The mayhem matrix: violent crime comes calling on ordinary Jamaicans 

For a long time, I was uncomfortable how the official statistics pushed a line that was pushed hard by the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Minister of National Security: the narrative was that crime was trending down, while murders were apparently increasing. See this report in August in the Jamaica Observer. I said before that this seemed to misunderstand the psychological impact that murders had on people’s perception of their safety. All crimes are personal violations, but the taking of lives has an series of negative impacts, individually and collectively, that are hard to measure, and probably of greatest concern.

How people react to murders is well summarized by the anger when a recent murder case ends with the acquittal of the accused, before much evidence had been brought forward and examined. The general dissatisfaction that a seemingly innocent schoolboy, Khajeel Mais, had been shot in a taxi headed to a fete, is easy to understand, even if people understand that the accused might not have been guilty. The course of justice was derailed in many ways, including by the ‘main witness’ who claims to have seen nothing significant. 

The horrible stabbing death of a schoolboy on a bus, again on his way home, for a watch and cell phone, a few days ago brought out the clear vulnerability that we are all exposed to, from villains who care about some material gains at the expense of any life that blocks access to that. 

Few murders seem to have involved stages short of killing. 

I’ve written before about how the risk/reward balance of crimes in Jamaica is so tilted that it’s quite rational for criminals to not fear the law, and thus commit horrific crimes. 

So, we are not more comfortable knowing that violations like burglary may be lower, when killing is seemingly rampant. 

Why the authorities haven’t understood this baffles me. 

However, what is becoming clear is that this misunderstanding means that the security forces haven’t been focusing on what makes people feel they are in a safer country. 

I’m not keen on the state of emergency talk, mainly because it doesn’t tackle any underlying reasons that make the horrific crimes occur. Had it been in place in St. James would Nicholas Francis have been safer going home on a bus from Jamaica College? Would the Reggae Boys team doctor have been safer at his home in Barbican, instead of being a victim of a murder by a group of killers? These deaths didn’t come from any apparent provocation. 

Those who were quick to suggest that not taking phones to school would somehow create conditions for safer streets would suggest what to keep the murdered doctor safer? Become homeless? 

Gang disputes and murders in areas where turf wars go on aren’t what worries ordinary Jamaicans, and that is a wide set of special cases. People are worried that they seem unable to do ordinary things without the high risk of being victims of attacks.

Whether the apparent greed or striving to have what someone else has are things that can be changed quickly is open to question. We have a set of people whose psychological make up has made them lose respect for the sanctity of life. Simply, we have real mad people wandering in our midst, and they are armed and dangerous. 


Hiding from our history, Jamaica? Musings after lunch at Lillian’s

They hide in plain sight; some cared for, but little known and understood, others neglected and almost forgotten.

Lillian’s Restaurant

I wont pretend that the slavery origins of this country don’t contain many painful memories, but history wont change by ignoring it.

For example, take the lovely, quaint building that now hosts a restaurant, Lillian’s, at the University of Technology. It’s housed in what was reportedly an overseer’s house, on the former Mona Sugar Estate. It now gives students of hospitality and hotel business a workplace to develop their skills. Yes, it has the accolade of being protected as part of the National Heritage Trust. But, what of its origins and its history? Should it just stay there in relative blissful anonymity?

View from restaurant onto UTech campus

We can always argue that more important topics are there to be discussed or fought over. But, each day that passes pushes hidden knowledge further away.

With no criticism for anyone involved, I imagine what it would be like if visitors and nationals alike knew of the rich history that sits in that unprepossessing area that leads up to the urban mess that is Papine.

Yes, the archiologists have been watching over the developments going on at the university sites, and trying to figure out what and whom the bones represent. Yes, it would be a wonderful thing to have a separate exhibit on one of the sites of higher learning as testimony to those who went before and made now possible.

In general, Jamaica has not seen its history as part of its offerings to the world. One bumps into it, incidentally, and very specifically, as with Port Royal, Devon House, and Rose Hall as notable examples. But, we utter little about Sligoville, the abused beauty of Spanish Town, the many features that dot the landscape, like parts of sugar mills, and marked slave graveyards.

