Generally, it’s hard to tackle social issues in a vacuum. Everything is connected to everything else in some way.
Sometimes, we can do what economists do: apply ‘ceteris paribus‘ and assume “all other things being equal”, as a way of trying to deal with an issue as if nothing else will be affected. We know it’s artificial, but it’s a way of stopping your head from exploding.
Othertimes, you have to take the view that you have a particular backdrop and that will help frame your considerations.
When I think about problems in Jamaica, I cannot go for the heroic economics assumption, because I know that other things are far from equal and that is often one of the factors that is driving the problem. So, I try to go with the backdrop approach. In Jamaica’s case, I may use the frame that economic conditions are very difficult and have been that way for decades. People, therefore, position their actions in the context that financial conditions will be difficult. That may make them tend toward certain behaviour that worsens the problem. So, when there’s a shortage of foreign currency, those who are earning or gaining it may tend to horde it, thus making the situation worse.
In trying to tackle many issues in Jamaica, the idea that the country is mired in violence is hard to dislodge. So, although much of general life seems safe and normal, there is an overlay of horrific violence that may have its origins in gangs, drugs, and guns, but may spill over into the lives of people not really related to those activities. The litany of horror stories is really quite gut-wrenching: general abuse, maiming, shooting, stabbing, chopping, etc. People are taking out their anger and frustration with life and each other in ways that defy reasons. That social violence, however, has an added component that is not uniquely Jamaican but is a well-known local characteristic.
One of the things that makes Jamaica seem very different from many other countries is the high rate of killings by ‘agents of the State’. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) reported what seems like a startling statistics. While 80 civilians were killed by agents of the State, 36 deaths recorded in October alone.
According to INDECOM, in the last 15 years, Jamaica has been averaging 200 security force-related fatalities annually. Data through September indicate that Jamaica is on track to exceed that number by about 10 percent.
Amensty International has been on Jamaica’s case over this for several years, monitoring trends since the 1980s. They note that the rate of lethal police shootings in Jamaica is one of the highest in the world. Police accounts of victim-initiated “shoot-outs” are often disputed by witness accounts and contradicted by forensic evidence. With new technology, such as mobile phones with cameras and videos, people have witnessed some incidents where police have killed first and sought answers later.
People will ask many questions about this trend. The apparent spike in recent months may reflect an increase in confrontations between police and alleged criminals, as part of what may be termed ‘increased crime fighting efforts’.
In a country regularly described as being plagued by crime, I would understand that many people would see this development with mixed to positive reactions. The criminals who are a scourge are apparently being given ‘justice’ swiftly, albeit brutally. The police may well be in a situation where they could justify their actions in terms of ‘kill or be killed’. They have the means to use deadly force and choose to use it.
Others may say “This is not right.” Why are the police killings at such a high rate and can that not be curbed? Jamaica’s security forces have long had a reputation for being brutal, and are much disliked for that reason. Amnesty has also documented instances of brutality that seems more systematic and systemic than random. Interactions between citizens and the police are often heated, so one should not be surprised that interactions between police and criminals would be like Alice’s tea party. But, could it really be expected that Jamaica would be any different?
Like Jamaican economic fortunes, this is not something that will turn around quickly. Who will around to see it happen?