One thing that has struck me since I came back to Jamaica, nearly 2 years ago, is the discussion about crime and crime levels. What strikes me is that there’s not much discussion about crime, but a lot about crime levels, ie, statistics, and crime types. This is most notable when the topic is murders. The figures on those are the ones most regularly issued and liable to get media attention. But, the attention is on the figures: killings go up and down, and the media gets comments from the minister of national security, police commissioner, or both, or their spokespersons. Political opponents react, often lambasting the minister for the ‘job’ he’s not doing, whether or not the crime levels are better or worse than when the opposition spokesperson was in office. But, the citing of figures comes without little convincing analysis by the officials and media of what the numbers really reflect. The officials don’t help, because their focus tends to be on the numbers, save for some ‘explanations’ that mention special factors. One of those is ‘gang-related’ killings. But, the media do not seem to have any desire to look beyond the numbers.
The interactions between politicians are somewhat odd, as if they are really able to control crime levels. Agreed, policies that are put in place or changed are expected to have effects, but, I struggle to understand how these are supposed to work. They often talk about levels of policing and location of police. That suggests that violent crime is somehow drawn to certain places and, like cockroaches or rats, by laying bait nearby one can nab the culprits. But, the killings, while showing some degree of geographical concentration, don’t seem to want to play this game. The game gets less meaningful when, as in 2014, one notices a sharp increase in non-gang-related crimes. That suggests some endemic factors going on in the society to drive people towards violent solutions to problems.
I struggle to see much help being given consistently by academics to either the police and security forces or the media. If I missed that, sorry, but that goes to a wider issue about how academia enters into the discussion of national development issues. The Internet is not the full universe of information, but it is more readily accessible. My search there showed some useful work, including a book entitled ‘Understanidng Violent Crime in Jamaica’. But, who’s drawing on that?
The minister was happy to report a significant decline in reported crimes in 2014, including murders. I was immediately skeptical. I saw and heard nothing that went remotely near to explaining why this might have occurred. A few weeks later, murders are occurring at a much faster rate, and the talk is of their reaching 100 by month-end. That’s a magic number, as its a big round figure that grabs the attention.
The minister then said yesterday that murders are random and numbers will fall and rise. That’s a complicated point to make to the world. It basically says that we’ve no control over factors leading people to kill about three fellow citizens a day. It’s really not that dramatic that murders fall from say 3.39 a day to 2.88. It’s still about 3. We’ve not put a finger in what leads to that high rate. We can get excited positively when the number is one or less a day for a long period. Likewise, we could be really alarmed if the figure went to about 6 for any extended period. But, hovering around 3 tells me that nothing much is happening to tackle any underlying causes. But, my immediate concern was why the minister had not said this about randomness when the numbers moved in a favourable direction in 2014? That smacks of opportunism, and seems to be playing politics.
Why can’t we see some analysis that shows that gang-related killings occur and try to elaborate on what is going on between gangs, and where, to result in this? Sure, we can get the idea that ‘turf wars’ are occurring, but over what and who else may be drawn into these battles? For instance, do they revolve around drugs, other illegal economic activities, or other legal activities. One thought being that if, say extortion in the ‘turf’, then whose activities or which areas are being fought over?
Likewise, we need to get a handle on why people who are not involved in gang warfare are killing. In recent days, we’ve heard about horrible crimes involving the killing of young children. Who is trying to understand what is going on there? I read a story from Cote d’Ivoire, in west Africa earlier this week that dealt with the surge in ritualistic killings of young children. We know that society is full of oddballs, and we need to understand if we may be in the midst of such people, or if there is something else going on that may be systematic, not just random, as the minister suggested. Random makes sense if we think about, say, domestic violence, but it also goes to how the society has grown up resolving problems. Let’s call that education and culture. If our way of dealing with problems is to beat and punish, then should we be surprised that the ultimate beating and punishment will result in someone losing their life?
Again, my sincerest apologies to anyone in the media if I have missed this, but I cannot recall any probe that looks at, say, the ‘wave’ of child killings, and tries to put the dots in place and see if they draw any picture. If it has been done and no picture appears, then I can live with that. But, I would also like to live with knowing that certain patterns are emerging, or re-emerging. For instance, outside murders, I have noticed a rise in reported sexual assaults. What’s interesting to me is who is, or may be affected. Again, I made a quick search. One stunning point is whether certain crimes cross from being ‘Jamaican on Jamaican’ and jump into the resident foreign population or tourists. That would imply that concern about crime is at different levels, and could affect adversely a range of other viable economic activities. For that reason, it’s worth citing the US Department of State’s report on diplomatic security. When looking at 2013 data, it noted (my emphases):
‘Violent crimes do occasionally impact international visitors. But, most criminal activity is “Jamaican on Jamaican” violence, often involving organized criminal elements and gangs. Over the past year, there were 8 U.S. citizens murdered; 34 reports of robbery; 7 reports of rape and/or sexual assault; 6 reports aggravated assaults; 2 reports kidnapping (parental kidnappings); 9 reports of domestic violence; and 1 report of child abuse. These numbers are not inclusive, and the numbers for rape and/or sexual assaults are believed to be under-reported. Many crimes remain unreported for numerous reasons, including fear of retribution.
A special concern continues to be the number of sexual assaults perpetrated by hotel employees at resort hotels on the northern coast, and the need for forceful investigation and follow-up by the hotels and by police and other security officials.’
What that tells me is that a major player in our international relations doesn’t believe our data, and that they think crime is much higher. It also tells me that they do not trust domestic agencies to deal well with the issues. It also points to the weakness of the ‘random’ argument. Organized crime is not a random activity, and if killings are related to that, then they are not random, either. There are other conclusions. But, it does not take a rocket scientist to think about the implications of those conclusions on something like tourism.
But, do we think or discuss these? Hardly. By not doing so, how can we expect to overcome the problem?
I will try to remain constructive and positive, rather than cynical. But, I also have to remember that we are a country built around ‘garrison’ politics and that crime has been an important element in the shaping our political landscape.