by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), at the end of which some participants are accepted into the force.
In a Jamaica Information Service ( JIS) report by Latonya Linton earlier this month, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang told Parliament that the Government has launched the 'Plan Secure Jamaica' initiative. He noted that it is “the most coordinated, inclusive and enduring security programme that has ever been introduced in Jamaica. It is geared towards creating a safe, secure, cohesive and just society”.
He described main aspects of the programme as geared towards “strengthening the national security architecture; strengthening the criminal justice system; enhancing youth and community development; protecting and securing borders, maritime space and key sectors of the economy; strengthening national integrity systems; and increasing and sustaining public support for law enforcement and public order”.
The cost of the programme is estimated at $176 billion over seven years. Dr Chang said his was “the first Government to put in place such a robust security plan, with the necessary institutional arrangements to ensure a sustainable, whole-of-government approach to the social investment, and social transformation component of crime-fighting”.
He said the country can look forward to the new Firearms Act, amendments to the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act (the anti-gang legislation), and regulations for the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency.
The Crime Monitoring Oversight Committee (C-MOC) comprising representatives of both political parties, the private sector, civil society, and the churches has established a timetable to monitor the implementation of national security measures. The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) has helped to keep our economy on track; we are hoping the same for C-MOC.
History unfolding in the US
“These are the times that try men and women's souls,” said US Congressman Jamie Raskin, giving gender balance to the words of philosopher Thomas Paine, as he laid out the case as lead prosecutor in the second impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump. The presentations that followed by his colleague members of Congress were models of clarity and conviction.
If this were a movie script, probably we would have said it was not plausible: The members of the Senate whose lives were endangered by the attack on the Capitol were now sitting as the jury for the case to convict the former president. They watched themselves on the videos presented as evidence being hustled to safety by Capitol police, including Eugene Goodman, who on Friday was awarded the Congressional Medal for his bravery. Despite the disturbing evidence, we learned that most Republican Senators planned to vote against the conviction of Donald Trump.
And so on Saturday the vote was 57 to 43, with only seven Republican senators — Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey — in agreement with the Democrats.
Without the required two-thirds majority vote Donald Trump was acquitted. Senate Leader Chuck Schumer noted, “We saw it, we heard it, we lived it… there is nothing more insulting to the generations who gave their lives [for our democracy].” He said that January 6, 2021 will live on as a day of infamy and that the vote to acquit was a vote of infamy.
There seem to be other challenges awaiting Trump, however. District Attorney Fanni Willis of Georgia has opened a criminal investigation into election interference by the Trump team. A telephone call by the then president to Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger revealed that Trump had asked him to 'find' a certain number of votes that would have put him in the lead. It was reported that Willis has already had to double her security and has been the target of racist insults.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has been leading a rapid roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine and by July the entire US population will be able to access vaccines. The fringe group of anti-vaxxers are trying to stir up trouble, but with little success, thank goodness.
Congratulations, Archbishop Dufour
We gathered (while distancing) at Holy Cross Catholic Church last Wednesday for the celebration of Archbishop Emeritus Charles Dufour's 25th anniversary of episcopal service. Archbishop Dufour served in various capacities islandwide and as bishop of Montego Bay created the Good Shepherd Foundation which established the first AIDS hospice and has now expanded into a health centre which serves thousands.
After 50 years in the priesthood, Archbishop Dufour retired last September, only to be called two months later to serve St Mary's Church, Above Rocks, St Catherine. The Jamaica Observer quotes him: “God sent me to serve the people, and as long as he permits me to, I will continue to do his will.”
Virtual taste of Calabash
Co-founder of the Calabash Literary Festival Justine Henzell broke the good news last week that Jamaica was one of 12 countries chosen to participate in Literature Live Around the World, last Friday.
It is a credit to her and co-founder Kwame Dawes that Calabash was chosen alongside the world-famous Jaipur Lit Fest, Edinburgh Book Fest, Toronto Festival of Authors, Emirates Lit from Dubai, Bay Area Book Fest from San Francisco, Ake from Lagos, Filba from Buenos Aires, and others.
Our poets and novelists made us proud; their pieces enhanced by the beautiful Treasure Beach setting. They were Ann Margaret Lim, Opal Palmer Adisa, Diana McCaulay, Earl McKenzie, Millicent Graham, Mutabaruka, Erna Brodber, and Olive Senior.
Congratulations to organisers Kulturoperatørene in Bergen, Norway, for providing this feast of creativity, which we understand should be available online for the next 10 days.