Jamaica wages its ‘battle’ of the ‘Boyne’

Ian Boyne is articulate. He is also, by his own admission, well-read. Those two things together tend to give opinions a certain power, whether or not that is merited. I say that simply because I am driven by the power of strong argument, not the power to make me think the argument is strong. The art of the con man is to make the story sound convincing. But, don’t get me wrong: I am not arguing that Ian is a con man. I just want to make sure that I think about the substance not the superficial.

A few days ago, Mr. Boyne put forward some ideas for dealing with crime in Jamaica, under the title ‘Is Holness tough enough?‘.

Now, the first part of the superficial is the positing that it’s a problem of one person (as the title suggests) rather than the problem of a government and all its part. In other words, we are asked to believe that it’s all about whether the leader has the right mettle, rather than whether the Cabinet is made of the right stuff. At it’s extreme, it could be that, in the face of a split Cabinet, the PM will have the casting vote. That would not be about his toughness, but about his deciding where the balance of power really sits more comfortably. But, let me not dwell on that.

But, let’s dig deeper into the commentary.

‘…our elite dominates traditional media discourse on the issue, and our politicians are in terror of them the way ordinary citizens are in terror of gunmen.’ I noted immediately that Mr. Boyne is himself part of ‘our elite’, so I was stumped when I tried to think of who he meant. I’m still stumped by the implicit idea of ‘except me’. I was also struck by the mention of ‘traditional media’, noting that Mr. Boyne, as far as one can tell from checking does not step into the arena of ‘non traditional’ media, by which I mean social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. I then have to wonder whether the balance of opinion in traditional media is what matters, as opposed to balance of opinion is a much wider setting. I got confused by this argument, though, when Mr. Boyne acknowledges ‘We have a prime minister who is social media savvy and who is directly in touch with multiple tens of thousands of people through those platforms. His thinking is not just influenced by what traditional media discourse is.’ I now have no idea why the first postulation is relevant. (That last point about being ‘in touch’ also begs questions about whether the nature of social media interaction is well-understood.) 

More important, is discourse in the media what really matters on weighty issues? It gives the media a superiority over opinions that makes me feel uneasy. But, think about it. That’s more powerful than, say, discourse in parliament? 

‘The politicians don’t have the guts and courage of leadership to take the tough decisions which they need to make to send a signal to criminals because talk-show hosts, articulate, well-spoken defense attorneys and other human rights fundamentalists will clobber them if they dare to act decisively and tough.’ Not having the guts because is odd. It suggests that the politicians have guts in other instances, but wilt in this area. I find that laughable. Jamaican politicians do not display guts in many areas, so the ‘fear’ of being bashed cannot be what is holding them back. I think if one looks across the realm of political decisions over decades one can find easily many instances where weak decisions are the preferred way of doing things for Jamaican politicians. You can take that from the decision to not deal with squatting and land capture, through the facilitation of stealing of water and electricity, through the building of garrison constituencies (to make it easier to win votes by the rule of fear, rather than the power of argument), through the general aversion to political and financial transparency, through the unwillingness to address clear economic problems UNTIL it is a necessity to get any more financial support from the international community (let’s call that being ‘beaten by the IMF to do it’) and much more. So, Jamaican politicians are better described as gutless. PERIOD.

‘our journalists, columnists and civil society activists have the gall to be making calls for the Government to ‘do something now’ and to ‘act decisively’ to deal with crime…Not one would have any effect on murder today or next week.’ This seems like a self-serving accusation, not least by scooping all things together and listing noting in particular. One of the problems with Jamaican politicial decision-making has been its willingness to put things off. So, we are forever pushing past the point when decisions should have been made to get maximum effect, and so it is actually harder to find a solution that can deal with almost any of our problems in an instant, because we have allowed them to become deeply ingrained. It does not only relate to crime, but to almost any aspect of our social and economic life. Look at the creaking infrastructure. Look at the simple matter of road signage, that was pointed to yesterday. Look at the systemic weaknesses in so many aspects of public service provision. Look at the feather-bedding in public employment. Look at our serial inability to hold anyone to account. We have wasted time (and money), so will always have to do more now to correct that weakness. 