Do we love ourselves enough to care about that?

Uncertainty in a world of quick answers: The JCF paints itself into a corner over a murder most foul

When I do not know the answer to a question, I try to find it. If I cannot find it, then I go away with the frustration that the question remains unanswered–at least, for me. I do not want to speak for others, just myself. I often try to put what facts I can find against the question to give me the answer. Just getting statements that purport to be the answer is not good enough. If those statements seem to have flaws, then I try to find ways to remove those. Until I get clarity I will not make a pronouncement. I do not want to speak for others, just myself. I’m patient and will hold my judgement until I feel I can go forward with a view that I can back up.

I have been following a murder case in Jamaica that just ended with the suspect being freed, on the instruction of the judge to the jury to acquit. The facts of the case were few. A schoolboy, Khajeel Mais, was shot, while riding in a taxi on July 1, 2011. The allegation was that the taxi crashed into a car, a BMW X6, whose driver allegedly then proceeded to draw a gun and shot into the cab, hitting the boy in the process. The driver of the taxi, Wayne Wright, took the boy to a nearby police station. The boy died.

Days after the shooting, the police sought to find the owner of the BMW, now suspect, Patrick Powell, went to his home on July 10, found him absent abroad, and searched for the gun, without success. The next day, the man returned to Jamaica on July 11 and was detained and requested to hand over his registered firearm; he refused, reportedly on his lawyer’s advice. The case against the man proceeded, without having found the weapon, and with the suspect claiming his innocence.

Some police forensic work was done that established the taxi and the man’s car had matching paint marks, suggesting a collision. However, ballistics information was limited, and without a gun, no matches could be made of a weapon and shell. Gunpowder residue was found on the hands of the  victim. There appeared to be only one eyewitness, and his statement submitted in evidence was that the suspect was the man who shot into the taxi.

Following multiple delays, the case goes to court after five years. However, under cross-examination at trial by the prosecutor, the witness recanted that statement, and is then treated as a ‘hostile witness’. The prosecution case falls.

Many people are amazed that what seemed to be a clear case descended quickly into a legal mess. The expectation of a verdict of guilty went away fast once there was no way to pin the suspect to the scene of the crime. We see many flaws of our legal system exposed. We see many concerns about the fairness of our society exposed: it seems that another ‘well-to-do’ person has bettered the legal system, and those ‘less well placed’ suffered, again.

Society wants answers to troubling events, but will it accept what it wants without proof that it has what it needs? That, to me, is one of the important questions.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force issued a statement, Police High Command Responds To Murder AcquittalIt leave more questions unanswered than it answers. But, for me, several questions are stark:

  • If a country has laws that allow a suspect to refuse a request to hand over a registered firearm suspected of being used in a crime, how can you really expect to solve gun crimes?
  • If your national ballistics database for registered firearms is being created, alphabetically, and a suspect comes up, whose name is not yet reached, are you content to say, that is reason enough to not enforce the advancing of compiling data for that person, exceptionally?

With questions like that, what is the meaning of the JCF’s statement (my emphasis) ‘According to the High Command, the Police did everything that was expected to be done to ensure the successful prosecution of the murder case against Mr. Powell.’?

People’s confidence in the competence of the police force is low in Jamaica. I’m sorry to say that doing everything that was expected to be done’ is ambiguous. It’s not everything that should have been done, or everything that could have been done, it’s less than either, IF the expectation is that not much will be done.

The defence attorney, Patrick Atkinson, a former Attorney General, commented on the radio yesterday to Cliff Hughes that ‘information contained in the [JCF] press release is not correct’[listen and read here]. Do you feel your confidence in proceedings rising or falling?

I do not know the identity of the killer, but I am convinced that not enough was done to establish who that was. To turn around a metaphor, many stones were left unturned. The killer is still at large–FACT. The gun is still not found–FACT. We are swimming in uncertainty. Speculation doesn’t change that. The vast majority of crimes in Jamaica go unsolved–FACT. Add another one to that statistic.

What may happen if the suspect is forced to relinqish his firearm and tests on it show it was the murder weapon? The case against him cannot be retried (double jeopardy). We still would not know whose finger was on the trigger.

