Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fighting this hurricane of violence

I wrote this column before the savage murder of a family of five, including 3 children in March Pen, St Catherine.  Now everything becomes so much more urgent!  Jean

Observer column published 10 Oct 2016

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Our fast, effective hurricane preparedness plan can be a crime fighting blueprint. As we watched the press briefings on preparations for what could be a serious hit to Jamaica by Hurricane Matthew, we were impressed by the synergy and obvious concern of the authorities. Local Government Desmond McKenzie showed strong leadership and the ODPEM volunteers were exemplary. Evan Williams of our Met Office gave updates until he was hoarse – and his tracking coincided with the advisories from the US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

The Ministry of Social Security established scores of shelters, primarily in the eastern parishes, and their permanent secretary, Colette Roberts Risden had the information at her fingertips. News footage revealed that bedding and food supplies had been put in place. After the storm changed course, there were the usual criticisms and it has become wearying that a matter of natural circumstances could be so politicized. However, we are not entering into that fray.  We prefer to ask, why can’t we apply this fast-moving result-oriented template to our crime fighting issues?

Not even Hurricane Matthew could stem the death-toll from crime in the parish of St. James, and this has raised some serious questions. Why can’t we have this same level of engagement and openness about crime fighting?  The ODPEM Parish Representatives who did such a brilliant job, could be recruited by the Police Neighbourhood Watch Programme to help co-ordinate activities. The media could share information and advisories, and church groups could offer counselling and mediation. Then together we can fight this raging hurricane of violence that has been buffeting Jamaica for the past thirty-six years.

I remember a newcomer to politics recounting to me an incident where the person’s political meeting was shot up and there was credible information that it was done by political thugs.  However, news reports ascribed the incident to gang warfare.  Should this be a warning to Jamaica as we head towards the Local Government elections?  Indications are that it is going to be a very hard-fought battle. When it comes to political violence, neither of our political parties have a squeaky-clean reputation.

The best allies that we have for a peaceful Jamaica are the media.  Gone are the days when because they were so few, the thugs would threaten our reporters if they dared to delve too deep.  Our media workers are members of a strong international body of reporters, many of whom have faced great danger in defending what is right and just.  Those reporters could support our cause for a peaceful and more open society. Because this is such a closed society, let us invite our overseas media colleagues to join us in affirming the positive leaders in our midst, and exposing the negative one.

Lessons from Columbia’s Nobel Laureate

A wonderful example of courageous leadership is Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Columbia who was announced last week as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016. In his quest to end fifty-year long Civil War with FARC guerrillas, which took over 200,000 lives, he was finally able to bring their leader to the table to sign a historic Peace Deal on September 26.

In spite of a shocking vote by the people of Columbia last week to reject that Peace Deal, the Nobel Committee recognised Mr. Santos’ notable accomplishment.  He has pledged to continue working for peace. These strides have contributed to his country’s economic growth in recent years. 

Crime and our Economy

We in Jamaica should know that investors of means do serious due diligence before they put their millions into a country.  This high hurdle of crime could be overcome if all our leaders from both sides of the House resolve to end any alliance, direct or indirect, with criminal elements.

The communication recently circulated by the Economic Growth Council led by Michael Lee-Chin is heartening.  One of the eight recommendations made by the EGC is to improve citizen security. Their document states: “Improving citizen security is the most consequential growth-inducing reform that Jamaica can undertake. Jamaicans need to experience dramatically improved levels of security and feelings of personal safety. However, it requires a comprehensive approach encompassing judicial and police reform, while also addressing entrenched problems of social exclusion among other measures. Piecemeal, kneejerk responses that lack depth and perspective are unlikely to improve outcomes.”

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