CLARENDON, Jamaica— Prime Minister Andrew Holness says legislative changes being pursued by the Government, in tandem with new social programmes, will help to reduce the high levels of violence that the country currently faces.
Speaking at the funeral service for Kemesha Wright and her four children at the Stuart Hall Auditorium at Clarendon College on Sunday, Holness, as he has done in the past, traced Jamaica’s violent culture to slavery and also linked it to the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994.
Holness argued that like the people of Rwanda, which he believes had simmering violence for more than 100 years before exploding with the massacre of approximately one million people, Jamaicans must first recognise that their country has a violence problem to be able to treat with the issue.
“They (Rwandans) recognised that violence was a disease and it is a disease like others (that) can infect people and it is passed on from generation to generation,” Holness said.
According to the Prime Minister, the violence that Rushane Barnett displayed in killing Wright and her children — Kimanda Smith, 15; Sharalee Smith, 12; Rafaella Smith, 5; and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr — was also a part of slavery that was used to extract free labour. He said Barnett could not peacefully resolve conflict that escalated into the death of the five who were his cousins.
Said Holness: “Violence was used on us in slavery. It infected us to the point where after slavery we did not engage in any process of coming to grips with this violence and so it passed on from generation to generation, until now it is so ingrained in how we think that if a man steps on your toe, your first reaction is going to be violence. We use violence in how we bring up our children. We have a problem, it is a cultural problem. We respond with violence without thinking”.
The prime minister stated that this has transformed in several different ways in Jamaican society, including violence being used in intimate relationships and domestic affairs, with young men not equipped to resolve conflict peacefully.
Holness said that on the legislative end, the government will soon receive a report from the Anti-Violence Commission which will help in charting a course the government will take in the effort to reduce the level of violence in society.
In the meantime he said, the changes to the Firearm Bill, the New Bail Act, reviews of Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) and the revisions of the Offences Against the Person Act, Domestic Violence Act and Childcare and Protection Act are measures being looked at to curtail the violence.
Holness said that socially, measures are also being worked on to ensure that individuals who have been in contact with the law are spotted and a violent intervention programme implemented to prevent them from reoffending, as in the case with Barnett.