Finally, after over a year of dilly-dallying the Government has passed a bill aimed at ridding the nation of violence (mainly caused by gangs and inflicted by the gun).
The bill sailed through the lower House with bi-partisan approval, and although the debate in the Senate went on for quite some time, it got passed again with bi-partisan support. The law as it is now, allows for the Prime Minister and the National Security Council to declare anywhere a zone of special operations. Some people look at the new law as a breath of fresh air which will see us being both ‘tough on crime while fixing the causes’, but though this bill may make some who reside in the affluent neighbourhoods feel like something positive is being done, the reality is that no lasting positive changes will be made by this bill while it opens the way for Jamaica to become a police state.
This bill, much like its failed predecessor the Suppression of Crimes Act, will come to nothing more than poor people being taken advantage of while failing to actually address the root causes of crime. It is very backward and in many ways puts the cart before the horse. The prime example being the ‘clear, hold, build’ model that they have been touting.
Now, it sounds good and comes across as a straightforward fix, but ask yourself, where are these members of the social service who are to ‘build’ coming from? When last did you see an advert in the papers recruiting for this key job, this job that is at the heart of this plan? Are we to send in the already stretched CDA or some other underfunded, undermanned and overstretched agency?
While much talk and hot air has been wasted on crime, no one during this entire debate has looked at what is possibly the biggest thing stopping us from fighting crime. It is no secret that certain persons who live in rarefied neighbourhoods are the ones who finance the guns coming into the wharf to arm men in the ghetto who can’t even buy chicken back. We have seen where this model will lead us.
We saw it from the 70s to 90s, and for those of us too young to remember what that looked like, look no further than Brazil and Rio where even after a decade of ‘clear, hold and build’ for the Olympics and World Cup the favelas are still just as violent as before, only with more police brutality.
The law as written and passed is actually mind-boggling in parts. It strips us of our freedoms and liberties while putting far too much power in the hands of a notoriously corrupt constabulary, the army (which isn’t viewed in a much better light) and a small group of overreaching politicians. It gives the security forces such arbitrary powers under very vague circumstances that are open to abuse.
Take for example Objects of Act 3 (d): Empowers members of the Joint Force to search a person, vehicle or place without a warrant, within a zone, if they reasonably suspect that an offence has been, is being or is about to be committed. That bit of legislation is so wide and expansive that it, in reality, will enable the security forces to search anywhere in that zone because they have a hunch, instead of actual proof. A piece of legislation that opens the public up to arbitrary and unjustified stops and searches because a crime is being committed nearby, it is the lazy man’s police work.
Now, regardless of how stringent the regulations of subsection (2) are (and they are actually pretty black and white), we have seen on a daily basis where persons from both major political parties, both while in Government and Opposition, frequently play fast and loose with the law and freely associate with known criminals. We see where laws are implemented on certain persons or groups based on partisan loyalty and who can pay the most. With scamming now almost half of what tourism brings into the coffers of this nation (almost one billion dollars according to a VICE article) how do we expect to get these young men (and women) who have been inculcated with this get rich quick mentality? With the drug scene still prevalent (and really at its same monstrous heights since the deportation of Christopher Coke and Leebert Ramcharan) where are the plans that we should be putting in place to break the deadly underground and illegal triangular trade we have with the Mexicans, who now control some of our largest and most profitable illegal ganja fields, and the Colombians?
Where is the plan to strengthen the border to stop criminals from foreign lands coming to our shores to assist in doing us so much harm? A simple walk to any bar on Water Lane in the vicinity of West Street downtown will have you hearing French creole (in the Haitian dialect) and Spanish (in the dialect of persons from the Dom Rep, Colombia and Mexico). Without a safe border how will the crime and the importation of guns be stemmed?
With corruption permeating throughout all layers of Jamaican government institutions just how exactly will this crime bill help stem crime long term?
With little to naught being done to tackle the root of crime (such as chronic poverty, a lack of education and little hope of finding a decent job and housing etc) coupled with the total lack of any agenda of tackling those who both finance and profit from the crime that has taken root in the nation then we can safely assume that this Zone of Special Operation will be a dud. It is nothing but a sick repetition of the Suppression Of Crimes Act and the results will be the same, an abject failure coupled with the eventual spike in violent crime.
Instead of aiming for the ‘silver bullet’ to forever eliminate crime (which doesn’t exist) let us instead roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of actually tackling crime. Let’s improve our education system, employ our people and ensure that poverty becomes a thing of the past. Let’s aim to rid ourselves of the rats uptown so that they can stop offering spurious claims of get-rich quick schemes to the kids in the ghetto who only want to eat and see no way out. If not, then let’s give the keys of state to the army and police as this bill already leaves the door ajar for them to take it.