Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Jamaica’s Crime Dilemma

A Worrying Problem
Crime continues to dominate the everyday lives of us islanders. In 2005 alone the murder tally hovered over 1670. We have yet again broken our own record. Most Jamaicans are now living a life saddled with unabated fear. Our capital city with the exception of Knutsford Boulevard and a few other pockets are largely deserted at nights. It is without a doubt that the impact of rampant crime and violence is being felt across all spheres of our society.

Living on the Edge
Many of us consciously and unconsciously alter our lifestyles in order to enhance that fading semblance of security. Some for the most part intentionally avoid driving through ‘volatile’ communities, disregard traffic signals at late night, refuse to walk even a quarter mile in the day and nights, install low cost to expensive security mechanisms and arm ourselves with knives, machetes, and for the lucky few guns. One seriously wonders how much longer Jamaicans can continue to live a life consumed with fear. For how long can we tolerate living in the ‘murder capital of the world’? And can young people in particular seriously consider living copious and blissful lives in a country where their seems to be a rapidly declining state of law and order.

Heavyhanded Policing
Scholars, politicians, commentators and veranda society have spoken ad nauseam on the causes of all the spiraling crime and violence. There seems to be an emerging consensus on all sides that social and economic conditions along with the criminal justice apparatus would have to be ameliorated before crime and violence can be brought under any real control. Despite this however much of the debate on how to cauterize the mind-boggling spate of crime and violence plaguing our nation, centers on the utilization of Jamaican style heavy handed policing and its typical offshoots of extra judicial killings and the deprivation of human rights. Do you recall by the Minister of National Security and PNP Presidential contender Dr. Peter Phillips’ call for “severe, extreme, resolute measures”?

Social Structure Theories
Conservatives must accept the fact that heavy-handed policing will not break the strong back of Jamaica’s mammoth crime dilemma. There are several criminological theories that emphasise the relation between social and economic factors and the perpetration of crime. Noted American criminologist, Larry Siegel, through his work ‘Criminology’ explored extensively Social Structure theories. Siegel noted “As a group, social structure theories suggest that social and economic forces operating in deteriorated lower class areas push many of their residents into criminal behaviour patterns.” These negative social and economic factors include high unemployment, underemployment, shabby housing, high school drop out rate, single parent households and teenage/young adult gangs.

The Social Class Divide
Though middle and upper income Jamaicans engage in criminal activities they do so at a much lesser frequency. How often does one hear of a Norbrook or Cherry Gardens young male resident being involved in armed robberies and carjackings? And, why is it that our middle and upper income neighbourhoods rarely experience the torment of marauding gunmen engaged in turf warfare? It is a fact that the most violent crimes occurs in poor inner-city communities. Arcadia and Grants Pen are both located in the same geographic area, yet Grants Pen residents are accustomed to standard violent flare-ups whilst Arcadia residents are largely unscathed by such violence. The only nuisance related to violence experienced by Arcadia residents is the sound of gunfire coming across from Grants Pen. The same phenomenon exists across many parts of the Corporate area, St. Catherine and Montego Bay.

Differing Circumstances
Sociologists believe that one’s socialization and social environment shapes behaviour patterns. The average 18-year-old male in upper St. Andrew is much less likely to become a gunman than the average 18-year-old male in South St. Andrew. In this case there is a dramatic disparity between both adolescents. One is given a quality education, lives in comfortable housing, has educated and gainfully employed parents, and is presented with a plethora of options for future satisfaction. The other is socially and economically marginalized with the odds stacked up against him. As such the latter is most likely to go the route of crime.

The solutions to our crime dilemma as mentioned above require the immediate amelioration of far too appalling social and economic conditions for the masses. There is also a desperate need for the reform of our ramshackle justice system. Certainly the trend in economic and social statistics over the last decade and a half indicates that our crime dilemma will continue to worsen. The last time Jamaica experienced economic growth was in 1990. Economic growth since then continues to be worryingly sluggish. The economy between the years 1996 and 1999 actually contracted. If our economy continues to perform lethargically talk of reducing crime is just, talk. Sustained and economic growth overtime will bring about a reprieve to many Jamaicans, as overtime employment opportunities will increase substantially. The real test on the part of the government is to ensure that economic expansion isn’t to the benefit of a few but also to ordinary working class Jamaicans.
On the social side dramatic improvements must be made in housing and education. Some positive steps have been made in these areas however they are not significant enough and seem to lack governmental resolve. Government continues to pussyfoot on addressing the wide-ranging problem in education to the continued detriment of our society. Housing is even more distressing. The simple fact that large numbers of Kingstonians lack proper sanitary facilities is an absolute embarrassment.

One cannot of course tackle crime without bringing about considerable improvements to the criminal justice system. G2K, Generation 2000, the young professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party, has over the last couple weeks presented comprehensive and solution rich reports of both the justice system and the police force. These recommendations, some of which can be easily implemented as long as there is the resolve, can go a very far way in eliminating the problems faced by both critical organs of our nation’s security apparatus.

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