The recent ruling from the courts which stated that the State’s use of State of Emergency (SOE) powers, including indefinite detention, is illegal as it relates to crime-fighting is similar to that of a bomb going off. Just like that, the Government’s plan to use this power and infringe on our rights in the attempt to stem the bloodshed from crime and violence has (pending appeal) been slapped down severely, hampering what seemed to be future plans — at least based on statements by the chief of police — that these draconian powers would need to be enforced for at least 5 years for there to be concrete results.
This is only the second biggest piece of news this year showing once again that the State — that is JLP, PNP and their financiers — need to take the issue of crime and the things which cause it seriously and craft workable plans which include all Jamaicans.
The first bombshell which arrived earlier in the year was the Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) report which showed us that our prisons are nothing more than warehouses for poor people who go years without seeing a judge and, in some cases, after decades end up dying in prison before their case is even heard. This confirmed a point which Jamaicans have known about for years but have either chosen to ignore or believe the lie from the politicians/police that all people in jail deserve to be there.
The appeal is welcome for the people who have, over the years, highlighted the breaches. I feel comfortable that the Appeal Court will side with the lower court, thus putting an end to the debate once and for all. But that still leaves us with the question which has haunted us for some 40 years — how do we suppress our crime rate which has, over these decades, risen to be one of the highest in the world?
The ending of crime in this country — at least the extreme violent crimes which are linked to drugs, scamming and our warped sense of masculinity — is a long road but is a task which can be done and many eminent scholars and laypersons have offered workable solutions, even if they are admittedly long-term solutions.
First of all, a total revamping of the police force is needed as well as the military. It is an open secret that gang members have infiltrated both security branches; it is also common street knowledge that quite a few officers in both organisations have comfortable and profitable relationships with some gangs. This, along with a non-existent practice of evidence-based investigations, and our ingrained culture of shoot first and police the poor, has hampered any effort to combat crime.
A new police force is needed, a force which is not tied to the racist/classist element, as our current force is. A new police force which puts primacy on investigations, evidence gathering and the securing of witnesses is needed, and to do this we must bring in the best, brightest and most eager people who are incorruptible and who follow the letter and spirit of the law. For this, proper remuneration would be needed as these are people who would otherwise go into law, teaching or even join the army.
Following that, a crackdown on the bigwigs, the financial and political muscle behind the gangs needs to be commenced. No sweeping up of the streets will cure our crime problem while the people who profit handsomely and almost without risk continue to be free and go about unmolested by the State.
A redirection from the gangs and a focus on the funders and political backers needs to be undertaken by a police force which runs on intelligence and data
Everyone knows that these gangs have mega-funders. It answers the rhetorical question we always ask — how do poor people, unable to afford decent shoes, afford a brand new AK-47? Just as it answers the rhetorical question of how do these gentlemen and increasingly ladies manage to evade justice even during the rare time the police have hard evidence on them?
Going after the street soldiers, the trigger pullers and head-choppers may temporarily abate crime, but the root will remain, and new, young blood will take the corrupt coin or illicit protection and continue the cycle of escalating violence. That is unless we go after the funders, backers and promoters of this dangerous life and strip them of their power.
A total revamp of our education system and social reform must be undertaken in this effort to finally end this crime problem. The unspoken truth of our crime problem is that while up to 60% of violent crimes are gang-related (drugs and scamming), at least 40% of our violent crimes have nothing to do with these things and stem from ‘domestic disputes’.
Education and societal reform will do two things, firstly it would enable the Jamaican citizen to reason out of a problem rather than resorting to violence (often out of frustration or not realising there are alternatives), and secondly it would enable us to create a society which views women as more than sexual vessels and objects for conquest or destruction if they displease you.
This would also help in the grander scheme of things as an improved education system creates more employable citizens who are paid well, diverting them from crime, while also creating a society which, due to new social norms, would be more averse to entering a life of crime.
The creation and full funding of a form of social security stretching beyond PATH or the proposed unemployment benefit is needed. Too many Jamaicans find themselves marginalised, unable to get a job in the formal sector and unable to make it in the informal sector. Too many, once unable to enter these sectors, engage in crime as a means to gain employment (this is even acknowledging that quite a few criminals are criminals because they love it).
