MONTEGO BAY, St James — Just over a week after suggesting that police and gangsters meet to stem spiralling crime in St James, Homer Davis, apparently bruised by public and political backlash, has walked back the comments.
“It is my firm belief that if someone is wanted for a crime they must be taken to custody, taken to court so that they can have their day in court. The Government that I support, the Government that I am a part of, we will not, we will never, negotiate with criminals,” Davis, the minister of state without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister (West), declared at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) divisional conference in Cambridge, St James, Sunday night.
Davis, who is also Member of Parliament for St James Southern, had made the proposal at a function in Montego Bay two Saturdays ago against the background of police statistics showing that, between January 1 and June 6 this year, a total of 104 people had been murdered in St James, 26 more than the corresponding period in 2021.
“I am really agonising over how we intercede with the gangs that are really creating havoc in our space. I have a thought process...I think if we can get the combatants, the leaders of these groups, gangs together and put them in a space and say, ‘Listen, tell me now where are you fighting for. Tell me what do you want, what do you need? What can we do to appease you?’” Davis had told guests at the function held to welcome Superintendent Carlos Russell to the St James Police Division to act for Senior Superintendent Vernon Ellis, who is on leave.
The suggestion had earned Davis support from his parliamentary colleague Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and People’s National Party Councillor Michael Troupe who represents the Granville Division in the St James Municipal Corporation. However, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang shot down the suggestion, stating firmly that he doesn’t negotiate with killers.
Davis also came under fire from the police.
On Sunday, as he walked back the suggestion, Davis said, “My comments were aimed at rescuing the vulnerable youths, those that are easy targets for gangs, to rescue them from the abyss of destruction. My intention is to play a role in the disruption of the production line where criminals can easily recruit our youths. We are challenged as the problem continues to move around the communities and into the classrooms. We need to give our youths clear knowledge of their lawful options and possibilities.”
At the same time he made an impassioned plea for Jamaicans to help prevent unattached youths across the nation from falling prey to gangs.
“My position is, there are hundreds of unattached youths — both males and females — across most communities, some of whom are known and think that the system is not for them. Some may become easy targets to be recruited by gangs and also to get involved in illegal activities,” Davis said.
“It is important for us to understand that these unattached youths need help. They are not readily coming forward asking for help because some of them just do not trust the system. We know that the challenge is real. So, therefore, it is incumbent on all of us as stakeholders: the churches, NGOs, civic organisations among others to reach out to these youths,” said Davis, who is also the Member of Parliament for St James Southern.
“There are several Government programmes to which they can be directed. The HEART programme, HEART Trust/ NSTA, the apprenticeship programme, and recently Amber programme, which is a joint effort between the Amber Group and Heart Trust/ NSTA [are some of them],” Davis said.
“There needs to be concerted efforts to reach and encourage these youngsters in a productive way. The politicians and the police cannot do it alone,” he said.
He argued that trained social workers with the requisite skills are needed to visit communities and engage these unattached youths “in an interactive manner with a view of getting them involved in meaningful programmes that can positively advance their status in life.
“My appeal to each of us is to reach out to these young unattached people in their respective communities and get them in a productive discussion,” Davis said.
The Government, he added, is doing its part to engage and train young people but there are some who do not trust the State and continue to stay away.