Saturday, October 15, 2016

National Affairs: Bangin', Gangs operate with Impunity, while Police seem merely Puny

Spanish Town.
Montego Bay.

Holy Ghost.

The above is more than a Christian/spiritual reference. On a more obscure scale, jazz lovers know it refers to John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler, the trio of saxophonists who -among others - helped push a less harmonically constricted version of jazz (call it "free", I don't particularly like that term) into main stream consideration from the late 60s into the early 70s (Sanders, the "son" in this particular trinity, is still going strong, the other 2 having passed - within 7 years of each other).

By my own stretching, it also refers to the three main urban areas in Jamaica where gang activity has been wreaking havoc and grabbing headlines. Spanish Town is actually the oldest of the three chronologically, but I don't know anyone who could argue with Kingston as the "father" in this model. Spanish Town

Medieval drains addled
By a 10,000-proof cocktail
Of liquid shit chased with
fit only
For dogs and derelicts
Leavened by plastic bag fruits and
3-day old Chinese food
No resurrection and instead of
‘Crucify him!”
The shouts are
“Cross Roads!”
“Half Way Tree!”
The crush of wage slaves
Crammed 5-in-a-row as
Hell drivers play shuffle-and-deal
With State goons on
Churches like ships
At anchor
The collared Conquistadors
Delivering the believers into
Varied stages of
As they search for gold
Of their own

To varying degrees, this scenario is replicated in both of the other two  - wholly inadequate infrastructure exacerbated by  politically-biased "development" and massive rural-urban drift, as agriculture diminished in importance (or, more accurately, fluctuated), sent farmers scurrying out of rural bases into "Town" for promised jobs in factories that did not always materialize to the level in which they were hyped.

Jamaica has been constantly ranked as one of the country’s with the highest levels of crime. Both petty crimes and murders have fluctuated over the years. Mostly increasing by large percentages and decreasing by smaller numbers.
In 2005, Jamaica had 1,674 murders or a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people, the highest per capita rate in the world that year. The certainly was a factor in the November 2008 Parliament decision to retain the death penalty, which is performed by hanging.

There were 1,682 reported murders in 2009 and 1,428 in 2010. Since 2011 the murder rate has continued to fall following the downward trend started in 2010. In 2012, the Ministry of National Security reported a 30 percent decrease in murders.

The decrease has been attributed to increases in police patrols, curfews and more effective anti-gang activities. Can this this really be accepted though? In a climate where both extra-judicial killings by the Police and  the slaying of Police officers has increased, are we really dealing with violence in the society simply by providing more cars and personnel?

Recent flare-ups of gang- driven violence in downtown Kingston and sections of "Spain" (as the old capital is often called) suggest the answer is "No". Commissioner of Police Karl Williams has put the number of active gangs throughout the country at over 200; that's active, meaning their operations are occupying law enforcement and show up on Police blotters. This is way too high a number for a country with a population of about 3 million; I seriously doubt the cities of Los Angeles or Houston in the US, notorious for similar activity, have that many.

And then, we have to ask, what is sustaining these gangs? As in the case of outlaw groups around the world, its a case of  frustration, minor to zero positive parental models, and the siren call of notoriety and even profit that "the gangsta life" has been seen as offering. This latter reason is certainly a major factor in the ongoing Lotto scam activities in Western Jamaica. With large sums of money being generated - thanks to the gullibility and greed (yes, I said it!) of US citizens, scammers have been turning on each other in an attempt to "grab all the marbles" as the phrase goes.

And don't believe that drug-running has faded into oblivion. There are still rendezvous taking place between Jamaicans and Colombians bearing coke, with that coke in turn being offered, along with marijuana, to Haitians (and Americans), in exchange for firearms - guns which, as the Commissioner has shared, are often in pristine condition.

Without putting am major dent in this operation, there will be little or no let-up in gangland killings, including of the Police, whose presence now poses little, if any threat to the gang recruits. Full legalization of marijuana (growing, consumption, distribution and export), could go a long way to toward diverting the current drugs-for-guns trade, provided the erstwhile "druggists" can show a clean police record (not that difficult). But even that is a ways off, given the glacial pace of certain legislation in Jamaica.

And this is not simply an issue of getting a handle on murders. The country's rapes per capita  rate was listed as the 6th highest in the world for the period 1998 - 2000, at 0.4766 per 1,000 of the population. South Africa tops that table with 1,1954, with the Seychelles 2nd on 0.7883. Corruption is another prevalent crime with 45.56% of business managers identifying its influence in business, the 17th highest rate in the world.

Clearly, officialdom, big business and indeed community members are all complicit to varying degrees. Among the people stepping in community marches "for peace and safety" are some of the folks harbouring and tipping off their criminal relatives, lovers and friends as to the movements and intentions of the Police, and there's no shortage of anecdotes about the Police themselves being the informers. Big business, partly out pragmatism, also stays cozy with gangsta types (out of public view of course), often looking to cut deals to divert certain activities away from their offices, or in some cases, to help "launder illegitimate proceeds.

Simply, this problem is beyond money being thrown at it. We also have to throw in some genuine intervention on the social side - sustainably fund organizations that have a track record for community-building and plow even more into extra-mural education and sports across urban and rural centres. The returns on this investment may be slower, but over time, I believe, they will be greater than  doubling the size of the  police force or quadrupling the number of vehicles.

We also need to show more concern for enacting justice. The current flap concerning a judge's decision to "ban" social media comment on the ongoing X6 murder trial is already casting a dark shadow over the perception of the justice system as haven for the monied class and hell for those without significant material resources.

Our urban centres can become models of safety and progress, so long as we don't allow ourselves to fall into the old stale thinking patterns of more enforcement = lower statistics = safer communities.

There is, after all, another "trinity" to consider:

[Real] Development;

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