Let the police know we have their backs

It seems well agreed that the three Cs — COVID-19, crime, and corruption — will be the dominating factors occupying the minds of Jamaicans this year. This column has addressed the ongoing COVID-19 menace repeatedly, and so I will not focus on that C now.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness displayed an emotional side when, at a recent prayer breakfast and in apparent frustration, he lamented the continued murderous violence in the country and the killing of our children as a result. Of immediate attention was the slaying of three children in Westmoreland.

As a mere human being subject to the frailties and fragilities of the flesh, which are the bane of us all, I do not purport to know the true intentions of a man's heart. When a political leader displays his emotions publicly there are any number of interpretations that others will make of what they hear and see. This was the case with the prime minister, but I believe that the attempts of some to politicise his emotions, judging from some of the crass comments that have come from social media, have gone beyond the pale. I will give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt that his emotional outburst was genuine; that he deeply felt for the loss of lives, especially of the children involved; and that in some way, as leader of the country, he bears a special burden for what is taking place.

I, however, fundamentally disagree with his berating of those who oppose states of emergency (SOEs) as a crime-fighting tool. In fact, he said he had to ask himself at times whether they were in agreement with the criminals because of their opposition to these measures. Well, I am one of those who, through this column, have voiced opposition to this measure in fighting crime. I have been clear that, while they can have limited use in suppressing flare-ups of violent criminality, they cannot be seen as permanent tools in a crime-fighting basket.

They were never intended to be used in this way. As their nature and character suggest, they are to be used temporarily, sparingly, and as a matter of last resort when the nation is under existential threat. Yes, over the years we have allowed violent criminality to become too much a threat to orderly living in our country. We have used harsh, suppressive, and other resolute measures to fight the problem, but the problem gets worse each year. This is why, for some people, using SOEs as a crime-fighting tool is hardly a bother. But the danger is that the use of this method can become so prevalent and entrenched that their effect can become nullified in the nation's consciousness. When they are really needed, they may very well lose their efficacy. That I believe is the real danger of their overuse in a crime-ridden society.

Furthermore, if the goal is to quickly suppress flare-ups of violent criminality, there are provisions within existing legislations for the use and deployment of the security forces — the constabulary and the army — to achieve these ends. Indeed, the first duty of a State is the protection and security of the citizens within its borders. Armies and police forces have been created for just this function. The only difference with SOEs is the suspension of certain constitutional rights of citizens, which is understood under the emergency powers they are given. While security officers do not have these emergency powers, they can still function effectively in restraining the heartless in violent communities through curfews, cordons, and searches, and so on. Their saturated presence in the community is itself a deterrent.

One would implore the prime minister to put more emphasis on these measures than on that which will lead to the degrading of the efficacy of the SOE. We need to train more police personnel and perhaps army personnel as well, though the latter is not as pressing as the former. What has become of the zones of special operation (ZOSO)? Were these not intended to achieve the quick suppressive element that is intended by the SOEs? Are we admitting that these have failed or that they do not have the efficacy that was hoped for? Do they need to be strengthened and revisited?

Also, there is the urgent need for continued social development initiatives in communities, especially the more deprived ones that are seen to be the petri dish for violent criminals. Was this not an aspect of the clear, hold, and build initiative of the ZOSO? It would seem that our spend on real social development leaves a lot to be desired.

Some time ago Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang lamented the misuse of billions of dollars which did not go to the heart of the situations they were intended to address. The funds were either wasted through bureaucracy or through expensive consultancies which failed to deliver.

What is the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development doing to ensure that communities get the resources they need to really become viable? This is a big task and opportunities have been lost over the years.

Also, I do not believe we have seen an end to the politicisation of these efforts which result in waste and inefficiency. We talk around these things and only become conscientised when there is another flare-up of killings in a particular community.

Corruption is closely allied to the criminality we see in Jamaica. Without the assistance of any scientific study, I will admit that most of the violent criminality we see is done by under one per cent of the population. Most Jamaicans are law-abiding, but we have become too tolerant of the corrupt in our midst. We make no real demand of our political leaders for accountability in office, but wring our hands when we hear of another high-stake corrupt behaviour from them or high officials in their ministries.

If we want to see change we must become a part of the change we seek. Griping on verandahs, at taxi stands, in rum bars, or in our social clubs will not suffice. We must give more support to our hard-working men and women in the constabulary who have to be bearing the burden of the day without just compensation. We pay them poorly, allow them to live in poor conditions, and yet expect them to turn up at our beck and call whenever our lives are in danger.

The police need to know that we have their backs as they seek to have ours. Let us not use the fat of the corrupt to fry the many who are doing their best to maintain the best professionalism in what they do. This is one resolution we could all make for 2022.

Remembering James “Jimmy” Moss-Solomon

This column regrets the passing of Jimmy Moss-Solomon. I did not know him personally, but saw him in his public persona and have knowedge of the distinguished service he gave to the business industry in this country. He was always unflappable yet resolute in the kind of Jamaica he wanted to see, and devoted his energies to making this country a better place.

My condolence to his family and may his soul rest in peace.

Good batting, Jimmy.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

Members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force patrol the Corporate Area. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Raulston Nembhard

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