I’ll share just a few exchanges I’ve had over recent years about justice, not just in Jamaica.

FYI, Charles Blow is the noted New York Times columnist, and we had an exchange in 2012:


I added earlier this week:


Earlier this year, I had the exchange with reporter, Karen Madden, and it reflects a basic weakness that affects our ‘crime fighting’ efforts in Jamaica:

You would have to be an optimist of an extraordinary order to have faith in the Jamaican justice system to deliver a fair outcome: it’s proven repeatedly to be unable to do that. Cases coming to trial, few as they are, and slowly as they do, merely reinforce the apparent unfairness. The main actors dispensing justice often seem duplicitous. (It seems standard that a police officer is allegedly complicit in trying to hide evidence. That it was unproven in this case, doesn’t detract from the strong suspicion that the coppers are bent.) Little wonder that those ordinary citizens who help build the system–especially, witnesses and jurors–are tempted to also ‘game’ the system. Listen to the words of the Director of Public Prosecutions about how people seem ‘schooled’ in recanting statements and avoiding perjury.

A cart rumbling along, on its uneven wheels, is likely to breakdown completely and spill all its contents.

Speaking for myself, my faith in the justice system is low. I have seen little reason to change that view. I’ve heard a string of platitudes that suggest that ‘talk is cheap’. Heaven help anyone who has to go through its wringer.

Can Jamaica stop being a ‘pothole’ (patch over problems) society?–‘As I See It’ Facebook Live chat

I spoke more fully on this topic and was able to expand some more on the basic ideas and examples. Watch and listen, at your leisure:

Can Jamaica stop being a ‘pothole’ (patch over problems) society? Some initial thoughts

From where I sit, Jamaica is a true ‘pothole’ society: it seems to rarely fix underlying problems, which then soon resurface after attempts at patching over them. It’s a classic form of failure that needs deep analysis on many levels because it requires a high degree of compliance from all levels of society. There’s little point our complaining about the consequences of this phenomenon, because we have been major contributors in its creation and duration. I’m not going to try to much analysis, yet. I first want to make sure that I have seen and understood the many examples of the ‘potholing’.

In thinking about the analogy, it’s helpful to see what a severe hole in the road can do. We got that clearly just a week ago, when a part of a major traffic route collapsed, with sewer mains damage. It caused havoc for the travelling public, as the extensive video below shows: 

What causes the ‘potholes’ may differ, but the consequences are a series of clear costs to those who have deal with them, and costs passed on to others, as a result. It’s a series of ripples. With the problems on Constant Spring Road forcing traffic to find alternative routes, much of the central area of the capital suffered heavier flows and traffic jams. People did not know the best alternatives, so guessed and changed trying to find the best ad hoc solution.

So, too, with the pothole society: people develop coping mechanisms. The picture below shows a familiar sight. Damaged road awaiting repair, and some material ready, in place. A few days later, a crew may/will come to lay the marl, beat it down, then place a layer of tarmac over the repair. Inevitably, however, after a series of heavy rains (and during hurricane season, as now, that can be in a day), the damage resurfaces. The process restarts…

Pothole awaiting marl treatment: Papine to Irish Town Road, St. Andrew

What is behind this seemingly short-sighted approach? Well, politics, for one. Simple economics, for another. Ineptitude and ignorance? Maybe, but less likely.

Politics plays out in several ways: getting resources; being seen to ‘tackle’ problems; distributing contracts/work/improvement.

Economics features in its way. Beneficiaries, obviously, are better off–money in hands and pockets to spend will trickle around and give a ‘better’ living for a while. Activities are helped by being able to resume or expand now that the road has been repaired; customers can be satisfied.

The road repair analogy is the bigger society on display. Politicians get more ‘bang for their buck’ as elected representatives if they can be seen as ‘fixers’; it’s almost like having permanent adverts displaying about the ‘good’ that is being done. Many MPs are judged by their ‘doing’ and gladly take credit for work done by other agents. But, it also means that the MPs’ livelihood is tied to never fixing the problem completely. Sadly, this focus on ‘fixing’ ‘potholes’ means that little regard is given to the fact that the road may acutally have fundamental problems that mean it must worsen with use.

