SOEs — a bad business all roundTuesday, November 30, 2021
BY REIYA LAWRENCE
After spending almost two years in lockdowns — of varying forms — it would be fair to assume that the Jamaican citizenry would be acutely aware of the socio-economic and emotional challenges that accompany these restrictions. It would not be far-fetched to assume that the national discourse around restriction of movement would finally shine a spotlight on whether or not life sentences are inhumane. Instead, the country has found itself revisiting the idea that creating what are essentially enclaves within Jamaica will minimise violent crimes on the island. Certainly, the Government of Jamaica is aware of the many human rights violations this particular action attracts.
In a 2018 human rights report published by the United States Department of State, “The Ministry of Health reported major problems, including the lack of functioning bathroom facilities, lighting, and handwashing stations; poor ventilation; and inadequate drainage. Ministry inspectors noted illnesses caused by cockroaches, rats, mosquitoes, and flies. Detainees consumed nutritionally poor meals.” This was during the state of public emergency (SOE) which began in January of that year. The conditions under which people were detained were also in opposition to the tenets of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Jamaica is a signatory.
Members of the armed forces stationed at these areas have also been critical of the limited resources the Government has made available to them. “The shifts I work do not allow for eating on time or even to get a balanced meal based on what is available to us during this work period, and these are just the tip of the iceberg,” was a statement made to The Gleaner in November 2021 by an officer. Jamaicans should be concerned by this revelation since short periods of fasting can significantly affect cognition.
According to a 2020 article published by the Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, only about five per cent of energy from an alternative source can be utilised by the brain when glucose is not available. This is significantly low when compared to the approximately 20 per cent required by the brain during rest. Rest, which some officers have alleged is impossible with 15-hour work shifts without sleep and no adequate seating area or furniture. This was also revealed in the investigation done by The Gleaner.
There is also an overwhelming body of work in physiology that purports the idea that the sight of guns increases the violent interactions between the police and the policed. Professor Brad Bushman of Ohio State University claims that, “Weapons increase all of those aggressive thoughts, feelings, hostile appraisals, and the type of thinking that somebody's out to get you, or wants to hurt you.” Recognising all of these catalysts, it stands to reason that this could easily become a breeding ground for human rights violations by the State.
There is also potential for women and members of other vulnerable groups to be targeted by officers under the guise of 'serving and protecting'. Recently a local newspaper published an article of a fairytale romance that led to marriage. Missing from the conversation was the fact that the officer approach the woman during a curfew period. The officer later revealed that he was certain the woman was meant to be his wife and so he did what was necessary to ensure this became a reality.
Crime and violence is a major issue and one of growing concern in Jamaica. Like all other nations, Jamaica has spent years trying to eliminate criminal activities from the land engulfed within its shores. Unfortunately the strategy has almost exclusively been to meet violence and aggression with violence and aggression. Maybe it is time to consider using something other than violence and/or aggression to address the violence and aggression on the island.