Balancing lives and dismantling political garrisonsMonday, December 06, 2021
Dudley McLean II
A common mantra of Prime Minister Andrew Holness since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic is, “We must balance lives and livelihoods, #worksmart #worksafe.”
Whether by design or not, the mantra is reflective of the social values — individualism and collectivism — identified by Professor Lawrence Alfred Powell from the Centre for Leadership and Governance, The University of the West Indies, using the Schwartz dimension developed by Professor Shalom Schwartz of Hebrew University. Professor Powell says that, “In individualist cultures, the independence of the individual takes precedence over the needs of the group and society as a whole... Conversely, in collectivist cultures, group harmony takes precedence over the wishes of the individual,” ('What are the values of Jamaicans?' The Gleaner, April 21, 2010). The uniqueness of these Jamaican social values is in balancing them.
We see this dichotomy playing out in the debates over whether COVID-19 vaccines should be made mandatory. It is one of the underlying factors that has resulted in low uptake of the vaccines, resulting in only 680,159 people being fully vaccinated as at December 5 ( Jamaica-covidvax.live) of the 2.9 million population.
Balancing individualism and collectivism also affects policymakers in their efforts to fight crime and the response of the population to these policies. On one hand we see the subliminal desire of Prime Minister Andrew Holness in the declaration of his intention to steer his Government towards draconian penalties for [gun] crimes. “Anyone found with a gun [that is illegal] should start with the death penalty,” Mr Holness told his Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) annual conference on Sunday, November 28. “That's how strongly I feel about it... that's how serious we should treat it,” ( Editorial, The Gleaner, November 30, 2021).
At the same time, our policymakers, especially under the guidance of Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, will no doubt go down in Jamaica's history as those who tried to “abrogate, infringe, and abridge [our rights]” in order to maintain the tribal, political, and oppressive sore at the heart of Jamaica's democracy and an obstacle-strewn path of both major political parties — political garrison constituencies.
Case in point, states of public emergency were declared in seven of the country's police divisions, spanning the Kingston area and three western parishes, in response to Jamaica's high and under-reported levels of crime and criminal violence. The concerned police divisions include St Andrew South, Kingston West, Kingston Central, Kingston East, St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland. Interestingly, police divisions have seemingly emerged as the cosmetic makeover for the actual names of these communities in political garrisons.
These communities have been kept in political bondage by our two major political parties and their cultist, insipid, and acidic tribalism is costing Jamaica it's soul. As a matter of fact, these communities, especially since Independence, have not improved socially, but continue to deteriorate under their Members of Parliament, and the electorate who supports them live in substandard conditions and experience depression and other psychological problems from persistent poverty.
We know that “the parish of Kingston is divided into 39 political garrisons; Spanish Town, 16; and others are to be found in St James, Westmoreland, and Clarendon. Political garrisons are usually established in poverty-stricken communities. The majority of crime hot spots across Jamaica are to be found in these communities”, ('Let's take back Jamaica', Jamaica Observer, July 23, 2019).
It was therefore ironic to hear Senator Peter Bunting calling for a “state of emergencies of social interventions” for these garrison communities. And we should not have been surprised to hear former Leader of the Opposition Peter Phillips saying that, “The tribalistic impulse of our politics has led us on either side of the political divide to blame the other side for all failings, to embrace all virtues from our side, and... the system has not performed for the country as a whole,” ( The Gleaner, November 25, 2021) or former Prime Minister Bruce Golding “calling for greater focus to be placed on the resocialisation of citizens who have fallen victim to moral decay to tackle the country's high crime rate”, ( The Gleaner, November 27, 2021). The utterances of these two former senior politicians have confirmed the very poor political representation of the Members of Parliament in these communities.
Jamaicans have been experiencing a vicious cycle of exposure to violence that breeds more violence. It is known that the level of exposure of children to violence is especially high in Jamaica.
As a nation we need to go beyond the political blabbering of states of emergencies (SOEs) and address what the late Professor Fred Hickling identified 10 years ago as the psychopathic nature of Jamaicans rooted in “severe personality disorders”. According to Professor Hickling, “They have no conscience, they have no boundaries, and they are completely narcissistic. A narcissist puts him or herself right in the centre of the universe and nothing else exists in the universe except those issues around themselves...” ( Jamaica Observer, August 22, 2011).
Balancing people's lives requires urgency in addressing both our personality disorders and the dismantling of the garrison phenomenon present in these communities.
I am therefore calling upon civil society and people of conscience to join me in advocating for the immediate dismantling of the garrison phenomenon. This was the forgotten recommendation of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry on the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion, and it is still the best solution to Jamaica's crime problem.
To date, Parliament has not met to discuss this radical surgery. It was Aesop who said, “The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”
Dudley Chinweuba McLean II hails from Mandeville, Manchester, Jamaica, and is executive director of the Associación de Debate Bilingüe Xaymaca (Adebatex), promoting debating in Spanish in high schools. He is also a graduate of Codrington College, The University of the West Iindies, Cave Hill campus. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.