Look at the country more widely. Repainting a rusty bridge gives it a good gloss 🙂 but it may still be structurally unsound and soon due to fall. Giving people ‘jobs’ like bushing and painting lines let’s them have some cash in their pockets, but the bushes grow back and the lines get worn out. The worker, often with few attributes to compete and hold down a range of jobs, depends on such ‘make good’ work. He or she would be better off if better trained or educated. Instead, handouts have to be the legal way to get paid. The illegal options are clear.

More broadly, still, we see the ‘potholing’ in that statistic the debt/GDP ratio. This is the epitome of spending on fixes and doing little to change or build a solidly underpinned economy. Borrowed money has been badly invested (taking account of the fact that some of the funds never went to purposes, at all, but to people who did nothing in return). In other words, individuals have gained at the expense of the wider society. One need not know the names of those individuals, one can deduce a good number of them through some simple ‘lifestyle’ analysis.

I’ve often talked about ‘rent-seeking’ behaviour, and the ‘potholing’ in the general economy is seeing it at work.

But, the ‘potholes’ exist in many sectors and are shown by the emergence of problems that have existed and been known for years, but never dealt with. At its worst, the ‘managers’ in those settings (public and private sector) have lied, denied, covered up and blamed others for these failings. In a simple term, it’s about lack of compliance and enforcement.

We have seen them recently in the health sector (shoddy hygiene, poor recording of incidents, lack of openness about system failures). We have had incidents, termed ‘dead babies’ scandals, about high incidence of premature infant deaths. But, more widely, we have had the results of unflattering reports into the regional health authorities.

We have seen them in the building sector (when a building collapses the trail of neglect becomes clear, very quickly; think about Royalton Hotel, Negril). The general response is to launch a probe, form a committee, review. The subsequent action?

We have seen them in the process of creating and executing major projects. The botched affair with Krauck and Anchor must be a business degree case study.

We see it in the water sector: infrastructural and distrubutional weaknesses that remain unaddressed but become the cause of concern with each regular drought.

In electricity, the theft of power, often aided and abetted by politicians.

In land and agriculture, the tolerance of squatting and praedial larceny, rather than creating and upholding an orderly system of tenure, or other regulations that impede the selling of stolen produce.

In the environment, where we all live with the consequences of ineffictive waste management couple with poor waste management practices by citizens, both of which help create a lucrative business in ‘clearing up after’, while we live in constant near-squalor in many places. Scenes like this garbage-filled Kingston gully are not new, or intractable, and their consequences are clear and regular.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-40-54-am

That’s an extensive array, and it’s not complete.

But, how does one break the cycle of something that benefits so many people?

Just another Jamaica day…in pictures

Every now and then, it’s good to just take in what I see, without too much analysis or need to comment. That’s not seeking to deny that the vision has a story that may be dark, painful, new, old, simple, complex, regrettable, funny, or any range of adjectives that would explain more fully what I saw. I could even speculate about or create a narrative. But, I won’t. I’ll let my Jamaican eyes see and I’ll just share my visions and leave you to weave what you will.

All about the bag…Barbican, St. Andrew
Two hands are better than one, but a fine can do as well…Porus, Manchester

Let the shrine to the light shine brightly…Montego Bay

Peanuts…St. Andrew/Kingston, near Half Way Tree

It ain’t my fault…Cherry Gardens, St. Andrew

Ride on, Daddy!…Arthur Wint Drive, near National Stadium

Whitehouse, Westmoreland

Rastaman vibrations…Cherry Gardens, St. Andrew

Repairing to the kitchen to prepare the pear…St. Mary

What’s in the news? Observe! Barbican, St. Andrew

Inna di concrete jungle…Downtown, east Kingston

You’ve got to moo-ve it! Negril Hills, Westmoreland

Jamaicans are so utterly outrageous

If ever I thought a nation lived in the shadow of shock-to-come, it is Jamaica. I suspect that it’s not alone, but it’s beginning to make a habit of showing its proverbial underwear. To use the Jamaiacan phrase: ‘Blouse an skirt! ah weh dat come fram?‘ Jamaicans are forever the person standing on a branch, hanging over a river, who moves and the branch breaks, then says ‘How did that happen?’ You don’t beleive me? Just read the papers or listen to the radio or watch local TV and see how outraged people are about things that were sticking them in the eye, all along.

