Social change and crimeSunday, March 21, 2021
I often receive correspondence that I should consider looking at social change as a short-term tool against the gang/crime crisis. I have on many occasions highlighted the need for it in the long term. Social change is indeed necessary to close the factory that is producing the endless slew of willing killers.
To be frank, I never really thought of it as a short-term measure. But I respect everyone's perspective, so let us talk social conditions.
Jamaica's poor originate from former enslaved people and indentured labourers. There is some dispute as to the legitimacy of the execution of the emancipation process, as some maintain that the instruction from Britain was that the formerly enslaved people should have received land as part of the deal. Who knows if this is accurate, but with such a bunch of evil as the English and Jamaican administrators of the era anything is possible.
The end result was a massive percentage of the populace landless and destitute. This invariably led to squatter settlements of small wooden structures devoid of infrastructure such as roads, water, sewerage and, obviously, electricity.
That exact situation still exists for a few hundred thousand Jamaicans. They are referred to by many as squatters, or informal settlers. I call them victims.
This group is comprised of direct descendants of the emancipated people and defined as different only by their inability to have improved on the position inherited by their fore parents. This is a true representation of generational poverty. They are the minority.
Most descendants of formerly enslaved people are not squatters. It is, however, expected that there will be a subset of any group that fails to improve.
Based on my study, 'Gangs, victim/offender overlap, and informal settlements — their role in the Portmore homicide crisis', informal settlers are also the group responsible for 90 per cent of homicides in the area under study.
This is true, despite their making up only 10 per cent of the notes population. What the above statistic indicates is a group significantly likely to commit violent crime.
However, here is the catch; only a small per cent of informal settlers are violent criminals.
Central Village in St Catherine, one of the largest informal settlements in Jamaica and the most remarkable proof of the relationship between politics and crime, boasts a population of 18,000 residents.
Of this number, there have been only 300 noted gang members listed over a 10-year period.
This is despite the fact that the community has approximately 1,750 males between the ages of 18 and 35 at any point in time.
So can we really say that informal settlers become criminals?
We can't! The criminals are a micro subculture of the group. The majority rejects the violence, become victim to it, or simply accepts the dominance of the oppressors.
They also attend the inferior schools, are improperly managed transitioning to adulthood and frankly smoke too much damn weed. So do many inner-city youth, but that is another quarrel for another day.
Despite the majority of informal settlers who reject violence by non-participation, the people to replace the 1,000 gangsters killed annually come from these settlements, to a large degree.
Here is where the sociologists and I find some common ground. If you fix the conditions in these settlements, then you halt the biggest factory supplying the raw material staffing the gangs.
There are, of course, the concrete political garrisons that will still supply the numbers. But they are fewer and their communities are easier to police.
Here is where I have no support. I believe that the ones who have chosen to kill are beyond redemption. They cannot be saved, neither should they be saved.
They have chosen to take a life and therefore, in a perfect system, they should be tried by the State and executed. However, there is no perfect system. So no court in a true and fair world can order death. But the killers should at least be caged.
If you want to save 'future' gangsters then we have to reach them before they become killers.
What should we change and how?
Social change has many variables. We should start with using the National Housing Trust as I believe it was intended — for social housing. I am not saying that we should abandon the homeownership programme. I am simply saying that if we have enough in surplus for successive governments to plunder, then we have enough to build concrete high rise structures where zinc and board now stand.
Will they become slums? Local history dictates that they will. But dignity matters and people defecating in scandal bags cannot feel dignified.
We can learn from the British how to do it right. They have perfected it. This would make more sense than them dictating to us how to fight a militia without combat, of which they know nothing.
They have controlled their poor and previous victims of their former colonial policies by giving them everything they need to live a dignified life. They have done this despite giving the people inferior schools and a glass ceiling you can only break with a sledgehammer. Odd dichotomy. But there is no killing.
Their murder rate (1.6 per 100,000) is three times lower than the United States of America at five per 100,000 and 29 times lower than ours, which stands at 47 per 100,000.
So if I have to accept the Government making a massive chunk of the country 'wutliss' as a trade-off for a more civilised murder rate I will take it.
Social housing will not solve all our problems. In fact, if complemented by social welfare, it will contribute to a welfare culture and make people less productive.
However, it will provide dignity where shame now exists and impact the likelihood of young men joining gangs. I will accept virtually anything if it stops the killing.
There are also other steps with long-term benefits that can be taken now. A study, titled 'Education and Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates in Jamaica Report 2012', was able to determine which schools are the feeders to the prison system. This is an incredible resource to harness the group and redirect it.
Why is corporate Jamaica not bombarding these schools with programmes to train and employ these students when they leave school to help to prevent gang membership?
There are some, but nowhere near enough to have a national impact. I think they would be willing if they felt it was part of a national structured movement to surgically block gang growth.
If I have learnt one thing in decades of working in slums and fighting gangsters, it is the sanctity of a job. Nothing is as good a diversion from crime. It provides identity, status and purpose.
In fact, I would suggest we recruit for jobs males younger than 18 years old and start at 14 years, as this is the age the gang association begins.
This would require a revisit to the Factories Act. There need to be so many options available that you would be an idiot to choose gang membership. This may not be a good corporate hiring strategy, but it is a tool at a time our country is at war. It is an incredible long-term solution.
However, our problem is in a crisis and it is now. There is nothing done now, socially speaking, that can convince this lot of murderers to stop killing. They need to feel the consequences of their actions or be so policed through occupation that they simply cannot operate as they please.
This occupation I speak of should have no colour or social bar. All males over 18 years and under 60 years who are not criminals would be required to participate. It would be the greatest social revolution in Jamaica's history.
I believe this would be the true test of Jamaican manhood. I wonder if we are up to the task.
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