Pubdate: Sun, 2 Dec 2007
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2007 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Peter D. Phillips, Contributor
Note: Peter Phillips is a former National Security Minister.
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


The brutal slaying of one student by another at my old school, Jamaica
College, last week, followed by the horrifying shooting of an
assistant commissioner of police and a constable, highlight once again
the tragic extent to which violence and antisocial behaviour have
taken hold of the society. Murders, shootings, gang conflicts on our
streets and in our schools sadly have become everyday occurrences for
some time now.

Understandably, among a populace terrified and fearful of the threat
of apparently random and unpredictable violence, extreme solutions are
being called for. Some call for the police to be even more extreme and
violent in their response to the criminals. In this view they call for
those police officers with the reputation of being the most violent to
be elevated to positions of control. The call for execution, legal or
extra-legal, of criminals is part of this demand for the
ever-increasing application of official violence which is driven by
our collective experience of terror.

Root Causes

Understandable as it is, and while obviously a considerable degree of
resolve will be needed, including the determination to use appropriate
levels of force, we will need some clear understanding as to the
causes of this epidemic of violence if we are to find meaningful and
lasting solutions and not simply respond to our collective craving for

It is significant that the current epidemic is not restricted to
Jamaica. Right across the Caribbean, from Guyana in the south to the
Bahamas in the north, all states are facing a similar outbreak of
violence. In Trinidad & Tobago, the murder rate increased by more than
a factor of four between 1990 and 2005, moving from seven per 100,000
of population to 31 per 100,000. In Guyana, the rate moved from 11 to
19 per 100,000 between 2001 and 2005. Jamaica topped the list, with
murders moving from 21 per 100,000 in 1990 to 64 per 100,000 in 2005
the data are less readily accessible, similar levels of violence and
murder are evident in the Eastern Caribbean, creating a generalised
sense of crisis and imminent doom, such that the issue is now moving
to the top of the agenda of regional cooperation.

As much as there are those who would like to ignore it or deny it, the
common thread linking the experience of violence across the various
Caribbean states is the trade in illegal drugs. As the demand for
so-called recreational drugs, notably marijuana and cocaine, expanded
in the United States in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the
emergence of the hippie counterculture in the 1970s, the Caribbean
emerged as a major zone for the production and trans-shipment of these
drugs in the l980s and 1990s.

Drug Money

The issue is not just simply the fact of the emergence of the drug
trade as a moral question. Rather, the significance of this lies in
the fact that the emergence of this trade provided the stimulus for
the consolidation of major organised crime groupings disposing of
tremendous resources extending to billions of dollars. In turn, the
finances were used to acquire arms and to corrupt critical national
institutions in order to secure protection for their criminal activities.

Thus spawned by the drug trade, these criminal enterprises, driven by
the search for profit, soon made crime, and more specifically crime
rooted in violence or the threat of violence, their general business.
Extortion, murder for hire, robbery, in addition to drug dealing,
became part of their general operations.

In this way organised crime became the main factor instigating and
generalising violence in the society. A significant part of the
influence exercised by the 'dons' of organised crime is to be seen in
their open and ostentatious style of living; their fancy houses, the
convoys of top-of-the-line vehicles, and the bling, all visible signs
of the success, status and power. Not all the big figures in organised
crime pursue the same level of open display of wealth, but in all
cases they represent role models as to the success to be derived from
a violent lifestyle. They are emulated by generations of youngsters in
poor communities, each trying in their own way to get on to the ladder
of success.

Organised crime in narcotics leads to other forms of crime. As the
Jamaican organised crime groups established themselves
internationally, money laundering, weapons trading, people trafficking
and other transnational dimensions of criminal activity became
embedded in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. All of this is not
to say that other factors have not contributed to the rampant violence
which now confronts us. Political parties, by their association with
criminals and violence, have helped legitimise violence as a means of
seeking benefits and meeting personal or community objectives. As a
consequence, trust has been weakened between the people and their
leaders as the populace has grown increasingly cynical about politics.

Antiquated Criminal Justice

Equally important is the fact that we retain an essentially antiquated
set of arrangements in our criminal justice system. Trials suffer from
interminable delays, witnesses are unnecessarily exposed to those they
accuse and police investigators are forced to deal with outmoded laws
which often protect the guilty and punish the innocent. Some changes
are being heralded in the Report on the Reform of the Courts which was
completed during the last administration.

Similarly, we expect the measures for reform of the police force, and
its organisational and disciplinary methods which will be forthcoming
from the Strategic Review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, which is
currently being undertaken, will be speedily implemented. No doubt,
too, the fact that we have allowed vast numbers of our young men and
women to be trapped in conditions of hopelessness in our inner cities,
without effective educational opportunities, and without much prospect
of meaningful employment, has also contributed to the violence. It is
this pool of unemployed and often unemployable youngsters who provide
the ready recruits and the 'shotta' foot soldiers for the organised
crime groups.

Any effective anti-crime strategy must include a social intervention
component. An important start has been made with the Citizens Security
and Justice Programme and the Community Security Initiatives, but
these need to be refined and expanded substantially. There can be no
doubt whatever that this epidemic of criminal violence can bring the
society to its knees. Any effort to counteract it must, however, deal
with the heart of the problem, which is the various networks of
organised crime which have taken root in the country.

To do this will require courage, determination and sincerity on the
part of those who lead. Some of the persons who should be targets of
their investigation will be persons close to them in their political
undertakings. They dare not flinch in this regard: Jamaica and the
world will be watching. The battle will not be easy; no doubt there
will be setbacks along the way. If there is any issue around which the
country should find common purpose, it should be this one. Sadly,
however, instead of setting out a vision of how the battle is to be
waged and outlining the course of the campaign to defeat the monster,
those who lead in this area have chosen the lowest road of petty
partisanship and political point-scoring. That simply won't cut it.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake