Understanding numbers: How Jamaica being baffled by crime is hard to understand

I won’t make this long. Jamaicans are often accused of being numerically illiterate. Unfair? Here is the latest proof. 2016 witnessed 1350 murders on the island, which over 366 days (a Leap Year, remember), means about 3.7 murders a day. So far, during the first 3 days of 2017, we have had reported 11 murders, which (surprise) is 3.7 murders times 3. JCF data show that murders are happening all over the country, though still largely an urban phenomenon (which is just sheer weight of numbers). The Parish of St. James (‘capital’ of lotto scamming) is surpassing all areas. The downtrend in murders following the Tivoli operations in 2010 stopped after a couple of years and is now clearly up again. The shake-up in the world of gangs is still on-going (why would it stop?), and it’s moved away from Kingston. 

So, why are people surprised? What happened at the turn of the year to stop the spigot of killings? Nothing, as far as I know. If the annual feasting on food and drink did nothing to curtail the killing, then it must continue its trend thereafter. So, rickety policing and creaking justice system didn’t get a make-over, sir? Go to the naughty corner!

Now, please don’t get me wrong and get all bent out of shape: this is nothing to do with what I think about much of the violence that I am trying to understand. It’s about how a people (Jamaicans) can watch a phenomenon, do little to affect it, and then expect things to change. 

One answer is blind faith, as in ‘The Lord will provide’ (no offence to my fellow religious faith followers).

Another answer is total apathy: there’s got to be someone who’s going to do something about this, right.

Another answer is denial.

On the one hand, Jamaica’s crime problems are simple to solve. If, like New Year resolutions, each person made and kept a pledge, our crime would disappear overnight. The pledge would be: “I will not take the life of any fellow being”. Now, for many of us, this is an old pledge, even if unstated. It’s how we live our lives. Whatever befalls us, we do not see that making the decision to end another person’s life is ours to make. However, some have made the pledge and not kept it, or not made the pledge? The questions to try to answer are ‘Why?’ and (less important, I think) maybe ‘When?’

Jamaica’s killing spree is odd. It’s not much about serious redistribution of riches between Jamaicans who are wealthy and those who are not, as it’s much targeted on in-fighting (gang warfare, is the term used by JCF). However, let me pull back. That is about redistribution of riches, that come from controlling real/turf. Whatever is possible in terms of revenue/money gains must be so enticing that having that control is worth risking and taking lives. Countries do this all the time, so that part is not odd. But, why are killers not pointing their arms against those who are outside the turf, except it seems in a few cases? If I have that wrong, then blame JCF for not giving me enough details to come to another conclusion. But, I am getting there from my reading of reports in the media. (JCF was reported yesterday to be doing a full analysis of murders and also taking a five-year perspective.)

The wave of domestic violence that ends in killing is not much different, it seems, as we hear of few cases where such incidents are in homes/neighbourhoods known to be better-off. So, in a class sense, it seems like ‘poor people’s’ troubles. If I’m wrong, again, please set me straight. 

Those two categories of killing seem to cover the bulk. Now, in terms of how to address them, we can go back to the three suggested states of mind. 

We know plenty of Jamaicans are fatalistic and see all of this as either part of a master plan to pay us back for wickedness, or just ‘His will’. Hard to analyse that. (Blind faith.)

We know lots of people don’t care, really, so long as they do not seem to be affected. (Apathy.)

We know lots of people are finding reasons to look away and protect or even aid those who kill. (Denial.)

The PM says he has big plans to announce on how to address the crime ‘problem’. I will be in search of things that seem to tackle the states of mind. Am I optimistic? Not really. What I heard yesterday about harsher measures for gun-related crimes is typical Jamaica-lala. We already have life imprisonment as the maximum sentence, so are we going to extend those sentences into the after-life? I asked how many such sentences had been handed out in the past five years. Still awaiting an answer. Some also say through this fast, and asked about the mere matter of illegal possession, not getting to use. Let’s hear if silence prevails.

A great maxim for success is always give yourself a chance to succeed, not to fail. Let’s see how ‘Team Jamaica’ take to the field today. 

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)