This is the country that keeps dumping garbage indiscriminately and leaving recipticles to collect water, then raises its collective arms in shock when they keep getting infested by mosquitoes.

This is the country that for decades hasn’t addressed its water management issues and goes through serial angst everytime the sun shines brightly and rain doesn’t fall much and gets a parched throat from crying ‘We need water!’

This is the country that has government entities, obliged to report to Parliament or Cabinet, who dont do that and are found to have wasted or misspent billions of dollars. ‘Heads must roll!’ ‘Where is the accountability!’ ‘Where is my beef patty?’ Tscups! Kiss mi neck!

Yesterday, was a classic day for saying ‘Backfoot! Is wha’ do dem peeple?’

The University of the West Indies gave the proverbial finger to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament (PAAC). UWI sent the parliamentarians PAAC-ing with a swift smack around the head: UWI’s Registrar sent a letter that gave the yah-boo sucks response that UWI ‘is a public autonomous regional body of which Jamaica is only one contributor‘ (other regional governments cough up a lot of dosh, too, mate). He also noted that because Jamaica contributes, the university understands the need for accountability and pointed the parliamentary committee to the Jamaican government representative on its finance committee. The letter noted a legal opinion it said was received from the Solicitor General in 2007 that reportedly said the university was not a government entity or department. The Registrar stressed that UWI is governed by a 1962 Royal Charter which makes the institution only legally answerable to the British monarchy, identified as the visitor, or its representatives. The chairman of the PAAC, was seen PAAC-ing around in irritation, blustering that…huffing that…beating his brow that…Stop your stressing! The government has been in bed with this arrangement for decades, so what’s the reason that knickers are getting a few degrees tighter? It has minsiters sitting on UIW’s finance and grants committee, and have been happily overseeing the existing financing and reporting arrangements. We didn’t need HR Pufnstuf to save us from our own laxness.  Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 8.05.30 AM.png

How about paying attention all the time?

Yet, this is the stuff of much of local politics, where people suddenly able to see better once they are out of office, as if the dust of reading all those Cabinet papers was getting into their eyes.

But, the population laps this up, and quickly runs to grab its collective pitchforks and start the first verse of the alternative national anthem: ‘What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!’ Time to call out the national songstress for this, Rosie: 

“We wan’ back everyt’ing!..It cyan go on so…”

But, guess what? It can go on so. Why? Because unnu peeple like it suh! Day one…Eight more to go. Let’s focus on the next crisis. We don’t do real concern BIGLY, but love to make a HUGE fuss.




What’s my talent worth? Some thoughts on Intellectual Property 

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the international forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation. I just learned that the 56th Series of Meetings of the Assemblies of the Member States of WIPO took place between October 3-11 in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to WIPO, ‘Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce….IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.’

It’s a flourishing field, and one of my good lawyer-luminary friends gets her feet damp in its waters.

Kayanne is my go-to IP expert
She kindly shared with me one of her PowerPoint presentations on the topic, which outlines most of the essential points.

Courtesy: Kayenne E. Anderson Esq.
I’m part of the creative industries and constantly creating intellectual property. I create my own written content, most of which is available online, though some has been published in print. I’ve now moved into the world of visual and audio commentary. I’m frequently producing images, through my photography. I know these things have value, whether as assets in their own right, or as things from which to derive streams of income.

What rights and protections exist for me? If I wished to protect my creations, laws exist to give me some cover. I’ve sought to exercise those rights, once, then never needed to. Consistently, I’ve had others seek to protect themselves from my possible inappropriate use others’ IP. Just last week, when I completed a live chat, I was puzzled that I couldn’t post it. I got a message from Facebook warning me that a substantial music clip had been detected and the company sought confirmation that I had rights to use it or that it was not a substantive part of the video.

