The economist in me could easily see a link between crime and economic conditions: high crime when economies are depressed, and vice versa. However, there is very little conclusive research on the relationship between crime and the economy. Nevertheless, I could argue that Jamaica has been through decades of harsh economic situations, therefore, crime should be high: people are struggling to make a life and in that struggle, desperation becomes the norm; crime comes from that desperation. But, the violent crime seen in Jamaica cannot be well explained by those economic circumstances. Many countries have harsher economic conditions, yet do not revert to the kind of violent crime we see in Jamaica, especially the high rate of murders.
We know that gun violence was introduced here on the back of politics and drugs. We now live in a society where killing has become more than an every day event. Many things make violent crime in Jamaica an especially disturbing factor. For me, the most disturbing is how easy it seems to be to get away with crimes. We were told recently by a deputy commissioner that the clear-up rate for murders was a paltry 29 percent. The sheer volume of murders relative to the size of the police force is overwhelming. If we could, we should import some of the police force of a country with very low crime rates. Put bluntly, the criminals seem to be winning.
In a country that struggles to find work for many of its people, crime continues to grow and finds new slots for those seeking vacancies with little difficulty. People searching for legitimate income who cannot find it, then revert to illegal sources and other illegal activities. Unemployed people have more time to commit crime. Gangs can be important in sustaining crime, because ‘turf’ has to be protected to try to maximize the benefits from control over certain geographical areas, or areas of activity.
The latest data on murders show they continue to occur at a rate of about 3 each day. Each day has many breaking points, and from an early age, Jamaicans learn to live by ‘taking away’.
Crime is now systemic in Jamaica. It is everywhere. Violent crime has stretched to touch almost every part of this small island. We have come from a violent past and violence is often a part of resolving many disputes. “Man chops man over dispute…” is not such an odd report. Just a few days ago, I read a report of men being shot at a shop while playing dominoes; one died. Violent crimes now occur in broad daylight.
Reports in yesterday’s papers of hired killers coming as cheaply as J$5000 (US$50) were shocking for the low price. That will give the contracted person just a little more than one week’s pay at the minimum wage level (J$3700). We know that J$50 is all it takes to get a prostitute, so we get some idea of what is going on in terms of living life low down on economic and social pole. But, it’s emblematic of how taking a life really is seen as cheap by some.
During any day, the news reports of murders or other violent crime are constant. I’ve tried not to find them too depressing, but it’s not easy. The official word is that violent crime spiked in the latter months of this year, for a range of reasons. The third quarter spike in murders Minister Bunting attributed (during last week’s “Unite for Change” initiative) to the release of a number of gang leaders from prison; an increase in murders in the course of robberies; increased trafficking in drugs (and thus in firearms); and a slight decline in police morale (police feel threatened, in some way, by the presence of organizations such as INDECOM, Jamaicans for Justice, etc).
We live in an era where the prevailing images of the Jamaican police tend to be negative, whether based on perceived and actual corruption, incompetence, ineffectiveness, unresponsiveness, brutality, and more. Also, the prevalence of “informa fi dead” attitudes means that working with the police is not seen as a good civic duty.
Whatever is in the culture of the police force that makes them act less than friends of the people than foes is something that ought to be studied.
That’s a huge problem if the intention is to get the whole population to work together to defeat crime and criminals. You cannot expect such support when the main pillar of crime-fighting is so weak.
In defence of the police, we know that they are both understaffed and lack resources. They are set up to fail, as things stand now.
I don’t have any magical solutions for solving crime. I’m not convinced that death penalties really deter; they have not done so where they exist. Anyone prepared to kill another person is often not so concerned about losing their life. Often, they operate in a kill-or-be-killed world already, so who’s doing the killing may not matter.
Getting the mass of the population involved is really the only lasting solution. Everyone has to be committed to work against crime and those who want to live by it. Unfortunately, many people have their lives and livelihoods supported by crime, minor and major. So, it’s another of those ‘look in the mirror’ moments for Jamaicans.