As Jamaicans, we have become normalised to watching or listening to daily reports of gun violence meted out to our citizens. The murder statistics are a daily part of the news cycle. The murders are usually committed in drive-by shootings, close domestic encounters, robberies, or are contract killings.
Recall Saturday, November 20, 2021, when 12 Jamaicans were murdered in separate events. Between January 1, 2021 and November 20, 2021, a total of 5,429 Jamaicans were violently affected by crime in Jamaica — roughly 17 individuals per day. The average then, is that on any given day four Jamaicans would have been murdered, three shot, three injured, one raped, two robbed, and three would have experienced a break-in.
Regardless of the motivation, the hard fact is that our murderers are cold, callous, and have a barefaced resolve to publicly make their point. Their actions have led to what Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey describes as the reality of domestic terrorism in Jamaica which needs particular attention within our laws. His declaration came with haunting lamentations of the tyranny upon us with new, chilling revelations of the mass shootings rampant within our communities.
"This incident represents, I think, about the 14th or 15th multiple murder since the beginning of this month. This type of incident requires a certain type of response and the police are committed to ensure that the appropriate response is given to this activity…Having killed the target, they were willing to turn their weapons on the innocent bystanders." (Fitz Bailey, September 18, 2022, CVM TV)
Bailey spoke from the scene of a mass shooting at an internal Jamaica Broilers football game in Spring Village, St Catherine, last Sunday afternoon at which nine people were killed and six severely wounded. According to news reports, two cars drove up, a man alighted from one of them and began shooting into the crowd as the match was in session.
It's Time To Wake Up;
The fact that this mass shooting in Spring Village represents the 15th multiple murder across Jamaica since the beginning of September is a call to action to urgently drop what we are doing and pay attention to the brazen indifference of the repurposed gunman as to his approach.
"Solid composure youth your head can't sick
Woman and pickney still off limit
A steppa never tell his woman him secret
Whether you step in a private or inna public
Steppa code remember the steppa ethics
Steppa steppa a no petty thief, steppa a no taker
Man nah step fi the worst, man a go step for the betta
No make no mistake confuse steppa with shotta
Man a steppa survive, shotta brain get splatta
If you think I lie go ask Big foot and Fatta…
Say you a badman fine
And you don't step and lef your gun no time
Say them heartless and mean
When them a step with them team
Now a white suit and tape from forensic"
(Steppa, Buju Banton, 2020)
According to our prolific dancehall artiste Buju, the Jamaica gunman codes have changed. The previously held sanctities of time of day, location, age, gender, title, or community position are now through the window, as they kill anyone at any time. Once they have a target, they will take them out — children, mothers in their way are no longer spared. Whether at a supermarket, bar, community shop, school, bank, or bus stop, they are shooting to kill all. Mass shootings are with us, and no one is safe or secure anymore.
There is no agreed definition of a mass shooting. Although most terms define a mass shooting as a minimum of three or four gun violence victims in a short time, this does not include the shooter. The recent shooting sprees in Central Kingston; Goodwill, St James; and Olympic Gardens tell the tale. But what's next? Will we stand by and watch another murder method take a foothold in our country?
Over the past year, I have written several articles on crime and violence in Jamaica, proposing solutions while citing that crime costs Jamaica approximately five per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) due to business losses, reduction in property values, missed investment opportunities, instability across sectors, and our people seeking safer countries for jobs and retirement.
This amounts to $105 billion or $39,000 per person. An additional $105 billion could transform our country's and people's socio-economic fortunes.
There have been enough studies done since the 1970s and all have said that poverty, unemployment, and under-education all directly impact crime. If this "persistent inequality" is not erased, then it will continue to "scar the social landscape of our country with the accumulation of great wealth and a large marginalised population." (Professor Carl Stone)
Furthermore, doctors Denarto Dennis and Leroy Binns report that between 1976 and 1999, approximately 11 anti-crime programmes, such as Echo Squad, 1976; Ranger Squad, 1980; Eradication Squad, 1981; Operation Intrepid, 1999, all failed. (Jamaica Observer, September 28, 2019)
Consequently, solutions to stemming the tide of violence in Jamaica must look seriously beyond rigid policing toward the holistic development of programmes for the 490,000 Jamaican males, 15-34 years old, who comprise 18 per cent of our population as this is the demographic that was responsible for 75 per cent of the murders committed in 2020. (Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, 2020)
Therefore, we must face some hard truths. The failure to urgently implement a long-term violence prevention master plan, especially for those between the ages of seven and 24, will be our death knell.
Dr Herbert Gayle argues that murders can be brought down 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.
Professor Winty Davidson suggests that Jamaica implement a "four-stage integrated prevention system" to aid our populace's cognitive, psychosocial, and physiological growth and development to address the adverse environmental effects that impact a child's cognitive and physiological development brain.
I have and will continue to support their proposals, as attending to our children's psychosocial and emotional well-being and their daily experiences from the pre-primary school stages of their development is a mission critical to breaking the cycle of violence. All the data presented by the medical and social scientists trace the manifestations of crime and violence to profound social and environmental dysfunctionality and toxicity coupled with other social factors such as abusive family relationships, especially between mothers and sons.
Therefore, I urge the prime minister to fast-track the work of the Anti-Violence Commission chaired by Dr Maureen Samms Vaughan with D Herbert Gayle along with other experts. Also, assign the necessary budgets for the implementation of their solutions.
Procrastination will only push more Jamaicans, against their will, to become murder statistics in our tragic societal abyss of death.
My sincerest condolence to the families who lost loved ones to gun violence since the start of this year.
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.