A form of social security, not just cash handouts (we are broke after all), but maybe a stipend and classes or skills training would go a far way to closing potential avenues to crime which are currently open and filled by people who feel they have no hope of entering the system.
Land reform, along with its partner housing reform, is needed if we are to nip in the bud the crime monster. People have an innate sense of pride and self-worth. This is eaten away and replaced with resentment and hatred when, for example, one lives in a two-room shack which houses 10 people. This is compounded when you find yourself either sharing amenities with scores of other people (as is the case in our squalid tenements and shantytowns) or tilling your woefully inadequate plot of land which you have captured and are praying every day that you don’t get kicked off.
Until people have a decent place to live, which they can call their own, and have a reason to want a stable system — a feeling that they have some form of ownership of the nation, something which has been the dream of the peasant and proletarian classes — then they will always be susceptible to entering a life of crime, fighting against a system which they feel, justifiably, they have no part in and have no say in.
Industrial reform is needed if we are to end the scourge, and this ties in intimately with the previous points of land reform and housing reform. A person with no hope of decent employment, or any employment for that matter, is an individual who is ripe for a life in crime. A person who is chronically underpaid or paid infrequently is an individual whose sense of worth is being whittled away and becomes more open to illicit activities, either as an active or passive participant.
Mass employment with decent remuneration which allows for a person to live with dignity is needed, this is an issue the State alone cannot fix and is where our civic leaders and socially conscious companies need to come into play. If we are serious about fighting crime, then they must play their part and help to plug potential avenues by providing jobs, and well-paying jobs at that.
Prison reform must be done hand-in-hand with crime suppression; the reasons for this are common sense and should be obvious to all. Yes, some criminals will have to be put away for a long time, if not forever as some can’t or don’t want to reform their ways, but they do not make up the majority as most studies have shown.
We need to create a prison system which not only sequesters bad actors from society, but also trains individuals who will not only be able to find work upon release, but also who understand why they went away, are repentant and have managed to further themselves in some way. Until this is done, all we are doing when we do lock up the invariably young criminal (ages 17-30) we are sending them to hell for 30-40 years where they can hone their skills and become even bigger monsters upon release.
Boots on the ground and force will be needed. The gangs, after all, have to be broken up. It has long been a red herring coming from certain security ministers and police officials that rights groups or people who decry police abuses are lovers of crime and are lily-livered. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are people who appreciate that force will be needed at times; we simply ask that it be a targeted use of force driven by intelligence.
Boots on the ground and force in this setting would not only mean flooding a police division or simply shooting up known and alleged gunmen. Boots on the ground must mean, along with the usual flooding, that community relationships are built. It means ingratiating yourself with the community beyond the confines of your work hours or daily duties.
Community policing, that is having the police known to and interacting with the residents, is an effort as old as time, has been shown to work and is something we should seriously take on board. Force, in this situation, does not simply mean the firing of shots or the brutal take-down of a criminal, though these will remain necessary. It also means reasoning with individuals, moral suasion and threats which can be backed up.
This, again, has throughout history been shown to work, and in a country where some 40% of crimes are domestic in their nature, this method of force may just be the answer to stemming at least part of our crimes while at the same time not pressuring the prisons, lockups and courts which should, in theory, be used for bigger crimes (stalking, physical abuse etc).
Only after taking away the reasons which lead to crime — poverty, influential pushers who evade capture, lack of jobs and education, a lack of housing and an actual safety net — will we see long-lasting results from the inevitable, and if we are real, necessary boots on the ground. It makes no sense cracking skulls today if three more take their place; it makes no sense locking up for life or executing these criminals if future generations are faced with the same bleak prospects that led these criminals to this lifestyle.
Are there people who are too far gone? Heavens yes. Do these people need to be taken off the streets? Yes. But until an alternative life and lifestyle are offered to potential recruits, and until the buyers of drugs and those who protect them are held to account we are all fighting a losing game.