Facebook tried to warn me of possible copyright violations
I’d been listening to music and it was playing in the background for moments before I started my chat. That was an eye opener. I wondered, however, if it were also possible to detect images that had already been posted or registered somewhere. A lot of technological developments are occurring that make visual detection much easier than it ever was. What if I could put a digital signature on my pictures; that would hold some purloiners at bay, maybe.

I’ve been dabbling with copyrighting some of my photography. I’ve not yet used it much, as I ponder when and where and how best to do it. But, I’m aware that some of my pictures are interesting and good enough for others to wish to claim them as theirs or to use them and not give due credit.

I use pictures a lot, always using things already in the public domain, and try to ensure that they are available for my use. I cite originators, regularly. But, is that enough?

I have not sought to extract monetary value from my work and my attitude towards IP may reflect that I do not feel deprived of my livelihood by the threat that my work may be used, without permission. But, that can change. However, I have copyrighted my blog, with a declaration on the site that appears on each page as a sidebar. Do I need to do more? Should I have alerts to tell me when searches are being made for my blog? Should I install software that prevents things like copying and pasting; WordPress has a plug-in to prevent that.

My mind is clear about creations and what the potential value is in investment in personal development, and I am not going to get too concerned with arguments that try to distinguish some works because of some notions about how creativity originates. What I have seen or read in that vein displays some basic misunderstanding about what ‘skills’ are and how they are acquired and improved. I know that any skills I have needed to be honed to be usable in any meaningful way, whether that is my basic understanding (through education at higher levels and in more specific fields), or other talents (such as developmental camps for players, or studying and certification to be a football coach and referee). Once those skills are usuable, then I have to negotiate a rate for sharing them, whether as player, official, worker, teacher, commentator, or whatever. The rates for those tasks are not the same. Pay me the equivalent of US$200,000 (call the US$650/day) to work as an economist; I will charge US$50-100 an hour to coach football; referee pay scales are set dependent on ‘proficiency’ level of both players and officials, etc. I will do things voluntarily or pro bono, but that is my choice, and I may ask for a small contribution for something like travel.

One of the aspects I need to consider is how much time and effort needs to be used to protect what I do and the underlying skills that I have. With my professional status, I have my certifcates or other forms of verification. However, they do not stop others plagiarizing my ideas in part or all. But, the profession tends to be an area of good practice with regards to attribution and claims of ownership.

With my writing or photography, I now have some copyrights in place. I’ve had a few instances where what I have written seems remarkably close to something produced in a newspaper. I have certain phrases that I’ve rarely or ever seen used elsewhere either alone or in combinations I have used.

Of course, creativity has few bounds 🙂 But, that doesn’t mean you can live off the back of someone else’s creativity and enjoy a free ride.

Hurricane Matthew: Personal images of Jamaica’s slight brush with danger

This time last week, Jamaicans were being told to prepare for a possible category 4 or 5 hurricane. It never hit us directly, though we were touched by its edges; those in the east and south on lower levels got plenty of impact from sea surges and flooding from rain. As I write, Haiti is counting its dead from a direct hit over the past two days–the number has gone past a staggering 800 people. The Bahamas is cleaning damage, but so far no deaths reported. Florida is facing the storm now, and states to the north, especially South Carolina and Georgia are braced.

Given what I’ve seen from elsewhere, my heart is easy with the knowledge of how fortunate we’ve been. But, I remain prepared as new weather systems form during the hurricane season, which has several weeks still to run. In that vein, I pick a few pictures and videos to remind me of what we passed through.​

The beginning, we thought:

Protective measures

Vendors strap down against the wind

Clouds looming in the morning sky

Hatches battened down and shutters in place

The sunset sky, Saturday night, ahead of Matthew’s expected arrival–Hurricane on its way, most people thought
One of forecasts pointing to the shift away from Jamaica

Flash thunderstorm midweek after Matthew passed

October 6: Boys, near Kingston Harbour, alongside garbage washed down in flooding the week before

Rain came suddenly on October 6, while Matthew was lashing The Bahamas and Haiti

Unbelievable light evening traffic, Tuesday October 4; Barbican

Time to open shutters and windows, October 5

Tuesday midmorning and the sky looks clearer

Taking a chance on a dawn walk on Monday, while still expecting Matthew
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