Whether Mr. Boyne can find one journalist who can say what can be done to affect crime now is not the point; it has been said, by others, at least. I and others, including academics, for police officers, lawyers, the US State Department and more have written and spoken often about how the risk:reward relationship of crime in Jamaica is badly and wrongly skewed. Getting away with crimes is far too easy in almost all spheres.

One simple thing to do now is for the police to do a better job first of policing, including catching criminals, and for the justice system to do a better job of trying and convicting them. Without fighting over the meaning of ‘clear up’ rate, we know that a low percentage of alleged murderers get caught and under 10 percent of them get convicted. That is either because the wrong people are caught, the defence lawyers are better than the prosecution, the juries are more complicit, or judges are more lenient, or some combination of those factors. That can change with the very next trial (call that ‘today’) and go back to the process of police investigation to be able to mount strong cases in court, so help raise the success rate in the future.

Now, the meat of the matter. Mr. Boyne is happy:

I was happy to hear the prime minister announce that “we will be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured.” He went on to say: “We will be creating under this framework, zones where the security forces and other Government agencies will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high crime areas, including extensive searches for guns and contraband.” Excellent!

‘People in inner-city communities know that there are certain criminals who are well-known but whom nobody can testify against in a court of law. These guys can hire the best attorneys to defend them or to get them on bail where they can kill more people.’

‘But I am calling for locking down certain communities, locking away certain known crime perpetrators; going into homes without search warrants and stopping vehicles on the road. Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can’t have human rights if there is not a viable state. We cannot allow Jamaica to become a failed state and to let our prospects for economic growth evaporate before our eyes because our politicians and chattering classes are cowards.’

Yet, this happiness is based on a disturbing proposition. The crime monster that he perceives is an inner city monster. It supposedly lives and breathes nowhere else, or if it does, it is not thriving there. I stopped my breath immediately with a sudden recollection of testimony during the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry, about how the security forces went looking for Michael ‘Dudus’ Coke. The man resided in Red Hills (amongst other places), not known to be part of any ‘inner city’; and one of the signal failures of the operation in 2010 was to not find Dudus in the inner city places. So, if that were a precursor for what the likelihood of success is for such an idea, I’d say, please do not waste our time and money. 

Going into homes in selected areas sounds fine, so long as it’s not YOUR area, and as it’s the inner city that seems targeted then ‘our elite’ can sleep a little more soundly. But, maybe, it’s not so limited and the prospect of being stopped on ‘the road’ is wide and worrying. 

I have an aunt who lives in Montego Bay. She does not live in the inner city. But, she can tell me of the lotto scammers who live in the neighbourhood, who she can overhear from her balcony, and ply their trade from the well-appointed homes on the hills. 

Let me finish with a few other thoughts.

Mr. Boyne’s monster is not the monster of crime, but of particular crimes. I have written already about whether culling murders will change the crime landscape in Jamaica, if we are still plagued with tens of thousands of abused children. It is not the crime of the pastor raping an underage teenager. It is not the crime of the schoolboy being stabbed on the bus for his phone. It is not the crime of the corrupt, who remain faceless in their corrosive walk through the coffers of the country. It is not the crime of the person who stole phones from President Obama’s entourage at the hotel. It is not the crime of the judge who was more lenient in that case than over the man who stole mangoes. Those are not crimes that will be touched by curtailed civil liberties. It is not the crime of the corrupt police officer (and you can choose which of the recent cases you think fits the bill regarding what misdeeds go on under the cover of uniform or without it).

Bashing the media and those advocating civil liberties is easy. But, why not bash those charged with upholding the law? Who controls the police who will not pursue criminals? Who controls the judiciary that will not bring harsh sentences? Who admonishes judges who seem to imply that children under the age of consent can consent to sexual activity? Who controls the parents who ‘shop’ their children to make money to live another day? Who controls the teachers who cannot understand that they are protectors of children, not predators of them? Who controls the society that condones the petty crimes that lay the ground for the acceptance of many crimes? Who controls the politicians who knowingly and repeatedly transgress the laws of the land which they frame? Cherry picking is a great exercise, but it’s not real gardening.